So You Wanna Be on TV
Moonlighting as a Legal Commentator Has Intangible Payoffs, Lawyers Say
Posted Nov 29, 2005 3:01 AM CST
By Jill Schachner Chanen
For anyone who follows high-profile legal news, Seattle attorney Anne Bremner is a familiar face.
The telegenic former prosecutor has been on heavy rotation on nearly every cable and network news program, offering her opinion on the Michael Jackson acquittal, the Scott Peterson conviction, Martha Stewart’s appeal and more.
Bremner is one of what seems to be an ever-expanding group of lawyers appearing on the growing number of cable and network news shows devoted to anything legal. But lawyers who lend their expertise to the media are quick to point out that serving as a television analyst is rarely a money-making or even a marketing proposition.
Few lawyers are paid for their work on television. Most, like Bremner, foot their own bills to travel to locations of high-profile trials or other legal-themed news. They aren’t quitting their jobs to gamble that they’ll become the next Greta Van Susteren or Dan Abrams.
“It has absolutely no impact on my law practice,” says Denver criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, who, like Bremner, is a regular talking legal head for MSNBC, Fox News, Court TV, CNN, Today and others.
Merritt, who says she once was a paid legal analyst for MSNBC, now limits her appearances to in-studio sessions in Denver, where she can be linked up via satellite to the hosts of the news shows who interview her.
Despite the lack of pay, Merritt says there are reasons she continues to appear on television. She takes the time because she believes the public needs to be educated about the constitutional rights of the accused. “I do it to further the criminal defense message,” she says.
Chicago lawyer Steven Greenberg seconds Merritt. The criminal defense lawyer has been a regular on the cable news circuit for the last year since being invited to appear on a Fox News Channel segment about the Peterson trial. While he says he believes the appearances raise his profile, he has yet to get a client from them and has no expectation of doing so. “The typical drug dealer is not watching Fox News Channel or CNN and looking for a lawyer,” he quips.
Rather, Greenberg says, he really enjoys the experience, noting it can break up the monotony of the day. Plus, he enjoys the occasional perk such as a limousine being sent to fetch him from his suburban home to ferry him to the downtown Chicago television studios.
Potential For Respect And Ridicule
New York City lawyer Arthur Aidala is one of the few lawyers who has made the transition from unpaid to paid legal analyst. He says he recently signed a paying contract with Fox News Channel to be its exclusive analyst. He also continues to practice law.
Aidala says his analyst role generates respect rather than clients. “Clients like to hear a judge or colleague say, ‘Hey, I say you on television last night.’ It gives the clients the impression that they have a good lawyer.”
These lawyers see a public benefit as well. “When you get on the air and have a vigorous debate, it helps in terms of public education,” Bremner says.
Yet there can be drawbacks. Merritt says some lawyers think the work degrades the profession. And Greenberg and Bremner both say they’ve made comments on-air that they wish they could take back.
Aidala also gets some ribbing. One lawyer told him his dinner was ruined when he sat down at the kitchen table, turned on the TV and saw Aidala’s face on it.
But Aidala doesn’t mind.
He says that there are many reasons why he finds the work enjoyable, ribbing included. The exposure even helped him learn more about his family. Aidala shares the name of his grandfather, a well-known boxing judge who presided over a famous Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. Viewers often contact Aidala to share memories about the man.
“They help to keep his name and legacy alive.”