Eleven years after the debut of surprise hit "Judge Judy," court-themed reality television shows are still so popular that more than six "judge shows" currently are on television.
And this week they will be joined by "Jury Duty," with former Phil Spector attorney Bruce Cutler donning the judicial robes. Ubiquitous Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred plans to get into the game with her own show, "No Guts No Gloria."
Allred and Cutler join a host of other attorneys who have availed themselves of the full-time media opportunities that have been especially plentiful with the continuing popularity of law-related daytime programming, the rise of Web sites that track the legal travails of celebrities and cable television's incessant focus on salacious cases.
However, long careers, a staple of the legal profession, are a rarity in television, leaving attorneys who have "gone Hollywood" facing what can be a challenging return to the practice of law.
Not only must they readjust to life outside TV's cable or syndication limelight, the attorneys have to rebuild their practice and return to what is in most instances a more challenging and time-consuming workload.
"From my perspective, you get really spoiled. You're on this nice little show with no stress," said attorney Shawn Chapman Holley, who put aside her practice for four months during the Michael Jackson trial in 2005 to take a position as a commentator for the cable network E! Entertainment. "There are people who put on your make-up and fawn over you like you are someone special," she said. "In a real lawyer's life, everybody is mad at you."
Former prosecutor James Curtis starred in his own short-lived syndicated TV show, "Curtis Court" from 2000 to 2001 and for nearly five years after that he was an on-air personality at the cable network Court TV. But a year ago, he returned to legal practice by opening his own law office.
While Curtis described his television jobs as "some of the most fun experiences of my life," he said of his current criminal and civil practice, "There is nothing glamorous about it."
Aside from the glamour of being on television, there are fundamental differences between the two roles and substantial challenges that present themselves when TV lawyers go back to practicing law.
A return to private practice entails almost starting all over again, the attorneys said. They have to reconnect with former clients or establish new client relationships.
"When it ends you have to rebuild your practice," said Chapman Holley, who is currently a partner at the Santa Monica law firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP where she handles both civil and criminal matters.
"Running a law practice is entirely different than being on television and working for some big media company. There are all these things you have to manage to keep the doors open," said Curtis, who is based in Riverside but routinely handles matters in Los Angeles courts.
The attorneys said that following their stints in television they were more proactive in seeking out networking opportunities, much like in the beginning of their legal careers.
These attorneys also described their law practice workload as generally far more taxing and time consuming in comparison to their duties as television personalities.
"You don't have the stress of someone's life in your hands," said Chapman Holley of life as a television commentator. "In the practice of law, you are always working. You are always thinking about what argument you can make."
The attorneys added that the amount of time entailed in trying a case in which they are writing motions, prepping witnesses and negotiating with opposing counsel, far exceeds their television obligations.
Curtis worked just three days a week while on "Curtis Court," while his current practice requires his attention "essentially everyday."
And some attorneys-turned-television-personalities have found the transition back to law just too daunting.
Los Angeles-based attorney Mablean Ephriam practiced law for more than 20 years, until not long after she was cast as a judge in the syndicated show "Divorce Court" in 1999.
When she left the program last year after getting into a dispute with producers, returning to the practice of law was the furthest thing from her mind.
"The practice of law is grueling. It is difficult. It is long hours. It is quite stressful. I was asking the Lord to get me out of it when I got the show," said Ephriam, who began her legal career as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles before opening her own practice, where she eventually specialized in family law matters. "I really don't want to go back to it. Basically, I don't want the long hours."
Since leaving the show, Ephraim has become a motivational speaker and is currently working on a book about relationships.
But Ephriam offered the caveat, "I don't want to go back to the practice of law, but I am not telling you I won't if it becomes necessary. I keep my law license active and always will."
For those attorneys who have already found it necessary to return to the practice of law, the transition has not been without upsides.
"I chose law because of the intellectual stimulation, the courtroom atmosphere and being able to fight for your client," Chapman Holley said. "Television doesn't come close to being in a courtroom. At best, it's fluff."
Curtis, whose practices focuses on criminal, employment law and civil rights matters, offered a similar assessment.
"After having as much fun as I did in television," he said, "there is no greater feeling than being in the trenches and coming out with a favorable result for your client, especially if the client has been victimized by someone else or the criminal justice system."
The attorneys admitted the celebrity that came from their media jobs has made the transition to private practice easier.
"It does bring in clients," said Curtis, who is sometimes asked for his autograph while in court.
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