Why Celebrity Lawyers Make The Big Bucks

By Brigitte Yuille | March 16, 2010 AAA
Why Celebrity Lawyers Make The Big Bucks

What you often hear about celebrity lawyers is the extraordinary compensation they receive to represent high-profile or celebrity clients facing tough legal battles. In high-profile cases, lawyers face unique challenges compared to defending the average Joe. They have to whittle through their clients' entourage of public relations reps, agents, managers and assistants to cut down on manipulation, and attempt to control the misinformation from some entertainment programs and internet blogs scrutinizing their clients and posting inaccurate reports.

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Here we look at handful of the most well-known, high-powered attorneys and the cases that helped them achieve celebrity status of their own. (Find out what factors to consider before hiring an attorney, in How To Pick The Right Lawyer.)

Gloria Allred
Gloria Allred is the media-savvy civil rights lawyer who doesn't back down from tough cases. Allred recently represented Tiger Woods alleged mistress Rachel Uchitel, and helped Melanie Brown of the all-girl music group the Spice Girls legally establish actor Eddie Murphy as the father of her baby girl.

Allred is a founder of the Law Firm of Allred Maroko and Goldberg which had awarded more than $100 million dollars to its clients in the past five years, according to its website. She has been involved in many landmark cases, such as one involving soap opera star Hunter Tylo, who was fired from "Melrose Place" after becoming pregnant. Allred also represented Scott Peterson's mistress Amber Frey, acted on behalf of the family of Nicole Brown-Simpson, the murdered ex-wife of former football star O.J. Simpson, and helped Paula Jones in the sexual harassment case involving Bill Clinton.

According to her website, Allred has won hundreds of millions of dollars for her clients. (Learn about the Wall Street scandals Eliot Spitzer prosecuted before perpetrating his own, in Eliot Spitzer - Man Of A Thousand Scandals.)

Leslie Abramson
Famed criminal defense attorney Leslie Abramson rose to fame for her legal defense of Lyle and Erik Menendez in 1993. The brothers were accused of killing their wealthy parents, then going on a spending spree. Abramson reportedly earned $750,000 for representing the brothers, although the evidence was against them and they received life sentences.

Abramson was also hired by music producer Phil Spector when he was charged with the fatal shooting of actress Lana Clarkson.

Alan Dershowitz
U.S. appellate attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has reportedly has represented hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who was convicted of tax evasion. He also represented former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on rape charges reportedly receiving a six-figure fee for conducting Tyson's appeal.

Dershowitz has won more than 100 cases over a 35-year career. Half of his cases are pro bono; the other half are very high fees, he told the Boston Globe in 2006. He also helped obtain the highest fee thus far for lawyers against the cigarette industry.

Martin Garbus
Leading trail lawyer Martin Garbus' clients have included actors Richard Gere, Michael Caine, Al Pacino and Spike Lee. He recently represented music DJ Samantha Ronson, who hired him for $750 per hour in a defamation lawsuit against Perez Hilton. Garbus has represented countless other high-profile authors, actors and artists as well as political dissidents such as Nelson Mandela. (While Madoff's victims hope he dies in jail, other notorious fraudsters still have future careers ahead of them. Learn more in Notorious White Collar Criminals: Where Are They Now?)

Mark Geragos
In 2002, the Los Angeles City Council spent an initial $75,000 to hire defense attorney Mark Geragos to represent Councilman Nate Holden against allegations that he forced a staffer to work on his political campaign on city time, according to the L.A. Times. Geragos represented pop icon Michael Jackson in the early stages of his molestation trial.

He was also hired by actress Winona Ryder who was charged with stealing more than $5,000 in merchandise from a store in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 2003. He recently assisted pop star Chris Brown for his assault of singer Rihanna.

Allen Grubman
Allen Grubman is known as the "king of music entertainment law," representing pop and business icons Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Elton John, Martha Stewart, Tommy Hilfiger and Vera Wang. A founder of the Grubman Indursky and Schindler law firm, his earnings have been estimated at as much as $10 million.

Robert Shapiro
Robert Shapiro was the first lawyer to represent music producer Phil Spector after his 2003 arrest. But Spector fired and sued Shapiro, claiming that Shapiro refused to return a $1 million retainer fee paid for legal services. Shapiro served as co-counsel for O.J. Simpson's legal defense team, assembling the lawyers and scientific experts. He has authored the book "Misconception" (2001) and is a co-founder of the online legal document preparation service, Legal Zoom. (Bad behavior is all too common in the workplace, but it can't match the drama of these celebrities' stunts. Check out Stars Behaving Badly: Disastrous Celebrity Hirings.)

The Bottom Line
Many lawyers conduct their work behind-the-scenes, yet intriguing scandals and complex cases may thrust them into the spotlight. Another breed of lawyers are seduced by controversy and challenge welcome the spotlight and have honed their skills at achieving unlikely outcomes and for raking in millions of dollars not only for themselves but also for their clients, thus becoming legends.

Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's Water Cooler Finance to see what's been happening in financial news.

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