Trendy Lawyers Share Stage With Celeb Clients

Like this season's hot handbag, high-profile lawyers can be seen on many prominent defendants' arms as they walk into courtrooms.

The average citizen's shopping list probably doesn't include a Gucci or a Geragos. But when you're an image-conscious celebrity, even your litigation has to be in vogue.

Headlines change as fast as hemlines, however — and while a lawyer's record may remain impressive, his time in the spotlight fades.

"In the legal world there's a hot lawyer of the moment, just like there is a hot actor of the moment," said Pat Lalama, a correspondent for Celebrity Justice.

The lawyer du jour is Mark Geragos (search), currently representing both Michael Jackson in his child-molestation case and Scott Peterson, the California man charged with murdering his wife and unborn son in a case that has enthralled the nation.

Geragos "sort of appeared from nowhere," said Lalama. "Suddenly, bang, he's got Winona [Ryder], then bang, he gets Scott Peterson, then bang, he gets Michael Jackson."

"Then people see him on TV all the time," Lalalma added, "and think, 'He must be a great lawyer, he must be hot' and that multiplies into getting other big cases."

Lawyers often make headlines and become known for their personalities, but O.J. Simpson's "Dream Team" transformed the courtroom into a stage, spawning countless court television programs and book deals — and turning lawyers into stars.

Johnnie Cochran (search) and Robert Shapiro (search) were well-known attorneys before O.J., said Lalama, but "they weren't household names. After O.J., saying their names became like saying 'Kleenex.' ... Even 'Seinfeld' had a character based on Cochran. They are the poster children for celebrity lawyerdom."

Lawyers become popular and appear in headlines simply because they're good lawyers, said Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News' "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren," and a former trial attorney herself.

Law skills are crucial, of course, but a charismatic personality greatly contributes to success in court and in the court of public opinion, Van Susteren pointed out.

"If you are good in front of the camera," she said, "chances are you are good in front of a jury where it really counts."

In such a trend-driven world, it would seem that when a lawyer who's on top loses, the line outside his firm would dwindle like last year's hot nightclub, but that's not always true, according to law experts.

"A lot of times people are not paying attention to the track record of the lawyer — just that you have a big name," said Lalama. "There's a certain cachet to saying 'I shop at Barneys, my lawyer is whoever and I eat at all the right places.'"

You might have to be the King of Pop to afford trendy representation. Geragos charges in the neighborhood of $500 per hour, according to press reports. Simpson's criminal trial reportedly cost him between $3 million and $6 million.

Whether a prominent lawyer loses or wins a case, it's big news, which helps the profession overall, said Walter Olson, editor of

"If you've got strong pressures to weed out people who simply aren't good at practicing law, the people you end up with are pretty darn competent," he said.

"Johnnie Cochran is known for getting the guiltiest guy of the decade off. That's going to insure you are a famous lawyer," added Olson.

Ryder, represented by Geragos, was found guilty of shoplifting, but that was widely anticipated since there was videotape of her in the act, Olson said, pointing out that even such a loss can have its up side.

"You can come across," he said, "like the best surgeon in town that the toughest cases are taken to."

Even newly-minted household names such as Geragos can easily fall out of favor, Lalama noted.

"He's the flavor of the month, the lawyer of the year, and next year it will be somebody else," said Lalama. "It's fickle, but that's Hollywood."

Fame can backfire in some circumstances for popular lawyers. Defending a celebrity may actually hurt business, because people assume high-profile lawyers are so busy they won't bother to call you, Lalama said. Lawyers who appear in the press often can also be accused of overexposure.

"Gloria Allred (search) unfairly gets bad press for being a so-called media hound because she holds a lot of press conferences and takes on a lot of high-profile clients," said Lalama. "But the woman is never without a case."

Van Susteren said regardless of the hype surrounding high-profile lawyers, they reached their status by being able to shut out the spotlight.

"When you are in the courtroom representing the client, you do not notice the cameras," said Van Susteren. "You've got a guy who could get executed sitting next to you. You aren't thinking about the camera."