Are High-Priced Attorneys Worth the Money?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 4, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


MARK GERAGOS, MICHAEL JACKSON'S LAWYER: For your information, at least, he's already posted the bond. And Michael has given me the authority to say on his behalf these charges are categorically untrue.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Mark Geragos (search) is a busy man, defending Michael Jackson (search), Scott Peterson (search) and other lesser knowns at the same time.

Do the anonymous clients get the same service as the high profile alleged perps? Heather Nauert is here with more on what you really get when you hire a top gun lawyer.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos has gone from being a little-known lawyer to one who handles some of the biggest criminal cases in the U.S.

In fact, Geragos was just dressed down by a judge for not paying enough attention to one of his lesser-known clients. Is it justice for all when this happens, when you hire a big-name attorney?

Joining me right now is Harvey Slovis (search) who has represented celebrity clients such as P. Diddy and rocker Tommy Lee. He joins us for today's big question. Harvey, does hiring a hot-shot lawyer necessarily guarantee that you'll get good legal representation?


NAUERT: What does it guarantee that you will get? You see these guys on television all the time. People are bound to think, boy, he must be a good attorney. He's on TV. What do you get?

SLOVIS: In this case, generally nothing. When you hire a high-priced attorney, someone who is a celebrity, you might get some impact on the public, public recognition. Certainly Johnnie Cochran (search) has made a living off public recognition.

There are very good lawyers. I have done these cases, but I don't — I just — you get me, I cross-examine and do the case. With Mr. Geragos, he is just so excellent on "Larry King," that people just hide him from that. I've never met him, but I can tell you this — he's only tried about five cases. I grieve for Winona Ryder and for Susan McDougal.

NAUERT: And Winona Ryder was convicted.

SLOVIS: And so was Susan McDougal. He absolutely has no right to try a major homicide and to be involved with Michael Jackson at the same time. It's severely unprofessional, and if he was doing his job on the homicide case he should have declined Michael Jackson's case, because ethically it's a hard job, the case of Scott Peterson, in which the guy faces life in prison.

NAUERT: So, what are these guys thinking? Michael Jackson has a huge team of advisors. Scott Peterson does too. What are they thinking that in hiring a guy who, as you say, doesn't have that strong of a track record or that long of a track record and who likes to get media attention? What are they thinking?

SLOVIS: They don't think much at all. You see, Mr. Bryant, Kobe Bryant, was smart. He went with Ms. Mackey, who's a former legal aid lawyer, but she's highly competent, and certainly more competent than the two lawyers representing Jackson for sure. And sometimes, lawyers, because they don't have the right personality, are not getting the cases. I've been behind the scene. I've seen all these so-called celebrity lawyers, some great, some good, and some just all TV talk.

NAUERT: OK, well, then, is the objective on the part of Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson to create chaos, to get this guy who can attract and draw the media attention and admittedly handle that attention well because they want chaos like in the O.J. Simpson case?

SLOVIS: Well, that's a great question, Heather, I'd like to say. I don't know if it's so much for chaos, but Geragos is — he is just a publicity front, and him saying — and that — he does very well with the press. I don't — I'm not familiar with doing that kind of practice, but he does very well. I think he's ...

NAUERT: Hold on a second. Let me call you on that one. You have handled some very high-profile clients yourself.

SLOVIS: But you wouldn't know about it because I did it without publicity, without reporters, without anything, without making speeches, because that was in the benefit of the client.

NAUERT: So is that the key? If a client is in hot water, you want a guy who is going to be subtle, who is not going to be a showboat, sort of silent but deadly?

SLOVIS: Deadly is good. One thing I want to tell you about Michael Jackson. I do believe he's totally innocent. And I believe that a legal aid lawyer could handle the case. I believe he might be making a mistake with with the Nation of Islam. That's just insane. And I think it might backtrack on him.

I don't think the case is very strong against Mr. Jackson. He should get a professional lawyer, one who can cross-examine, who has taste with a young child so it doesn't offend the child. You don't need big mouths in this case.

NAUERT: Getting back to sort of the average person hiring a criminal defense attorney, is it fair for them to be able to expect personal attention from a high-dollar, big-name attorney, or is it common to get the associates and the junior people handling the day-to-day stuff?

SLOVIS: Well, I have to tell you that I limit my caseload to about eight cases a year, and that's it, because I spend all my time with my clients.

NAUERT: Is that then what the average criminal defense attorney can handle? Would you say eight to be fair?

SLOVIS: No. It's not the average. The average does 20, 40 cases a year. I do eight because they're bigger cases. But you shouldn't give associates to anyone. And in the case of Mr. Cochran and Mr. — all these people, they all use associates, all of them.

NAUERT: All right. Harvey Slovis, thanks a lot for that education in case we all get in trouble — John.

SLOVIS: Nice to see you.

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