A recent story on the news wires and on at least one local television station followed a press release by D.C. attorney Bradley G. McDonald announcing that he had filed a $1.5 million suit in federal district court here for Bert Hamilton, "the first survivor of the Air Florida plane crash to file suit."
There was only one problem. It wasn't the first suit by a survivor. In fact, it appears to have been the third.
Tampa attorney Tony Cunningham says he filed suit against Air Florida for another survivor, Priscilla Tirado, on Jan. 20, one week after the crash. "I'm certain we were the first," Cunningham said last week.
The first suit in federal district court here appears to have been filed on Jan. 29, a week before McDonald's. That suit, on behalf of Joseph F. Stiley III, was filed by Speiser, Krause & Madole and Nathaniel H. Goodrich. It carries a court docket number--the numbers are issued according to filing date--lower than McDonald's.
McDonald, who says he issued the press release after checking as best he could to make sure he was correct, said the announcement was made "in good faith."
Although the legal profession has become much more open to the press in recent years, most lawyers don't issue press releases on their cases. Many, especially traditionalists, still view unprovoked contact with reporters as puffery and in exceedingly bad taste.
McDonald does not see the press release as legal self-promotion. "If you have a case that's newsworthy," he said, then people should know about it. He points out, correctly, that a great number of lawyers and firms are issuing press releases on major cases these days and are using public relations firms.
McDonald used Worden & Co., which included in the release a "Note to news media" saying that McDonald "is available at his offices . . . from 1 to 4 p.m. today" and giving the phone number.
"To me, it made sense to use someone who knows the media," McDonald said.
A fair number of law firms, even some major ones, have decided in the last few years to hire public relations firms, either to increase their business or to make sure they keep what business they have in an increasingly competitive market.
The next step might be for those firms to hire researchers as well to double-check announcements.