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Andrew Cohen knows he has a lawyer’s dream job: CBS News legal analyst. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided the presidential election, the Tiffany network sent Cohen to the marble steps. Ditto for the trial of one of Matthew Shepard’s killers in Wyoming. “They fly me places to witness history,” he says. That’s not all the job offers. Cohen likes helping the public understand complicated legal stories. He likes debating the hottest legal issues with other legal analysts. And he likes having a national soapbox where his position on a variety of legal issues matters. You want a piece of that? Becoming a network TV legal analyst ain’t easy. (“It’s a one-in-a-million shot,” says Cohen.) But it isn’t impossible either. The trick, experts say, is to start with smaller media, then claw your way up. Heck, even if you never get any farther than The Poughkeepsie Journal, the experience can up your profile and help you land clients. Follow the advice below to discover how to break into the legal-pundit biz. After a few years, who knows? You, too, may have the honor of explaining to the American public what the Constitution says about sacking a president for shagging an intern. 1. BE SPECIAL Cold, hard fact: No one cares about your opinion. Not yet, anyway. But people are interested in the opinion of a tax lawyer around April 15. Or a bankruptcy lawyer when the next Bethlehem Steel decides to restructure. The bottom line: The public wants to hear from lawyers with expertise in a specific aspect of the law. So before you start pitching yourself as an expert, become an expert. Once you have something to say, people will want to listen. 2. GET YOUR NAME OUT THERE Unless you’re already well-known (Johnnie Cochran) or have big-time connections (Floyd Abrams’ boy, Dan), television producers are not likely to come to you — so you should to go to them. Start by demonstrating your expertise — and your ability to communicate to a broad audience — by writing for newsletters, newspapers, magazines and Web sites. These outlets are not only easier to break into than TV but also create a handy paper trail you can use to build your budding media career. Legal publications are a good place to start — they’re easier to crack than general-interest pubs. When a story relevant to your area of expertise breaks, draft an op-ed and send it their way. Or, to break the ice, simply offer yourself as a source for a quote. Once you’ve been published, compile a list of the e-mail addresses and fax numbers of the legal reporters at general-interest newspapers, radio stations and TV channels (think local, not national, at first), and send them anything you’ve written. In a cover letter, detail your qualifications, make it clear that you’re available for interviews, and note that you’ve enclosed samples of your work. Another way to get your name out: Let your law firm’s PR department know you’re interested in working with the media. Andrew Cohen wrote a regular column for a local weekly newspaper about the Oklahoma City bombing trial when that case was moved to Denver in 1996 (Cohen was working as a civil trial attorney for Denver’s Gorsuch Kirgis, and he researched the column during lunch breaks). After each piece was published, he’d send it out to several dozen media people. “No one responded at first, but it turns out people were looking at it and putting it into their files.” Cohen put in plenty of face time at the courthouse and eventually, when coverage of the trial heated up, reporters began swamping Cohen with calls. The resulting exposure was the first step on his path to CBS. 3. KNOW YOUR STUFF A booker at a cable news program needs a guest to talk about a murder trial in Minneapolis. A prominent real estate magnate is accused of killing his wife. The booker logs on to LexisNexis and finds an op-ed you wrote about pretrial publicity and its effects on wealthy criminal defendants. He tracks you down and asks you to do an interview. Eureka. Your moment has arrived. Now what? Prepare like you’re heading to trial. Read everything you can about the facts of the case and the relevant laws and precedents. Learn about the judge. Talk to the lawyers on both sides to get a sense of how each plans to execute her case. This kind of research makes for good commentary: “The defense team told me earlier this week that they plan to present a week’s worth of evidence on that point.” And good commentary will get you invited back. 4. KNOW YOUR SHOW If you’re unfamiliar with the show, and time allows, ask the booker to send you a videotape of a similar segment. Watch it to get a sense of the format and the host’s expectations for the guests. If you suspect that the show won’t reflect well on you, back out. And always clear TV appearances with your firm. Here are the words you never want to hear: “You were great on the six o’clock news last night. Unfortunately, you compromised our case.” 5. DECLARE YOUR INTENTIONS Most shows will ask you to conduct a pre-interview. This is done to make sure the producers have an idea of what you’re going to say so that the on-air host doesn’t look stupid (TV people hate to look stupid). This is not the time to withhold information. Share everything you plan to say, and if you don’t know something, tell them that, too (“I haven’t researched the voir dire issues in this case, so let’s steer clear of those”). Once you go on the air, don’t pull any surprises. We repeat: TV people hate to look stupid. 6. LOOK SHARP The good news is, you don’t have to be Stone Phillips to appear on TV. “I’m basically a George Costanza, and I’ve had no problem,” says Cohen. The bad news is, looks do matter. “TV does love beautiful people,” says former Manhattan prosecutor turned Court TV reporter Beth Karas. To look your best, Karas advises, avoid striped and large pattern shirts or blouses and stick with solid, bright primary colors. Get a top-notch haircut (“Hair seems to look longer on television,” says Karas), and if the station offers the services of a makeup pro, gratefully accept. Age-old TV producer’s axiom: “The camera eats color.” Age-old TV watchers’ axiom: “Pale, pasty-looking people look like s–t on TV.” 7. EXPRESS YOURSELF Dan Broden spent five years on-air as a Court TV reporter and anchor before he became a vice president with Ketchum public relations agency, which runs a program advising lawyers on effective media presentation. Once you’re on the air, Broden says, speak in short, jargon-free sentences. Bad: “The trial judge’s ruling on the promissory estoppel claim is ripe for appellate review.” Good: “That was a questionable decision Judge Frank just made. It’s prime material for an appeal.” Broden also suggests you focus on the human drama first, and the legal information second. Try something like, “This was a brutal murder — the jilted lover of a beautiful woman takes his revenge. The defense wants to prove its client was mentally unfit at the time of the crime. But that won’t be easy, since state law says … ” If a reporter asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “ That’s not something I’ve looked at,” then segue to a topic you do know about. Other Broden pointers: Use the host’s name when starting a thought — it’s human and direct. And practice speaking your points out loud in advance (your mouth will get used to saying the words). When you’re done, wind down with a declarative summarizing point, he says. Something like: “That’s why I believe the defense faces an uphill battle.” 8. MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK Cohen acknowledges that his success would have never been possible if the Oklahoma City bombing trial hadn’t been held in his hometown. Beth Karas got her start at Court TV after a magazine wrote a profile of her career as a prosecutor. Luck? “Sure,” says Cohen, “but I put myself in a position to take advantage of luck.”

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