Law Practice

Paris Hilton Sets Celebrity Precedent

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It isn’t the kind of precedent that attorneys learn about in law school. But the media circus surrounding Paris Hilton’s brief stint in the slammer earlier this summer shows that the legal rules for celebrity attorneys are different than those that take priority in less-scrutinized practice areas.

“The Hilton mess demonstrates why, in the current media age, attorneys and their clients need to have a media strategy for every high-profile case,” write two media consultants in a New York Lawyer (sub. req.) reprint of a Daily Report story.

Given the extraordinary, round-the-clock publicity about her case, for instance, it wasn’t likely that the judge who ordered Hilton to serve jail time for violating her probation on an alcohol-related traffic offense would accept the county sheriff’s decision to shift the hotel heiress to house arrest. “But it is clear the issue of the interest and impact of the media and the subsequent public backlash were underestimated,” the two write, and this resulted in an even greater amount of adverse coverage as counsel and client faced not only an angry judge but an angry public.

Although it’s not black-letter law, rule No. 1 when representing a celebrity, the consultants say, is to try to prevent the client from appearing petulant or seemingly entitled to special treatment. “If you want to guarantee prison time,” they write, “make sure your client continues to publicly complain about how the justice system is unfair to celebrities.”

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