"Judges ignore what’s in the media about the issues in a case. I don't think they're the least bit affected."It's a precarious position to be in, Bradley says, and lawyers need to be careful when they stand between their clients and the flashing cameras. Involving the media, allowing them to weigh in on a case, to deliberately nurture public debate with the view to influencing the outcome, has ethical implications. "Most lawyers look at the few who do these kinds of things and say 'wow, I wouldn't do that'. But it's a trend that will continue to build," said Bradley. "But there is always interest in the law and lawyers are in the position where they can say something interesting about it. It's easy for the media to turn them into celebrities." In a third case, New South Wales police arrested MP Craig Thomson on fraud charges. His lawyer Chris McArdle and the police entered the spotlight after the arrest, with a battle of words that saw both get enormous amounts of media attention. Speaking on television and radio, McArdle slammed the media circus around the arrest, and worked hard to focus on legal facts when being interviewed. Pressed to confirm Thomson's political intentions, the lawyer told Sky News: "I am not his political adviser… nor is it my brief to have anything to do with that. I am his lawyer." He criticised the police’s handling of the arrest, and said the media was being told more than his client. "Judges ignore what’s in the media about the issues in a case," Burnside said. "I don't think they're the least bit affected." But the public's view can impact the matter more seriously, as occurred in the Slipper case. The lesson there: lawyers are advocates of the court not spin doctors. If they confuse their role, they will face intense scrutiny from the profession and potentially the Legal Services Commission and the state law society. Burnside draws the ethical line under solicitors advocating to the media, as distinguishable from just reporting facts on the case. "I actually think it's fairly important that members of the public who read media reports on a case should get an accurate and understandable account of what’s been going on. Facts sometimes need a bit of explanation from the lawyers involve. And that is good. "As you know we use weird words and concepts that aren't part of the ordinary furniture of people’s minds, and so naturally the reporters may not have understood what's been going on." The chair of the Victorian Bar, Fiona McLeod, told Crikey barristers are free to speak publicly on matters of law and justice, just as any citizen is. "Barristers do not however, as a rule, speak to the media about current cases except to correct a mistake, ensure accuracy or provide background. This is consistent with our rules of conduct and ensures their focus is on the advocacy in the court room in the best interests of the client," she said. Once the conversation stretches past objectivity, Burnside agrees, it can seriously threaten ethical practice. "If [lawyers] put just their side of the case rather than an objective account of the issues, then the public who reads these things are likely to form a view about what should be the outcome," said Burnside. "When the court, on consideration of all the facts and all the arguments come to a different view, it’s possible the public’s confidence in the justice system will be weakened. And that would be very bad."
Lawyers with stars in their eyes are blurring the lines
The shadowy figure that used to stand behind a client in court is slowly coming forward, garnering media attention and blurring the line between legal advocate and spin doctor.