20 Ways For Lawyers To Say "No Comment"

A reader recently sent me a document called “101 Ways To Not Comment Without Using The Words ‘No Comment.’” It’s full of clever witticisms, some more useable than others.

He had received the handout at a legal conference more than a decade ago, and couldn’t remember its source. (I contacted the organization that hosted the conference; their communications director was also unable to identify the provenance of the document.) My own web searches have also proved fruitless.

To respect the unknown author’s intellectual property, I selected my favorite 20 ways to say ‘no comment’ but will not post the full list. (And if you know the author of this document, please let me know!)
Man Zipping Mouth
Here are 20 ways to say ‘no comment’ (with an emphasis on matters of law):  

  1. I am hard pressed to comment on a lawsuit we haven’t yet seen.
  2. We have an obligation to be fair, thorough and professional. We will live up to our obligation.
  3. We will not cut corners in the interest of public curiosity.
  4. That someone else has chosen to talk to you does not relieve us of our responsibilities to defer public comment at this time.
  5. I want to be able to say “No, your honor” when I’m asked if this office initiated any press.
  6. Without commenting on any specific case, here’s the general rule.
  7. I won’t be able to directly answer that question until our work is concluded.
  8. No one in this office is going to prejudge a case that’s still under investigation.
  9. Until the court/jury/legislature decides, it is premature to speculate about the next step.
  10. Let me tell you one of the reasons for our long-standing policy of deferring comment: Frankly, some of the information we receive is unreliable.
  11. It would be irresponsible for us to perpetuate allegations that may prove to be unfounded.
  12. It would compromise our efforts if I publicly discussed the matter with you at this point.
  13. Not to sound disrespectful, but sometimes it takes the legal system a while to sort it all out.
  14. I don’t at all feel comfortable in discussing what at this stage falls within the attorney-client privilege.
  15. From a process standpoint, first we gather the facts. Then we look at the law. We stack those two things up and see where it takes us.
  16. The challenge for us is to assure you and the public that we’re doing the right thing without telling you how.
  17. The time frame is driven by the facts and they’re not all in yet.
  18. I cannot give you a “yes” or “no” answer to that question right now. But if you have some time, I can read to you the 85-page opinion from the court.
  19. Until we have an opportunity to review what the court said, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what it means.
  20. If I were to speculate with you about all the options, someone might think I’ve commented on this specific case.

Although many of the lines above are clever, I would only use such approaches when the facts justify them—not simply to evade legitimate questions with knowable answers. I recently wrote more about my approach of “commenting without commenting” in a post called “What To Say When Reporters Enter a ‘No-Go’ Zone.”

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this 1998 article from Slate called “Fifty-Seven Ways to Say ‘No Comment.”
Want to learn more about interacting with the press? A free preview of my Amazon 5-star rated book, The Media Training Bible, is below.