The Role & Responsibility of Defense Counsel

How does a defense attorney's role change when defending a high-profile client? Beyond traditional legal defense, must a modern defense attorney seek to protect a client's public image? When speaking with the media, what rules, if any, should constrain a defense attorney's behavior? Does media coverage affect the fairness of a trial?

These are some of the questions dealt with in Panel #4: The Role Of Defense Counsel, moderated by Robert Mosteller, and featuring Laurie Levenson, Michael Tigar and Harold Haddon.

Laurie Levenson begins the discussion by outlining some of the rules governing attorney behavior in the media, with special emphasis on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Next, Michael Tigar discusses how the press has traditionally served as a watchdog against government misconduct in high-profile cases, and how media coverage of cases from his own career has helped his clients. Lastly, Harold Haddon provides a word of caution about the dangers attorneys face in using the media in high-profile cases and discusses how media coverage can hurt defendants by leading to premature public judgment.

Questions/themes/discussion topics
  • ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6: Trial Publicity
  • Attorney conduct not prohibited by ABA MRPC 3.6
  • Media gag orders
  • Allowing video cameras in the courtroom
  • Proposed rules to govern legal commentators unconnected to a proceeding
  • Historic instances of media coverage acting as a judicial "watchdog"
  • Examples of media coverage aiding defendants in high-profile cases
  • The effect of defense attorney' statements on the public perception of defendants
  • The difficulty of changing public perception of a defendant's guilt or innocence


Panel Video

"I think the public is a little more sophisticated. They take, forgive me, lawyers with a grain of salt."

- Laurie L. Levenson
» Biography

"So what's the conclusion? The right of the media to report and opine, subject only to the clear and present danger clause, is, in my experience, valuable, exhilarating, and very, very dangerous."

- Michael E. Tigar
» Biography

-"She who speaks to media seizes a wolf by the ears... Sometimes when you're cornered, you have to talk to the media, certainly in high profile cases it's a necessity. But when you're dealing with a wolf, even a trained wolf, you have to understand that the wolf does what the wolf's natural instinct is, and that is to run a story, and run it not with your varnish but with whatever varnish the wolf chooses to put on it."

- Harold A. Haddon
» Biography