The former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Edith Matthai, was asked by one of my colleagues why she didn't like to talk to reporters. Her emphatic response: "Because you people scare the hell out of me."
Matthai sums up the Loyola Journalist Law School without even realizing it. "You, as reporters, don't know the rules we have to follow," she says to a room of 35 fellows. "And we, as lawyers, don't know yours."
Suffice it say that I now understand why a proper law school is a three-year deal and why Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where I received my master's degree, is a one-year program. Lawyers have a lot of ground to cover.
Today, our third day, we are plowing through Legal and Judicial Ethics: Health Care Law; Military Commissions v. Civilian Courts; Criminal Informants and the Law; Intellectual Property Crimes and Civil Enforcement; and Prison Reform Litigation.
However, I realize lawyers and journalists may not be so far apart after all. Professor Laurie Levenson offered a checklist for prosecutors preparing for a jury trial. Those same strategies apply to reporters heading out into the field.
- Tell a good story
- Have a theme
- Protect vulnerable witnesses
- Corroborate, corroborate, corroborate
- Don't over-promise (and, as broadcast journalist, here comes my favorite)
- Less is more
I'll stop there.