The criminal trial of Bill Cosby in Norristown, Pa., has drawn throngs of journalists, spectators and agitators to the typically quiet steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse.
But the bonanza has attracted another group: local attorneys who offer themselves as on-camera pundits to build their national profile.
Take defense attorney Dennis McAndrews. His office is about a 15 minute drive from the Norristown courthouse, so during the start of the Cosby trial, he dropped by. McAndrews, a former prosecutor, watched the day’s testimony. Then he made himself available to any journalist angling for a piece of his legal acumen to slice and dice the latest development.
Soon after, the requests multiplied.
“CBS, NBC, MSNBC, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, People Magazine, and a syndicated African-American station, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some,” McAndrews said.
And he kept coming back.
“I do have a firm to run, but there is time when the jury is eating lunch, or deliberating,” McAndrews said. “I’m sure there is some collateral benefit to all of this.”
He is one of several local lawyers who spy opportunity in the Cosby trial. To them, the high-profile case is a chance to spread their name, expertise and maybe even improve their business in the process.
“Many lawyers have told me that they do get clients when they’re seen on television, others have told me it doesn’t do so much for their business,” said Beth Karas, a lawyer and legal blogger with a considerable online following. “But it certainly can’t hurt, and it’s free.”
Many attorneys, Karas said, don’t look kindly upon the lawyer-turned-talking-head gig, especially if it means stretching the bounds of one’s expertise to exploit the spotlight.
“A lot of people get bit by the bug, the media bug, and they just can’t stay away from the camera, they never found a cameras they didn’t like,” Karas said.
But does it actually work? Are lawyers more likely to attract clients by putting on a legal analyst hat? Opinions are divided.
Lawyer consultant Mark Calzaretta is dubious. He said representing a celebrity is a golden ticket. It can catapult a lawyer into a different tier when legal services appear to be sought-after by the most well heeled. But appearing on CNN about the Cosby case? That might not spur a surge of new business. Think about the O.J. Simpson case, he said.
“Do you remember many of the people that we’re talking about? The lawyers who were acting as experts on the different networks? No, no, nobody remembers who they were,” said Calzaretta with a laugh. “But you certainly know who Johnnie Cochran was, and you certainly now know who the Kardashians are and who their father is.”
Standing around a gaggle of TV reporters covering the Cosby trial, defense lawyer Bill Brennan has a different take. He said dishing out expert quotes can indeed establish name recognition and stature.
“When I try a high-profile case, the phone doesn’t ring any more. People occasionally if they see you in the supermarket might mention it. But if I opine on someone else’s case, my phone blows up. My email is jamming. And I don’t know why. I’d love to figure it out,” Brennan said.
One lawyer who intimately knows that power of the media is Gloria Allred. She has been speaking to the public about big-time cases on network television for more than 40 years. And she’s walked up to the the podium outside the courthouse and spoken to the cameras every day during the Cosby case, which has gone on for two weeks now.
“If they’re good, they’ll be continued to be asked, and if they’re not, it probably will be evident very soon, and they will not be asked again,” Allred said of television appearances.
Before she can say too much more, a courthouse bystander, Irene Randolph, of West Philadelphia, interrupts the conversation.
“I’ve seen you on the news yesterday and before about Bill Cosby, right?”
“How am I doing, OK?” Allred asks.
“You’re doing, fine. You’re doing fine, yes,” Randolph said.
Would Randolph ever want to hire Allred if she wound up in some legal trouble?
“Of course,” she exclaimed. “Of course.”