Lawyers love publicity. We all like to get our names in the newspaper. Right or wrong, we think publicity going to get us more business. If we didn’t love publicity, we probably wouldn’t have chosen this profession.
Publicity never hurts the lawyer. But we have a duty to our clients that has to take priority over our love of publicity. Sometimes — often — usually — publicity is not in the clients’ interest. If our clients, accused of crimes, have the choice between having their names published in the newspaper and not, they would almost invariably choose not to. As a general rule, the more a case is in the press, the worse it is for the accused. The more press there is, the better-educated the prosecutor will be, the more likely it is that an experienced prosecutor will be assigned to the case, and the less likely it is that the prosecutor will dismiss the case. An ethical lawyer will generally seek to keep any case from becoming high-profile.
We’ve all had those potential clients who call and say “I’ve got a high-profile case . . .;” on further investigation we see nothing that would create any press interest in the case (I would say that in Houston a case is “high profile” if hits the press on more than three consecutive days, or on more than two separate occasions, after charges are filed). I think that statement, “I have a high-profile case,” is wishful thinking — every case is such a big deal from the client’s point of view that they want to believe that it’s a big deal to everyone else in the world as well.
There are lawyers who advertise that they “specialize in high-profile cases.” They have to know know that very few cases are high-profile, and that many people without high-profile cases want to believe that their cases are high-profile. I suspect that this sort of advertising works for them in a couple of ways. It plays into the clients’ secret desire that the case be high-profile. Clients who have that desire are — I suspect — more likely to hire the lawyer who holds himself out as a specialist in high-profile cases. The potential danger to the client is that the lawyer
Of course we all know what the clients don’t: that holding yourself out as such a specialist doesn’t make it so. I know of only one lawyer whose criminal practice is mostly high-profile cases; he has a large and profitable plaintiffs’ personal injury practice, so that the few criminal cases he takes are not a major part of his practice.
The rest of us who take high-profile cases when they come to us have lots of ordinary cases. In fact, one thing that we do if we’re any good at what we do is to turn potential high-profile cases into low- or no-profile cases so that they disappear from the media and our clients’ reputations are preserved.