Friday, October 21, 2005

GRETA SPEAKS ON TV LEGAL ANALYSTS

There are a lot of "legal analysts" on TV and one of the better ones has been Greta Van Susteren, who went from being an analyst for major trials like OJ, to being a full-blown talk show host on the Fox News Channel.

Anyway, on her blog a lot of people were writing in to her this week, wondering how they can get a job as a "legal analyst" on TV. I guess people are interested in the job all of a sudden because of the interest in Daniel Horowitz. He was a "legal analyst" for these legal cable shows. Horowitz made the news for terrible reasons this week: his wife was murdered at their home in the Bay Area. The cable news channels are all going nuts about this, as usual. Just the other day the police caught the guy they think did the crime, a 16-year old kid. Just a horrible, sad situation.

Anyway I guess Daniel Horowitz and his "legal analyst" gigs got a lot of these lawyer types thinking. A lot of them were sending their resumes to Greta Van Susteren and asking for her help and advice. And as you can tell she responds in her blog, saying that this is really not a real career path. She explains it better than I do but most of these "legal analysts" do this sort of thing for free on the cable shows on TV. Then they go back to being lawyers during the day. It's free publicity for them. By being on a talk show on TV these lawyers get to talk about the law and look knowledgeable and important. It really does lead to a lot of business. It's better than taking out advertising, because if you go on a talk show you can show your smarts and build your reputation, and then people will seek you out.

But as a career in itself? Not likely. About the only "legal analyst" out there who is doing this as a full-time job is Andrew Cohen over at CBS News, who used to be an attorney in Denver but is more of a full-time TV newsman these days Then you have the gang of lawyers working at Court TV and they tend to all be anchors, correspondents, and hosts. Nancy Grace makes a lot of money, true, but she isn't working as a "legal analyst": she's working as a full-blown talk show host with a big mouth. So I don't think being a "legal analyst" is a real job.

It is good training, though, if you want to get a real job in television like a talk show host job or something like that. People see Star Jones parlay a "legal analyst" role to a career of fame and fortune on the red carpet. Guys like Jim Moret and Jack Ford parlayed these gigs into careers in TV as reporters, but I don't think they were paid at first, either. So if you want to be a legal analyst, make sure you keep your legal day job, because you'll be making NO money at it.

My guess is that poor Greta got inundated with letters from all these lawyers desperate to get out of their law jobs. The legal profession is filled with miserable people desperate to get out and go into entertainment or TV. A lot of them entered law school hoping their new degrees would open doors to Hollywood, only to find they had to take terribly boring corporate law jobs instead to pay back their mountain of debt. Then there's the people who wanted to be lawyers to begin with, thinking it was a stable career, who are finding out quickly that it's a dead-end job filled with horrible colleagues. One misstep can get you fired (a la The Apprentice). They simply want a saner line of work.

A few years back I went to Washington D.C. to do TV reporter training for a weekend. One of the guys taking the training course there was an Ivy-educated lawyer in town, looking to ditch his job and get into news. He was bored with law and bored with his job. I'd be interested in finding out what happened with him and whether he decided to go into TV, he seemed like a really smart guy. Many of the lawyers who get on TV do it the hard way, by working in smaller markets. Unless you're a famous offspring or were married to a big-city mayor or someone like that, you'll need to pay some serious dues. I read that Lisa Daniels of MSNBC was a gorgeous, Harvard-educated attorney with one of the biggest corporate law firms in New York City for four years before quitting to go into TV. Her first TV job was in Elmira, New York!!! I've been to New York State and can tell you Elmira is absolutely located in the middle of nowhere, in a place that gets lots of snow. This woman went from being a high-powered Wall Street attorney to covering local criminals in Elmira, and then moved to a station in Springfield, Massachussetts. Her ex-lawyer colleagues must have thought she was crazy. It must have been really depressing to work the local beats in these lonely places for hardly any money, having to explain to your relatives that you're not doing law anymore in Manhattan, but eventually it paid off for her, because she went from tiny Elmira all the way to NBC.

Bob Woodruff, who could be the next anchor of ABC's World News Tonight, went a similar route: he was a big corporate attorney who eventually quit and got his first on-air gig at a very tiny TV station in some small place in the northeast. He later worked on-air in Phoenix for a few years. Actually, he really got his first media job abroad. He briefly moonlighted as a translator in Beijing for CBS News while on a teaching assignment there, so that's how he first got started.

I think this is similar advice for people in the investment industry who want to go into TV: I know a lot of investment industry people in Canada have quit peddling stocks to do TV news and they had to do much the same thing, start at the bottom. Anyway, if you're currently a lawyer hoping to get into TV, I'm afraid there's no shortcuts for most of you. Just find any station that will take you, even if it's Elmira, just to get started. At least, you'll get paid! Don't bother applying to Greta to be a legal analyst unless you're somebody half-famous, because you'll make NO money.

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