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During his law school years, Jeff Rake dreamed of being the golden-boy litigator-the hotshot partner at a big firm winning big cases. Well, that never happened, so now he just writes about the golden boy. Rake, a short-lived labor and employment attorney at Irell & Manella in Los Angeles, was executive producer and writer of a short-lived Fox television show called Head Cases, a comedic legal drama featuring a former superstar attorney and a low-rent lawyer who meet in therapy and are paired to take on underdog cases and reclaim their sanity. Rake, like many other ex-attorneys turned TV writers, views TV shows as an outlet for creative talents that are too often lost on the legal profession. That’s one of the main reasons he left his law firm in 1996-after just one year of working there-to break into the world of show biz. “I was longing for a more directly creative outlet. I eyeballed the hours that the partners were working who were the success stories at the firm,” he said, not to mention the years they had put in, “and that led me to bolt.” But after seven years of television writing, with stints including The Practice and Boston Legal, Rake feels that the partners didn’t have it so bad. “I’m convinced I work longer hours now than any of the partners at that law firm,” Rake said. And there’s one other drawback. shows can come and go, as Head Cases did when it was canceled on Sept. 23 after just two broadcasts. But at least you don’t have to wear those stiff suits, noted Keith Eisner, another ex-lawyer turned TV writer who relishes the fact that he gets to work in jeans and a T-shirt. Eisner, whose TV work include three years of writing for NYPD Blue, quit his job as a litigator with New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 1998-after just three years on the job-to take a shot at television writing. Like Rake, he was yearning to release his creative energies. For Eisner, practicing law wasn’t exactly a passion. He admits that he became a lawyer mainly because his father was a lawyer. But he quickly learned that the legal world wasn’t for him. He didn’t like being at a big firm. And all that legal stuff-the depositions, documents and research-was getting to him. “There are many, many ex-lawyers out here, ‘rehabilitating lawyers’ I like to call them,” said Eisner, who lives in Los Angeles and currently writes for The Gilmore Girls, a weekly series on the WB network. Eisner noted that not all ex-lawyers write exclusively for legal dramas, although such shows tend to attract attorneys who add credibility to the depiction of legal matters. Comedy writing is also big among attorneys, he said, adding that several of his lawyer friends write for sitcoms, and that he personally went to California to do comedy, not legal shows. But what makes lawyers such a hot commodity in Hollywood? “Lawyers write. That’s why there are so many lawyers writing here,” said Eisner, who feels the legal profession is “not a bad training ground” for writers. Bill Chais, who practiced criminal law for a decade, can attest to that. A former attorney for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, Chais has spent the last five years writing and producing legal shows, including The Practice and Family Law. His most recent TV gig was as creator and executive producer of Head Cases. (Neither Chais nor Rake will lose their jobs because they have contracts with Fox.) Chais said that everything he learned about the law, and writing about it, came from the six years he spent as a public defender. He worked with prostitutes, drunks and petty thieves, and tried capital murder cases in his later years. He also spent five years doing criminal defense work for Fine & Chais in Los Angeles. No doubt, he said, his years in the courtroom helped prepare him for a future in TV writing. His latest specialty is writing about troubled lawyers-the main theme of Head Cases. “I know a lot of lawyers, and having been one myself, who are walking around who are kind of time bombs,” he said, noting that he sees a bit of himself in both of the show’s lead characters, the fallen golden boy and the explosive deviant. One of his hopes is that viewers will see lawyers as being fallible, vulnerable and oftentimes seriously psychologically wounded. It’s not that he’s afraid to make lawyers look bad-he’s done plenty of that and will continue to do so. “I’ve made all kinds of people look bad,” Chais said. “Even when someone is flawed and acting badly you want to make them human and relatable.” But he also feels a little protective of his former profession, saying “I feel like lawyers are given a really unfair bad name.” Having said all that, however, Chais, a 43-year-old father of three, still prefers his TV writing career to working as a lawyer. “I miss some things about practicing-going up before a jury and the adrenaline rush. But all in all, as a criminal defense lawyer, you’re stuck with the facts,” Chais said. “But if you’re a writer, you invent your own facts.” And those facts can get pretty wild, he added. “When I first started writing for a TV show, I would say, ‘Oh, no, a lawyer would never do that,’ ” Chais said. “ And then I recognized pretty quickly, ‘You know what? It’s a TV show.’ “ Meanwhile, there are plenty of practicing attorneys still stuck in the real world, waiting for the day when they can bag the high-stress profession and venture into something carefree and zany like TV writing. Such are the hopes of attorney Michael Molfetta, a criminal defense lawyer who has written several TV and movie scripts, some of which are loosely based on his cases. He also has an agent to help market his scripts-including one for a reality show that has nothing to do with the law-although he hasn’t had any big breaks yet. Molfetta of Molfetta & Associates in Newport Beach, Calif., feels compelled to write because his years of lawyering have exposed him to “horrific and some absolutely hilarious” stories that make for ideal writing material. His clients range from lawyers charged with murder to former National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman, whom he represented on some ordinance violations involving a wild birthday party Rodman threw for himself in Newport Beach. “I just figured that if anybody had a veritable treasure chest of something to write about, it would be someone in my position and my career,” said Molfetta, who is itching to get into TV writing. “There are only so many death penalty cases you can do, so many murder cases you can try. There’s a point where you say, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s something else that I can do.’ “

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