Former NFL running back O.J. Simpson, British socialite Claus von Bülow, author Patty Hearst, hotelier Leona Helmsley, American televangelist Jim Bakker, professional boxer Mike Tyson. The list goes on. Not many advocates, regardless of prior successes or reputation, have the opportunity to represent celebrity clients. But over his 50-year long career as an attorney, working with such clients became Alan Dershowitz’s forte. Most recently, Dershowitz acted for Harvey Weinstein (a former film producer who was accused and convicted of charges of rape and criminal sexual assault) and Jeffrey Epstein (an American financier who was found guilty of procurement of a minor for prostitution and sex trafficking). In January of 2020, when the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump had moved to the Senate for conviction, Dershowitz, despite having frequently criticised the President in the past, presented oral arguments on the Senate floor against his impeachment.
Representation of such unpopular figures inevitably generates a sense of disapproval and perhaps even animosity among the general public. It builds a certain reputation. But Dershowitz was never one to care about this reputation. While the United States’ legal profession does not observe the cab-rank rule, Dershowitz has always believed in the principle of accepting and representing clients, regardless of their ability to pay, their social status, or their popularity. If this practice made him an antagonist in the eyes of some, then so be it. To Dershowitz, his duty as an advocate and counsellor preceded all else.
This was no different for his celebrity clients. Toward the end of our interview, Dershowitz explains how the role of an attorney is akin to that of a doctor. The advocate and only the advocate knows the best way to prepare, argue, and win a case, just as the doctor and only the doctor knows the best way to diagnose, operate, and resolve a medical problem. No level of fame or notoriety should allow a client to dictate an attorney’s approach to a case. “You have to go in every day prepared to get fired,” Dershowitz summarises.
Through his representation of famous personalities in high-profile, well-publicised cases, Dershowitz has certainly developed a celebrity-like status of his own. After all, not many advocates can say that they have been depicted in multiple Hollywood productions.