March 26, 2018

Law course offers insights into working with the media in times of crisis

Alum Warren Kinsella prepares his students for life after law school using simulated scenarios based on real life.
Warren Kinsella, LLB'87
Warren Kinsella delivered the 2018 Merv Leitch QC Memorial Lecture Adrian Shellard

We've all seen it happen. A story with the right spin can go viral around the world in the seconds, minutes and hours after news breaks. Learning to navigate media sources and stories is complex and competitive. Staying ahead of this curve and having a hand in how the story is shaped in the news can be a make-it-or-break-it for lawyers looking to do their jobs right.

Providing public statements is an extremely sensitive, but unavoidable, part of being a lawyer in today's society. More than ever, the public expectation for a statement has become insatiable. Simply saying "No comment" serves to feed the flames on the public's curiosity. It's a natural response for people, as old as the concept of Pandora's Box: We want to know what is hiding behind closed doors.

Law school gives students skills for success

UCalgary Law has responded to this need with the new course Crisis Communications for Lawyers. Taught by Warren Kinsella, LLB'87, who specializes in developing effective communication strategies as the president of the Daisy Group, the course teaches students "to speak effectively to the media in order to serve your client's best interest."

Making sure that the right comments are made is extremely difficult and requires a lot of consideration for the consequences. Cultivating a good public image can take years of planning, but can be torn down within minutes on the Internet. When legal issues are at risk, the consequences can be even higher. Statements can be spun in many ways, and having a bad relationship with the media or having an inappropriate response to questions can have negative consequences for both the client and the lawyer. Interacting with the media has become a critical component of practising law in the modern era.

Simulations mimic real life

Bassam Saifeddine, a second-year law student in the course, has gained valuable skills through crisis simulations that are based on real-life scenarios. Through the activity-based seminar sessions, students are put on the spot in a way that mimics a real-life media crisis. When it happens to you in real life, you aren't going to have warning. This experience has taught Saifeddine that "no matter what area of law you plan on practising, it's critical to remain current and cognizant of the ways in which media can be used to your advantage in order to best serve your client's interests."

Learning to be proactive about media and about how to prevent and handle the consequences that can arise from bad media coverage are some of the staple lessons for any person in today's world. Whether you actively engage with social media or remain a passive observer, recognizing how this issue impacts your life and public persona is a critical lesson. We can't go back to having our heads in the sand, so learning to navigate the turbulent waves of traditional and social media is essential to remain socially aware of the world in which we live.