Saturday, June 18, 2005

How To Become A "Blue Chip" Attorney

Around the courthouses of America, attorneys flourish in bountiful quantity. Often so many, that they seem like a dime a dozen to the casual passerby of any courthouse. But only a few attorneys break from this pack to manage near superstar status. By defending a celebrity in a high profile case is this stairway to stardom in the legal world. 54 year old, Tom Mesereau, joined this elite club with his stunning complete victory for defendant Michael Jackson last week. In the 1940's and 50's, Jerry Giesler was the defender of celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Zsa Zsa Gabor. And only a few years ago, F. Lee Bailey and flamboyant, Gerry Spense were headlining names in law.

The late Johnny Cochran, was not only the most prominent and respected member of the West Angeles Cathedral, but also the most respected attorney known in the Black community. His respected character made him a trusted and respected name in defense of criminal cases. His complete legal victory for O.J. Simpson elevated his law practice to superstardom. Now Tom Mesereau joins this elite group of superstar American attorneys. A high profile case brings a wealth of advertising of a lawyer's actual skills, whether the trial is televised or not by the high number of sound bites and other media exposure that a lawyer receives.

The day to day, high profile cases of celebrities, with constant news coverage, and daily watercooler talk in the workplace, create an environment where the legal wares of an attorney are given advertising that they normally could not buy. It is an unprecended opportunity to advertise oneself, and the resulting fame means many more cases. Celebrity for the defense attorney snowballs.

Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, has long promoted the ethic standard that all attorneys should do at least 15% of their work Pro Bono for indigent clients who need a good defense but cannot afford such services, and many like Tom Mesereau are known for the large amount of Pro Bono services that he offers. With a reputation of decency towards the indigent, as well the complete Jackson victory, despite some seemingly damning evidence in the public's mind about Jackson, Mesereau has gained a tremendous clout advantage with the Jackson case, as well as increased respect from judges. A great legal mind will respect another.

Some other attorneys who have raised their recent "blue chip" value have been one's like Gerald Schwartzbach, who was able to raise benefit of "reason doubt" standards in the minds of jurors of the Robert Blake case. This seemed an incredible achievement considering the absurd gun explanation offered by Blake. But the benefit to Gerald Schwartzbach is to be able to spin a terrible Blake explanation into an acquittal. And this raises the status of Schwartzbach immensely, although like O.J. Simpson, the public will probably continue to have frayed feelings towards Blake, whose acting career seems to have hit a huge dry patch years ago. The celebrities may not escape popular public sentiments, but the legal representation are elevated by the sheer skill of their defense, regardless of their client.

Roy Black is another high profile celebrity attorney. His acquittal of William Kennedy Smith on rape charges undoubtably made his services high profile enough, that right wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has retained Black's services for his prescription drug fraud legal problems. And Bruce Cutler won managed three acquitals for John Gotti, undoubtably influenced the unconventional rock music producer, Phil Spector to seek his services for his murder trial of actress, Lana Clarkson. Sucessfully defending Gotti from some serious charges, certainly says much of an attorney's legal skills. This certainly gave Cutler new clout in the legal world.

But even attorneys who fail to acquit their high profile clients, still manage to raise their "blue chip" status. Leslie Abramson may have failed to acquit the Menendez brothers, yet her reputation was brought to superstar staus by this high profile case. And Mickey Sherman who failed to acquit Michael Skakel of murder charges, still made a public statement for his polished skills.

A high profile attorney may be far better to gain an acquittal because of their skills at raising "reasonable doubt" standards in the minds of jurors, that a poorly paid legal aid attorney cannot, because of a far more limited defense budget or more limited skills. It says much for shopping for the right attorney, and the wealthy of society are far better able to do this. The class justice aspect is a prime feature in that the wealthy can afford high priced "blue chip" representation, while many poorer clients are often forced into plea bargains due to a far more thrifty defense with less skilled attorneys. These less skilled attorneys, due to case load, as well as fears of their own shortcomings in legal skills, often push their clients in the plea bargain direction. An innocent client will often plead to a 4 or 5 year sentence than face 20 to life for an uncertain trial that a less than confident attorney fears facing.

The wealthy can pay for justice with vast finances. The poor pay with their lives. This is yet another of the injustices of life. And another injustice is that some attorneys live in shabby apartments or drive crummy automobiles, while others are millionaires with endless wealth and advantages in life. Inequality touches those in this legal sphere as well. Life isn't fair. And why some attorneys become superstars and others do not is not only based on skill, but the luck to land such a prominent case with plenty of cameras and publicity. And cases like the Michael Jackson case or the O.J. Simpson case, that drag on for weeks or for months, mean plenty of camera time for the defense attorneys. This is far better than the "15 minutes" that Andy Warhol once claimed everyone receives in fame.

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