What are legal journalists looking for when it comes to writing stories? This was the question Byfield set out to provide clarity on in collaboration with PRCA at a recent event.

The event comprised of a discussion with a panel of key legal journalists: Rose Walker, News Editor at Legal Week, Catherine Baksi, a freelance journalist, Eduardo Reyes, Features Editor at the Law Society Gazette and James Booth, Legal Reporter at City AM. The content of the discussion focussed on the dos and don’ts of working with legal journalists. The legal journalists provided a lively discussion on public relations and communication in the legal industry, brought to life with real-life anecdotes. 

For those that missed the event, we have pulled together a short summary of the night’s highlights.

What makes a successful pitch?

The journalists in attendance were all in agreement that knowing the publication and journalist that you are pitching to and whether the topic will be of interest to them is the key to a successful pitch. The panel stressed the importance of having a clearly developed angle to your pitches to help the editors to see the value in the story.

How do you ensure that your lawyer gets quoted?

Journalists emphasised the importance of putting forward a lawyer who is capable of providing a good quote. The lawyer should be reminded that they are not giving legal advice. And while they should be correct, it is also key that they should have a strong opinion that is relevant to the publication.

What does exclusivity mean to a legal journalist?

There were different understandings of the term ‘exclusive’. ‘Print exclusives ‘and ‘UK exclusives’ were quickly rejected by James Booth. There was a general understanding that exclusives could be shared out across the legal media and that one outlet, however, should not receive every exclusive. Specifying timings and a clear deadline for the acceptance of the exclusive were highlighted as important factors when dealing with exclusives. For freelance journalists, exclusives carry particular relevance; if another outlet has the story then it becomes almost impossible to sell it on to editors.

How should law firms use content?

The practice of publishing a press release on the firm’s website before sending it to journalists, or simply expecting them to see it, was widely criticised. A press release should be sent directly to the journalist to ensure it would reach a wider audience and the mediation through a trusted source adds weight to the press release or content.

How has social media affected legal news?

The prevalence of social media has made it a prime location in which journalists source stories and potential scandals. However, the social media landscape has led to more immediate scrutiny for stories that are published. Social media has meant that journalists have had to publish faster and that the story they are writing has to be timely.

What annoys journalists most?

While the journalists could have spent several hours listing their bugbears of PRs, they managed to condense them down into a few short pointers. A common request was for plain English to be used ahead of legal jargon. Equally, the desire of lawyers to check quotes will always be roundly rejected. Inviting a journalist to an event and then placing the event under the Chatham House Rule was disregarded as an utterly pointless activity.

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In conclusion, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The information provided by the journalists was invaluable for law firms and PR professionals. A key takeaway was the importance of knowing the publication you’re pitching to and knowing the angle that you, the lawyer and the journalist will all take.