Law Practice Today | February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW
February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW 2013
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Roundtable "Interview" of Well-Known Lawyers

Compiled by Dan Lear

As a part of the continuing series of career profiles brought to you by the Career Paths Task Force of the ABA LPM, we are providing this “roundtable” interview/profile. It consists of answers taken from various interviews given by individuals who are lawyers, but who are better known for their activities outside the legal industry. Some of these individuals never practiced law, while others had substantive legal careers (a few, quite lengthy) before they made their mark in another area. A brief bio for each individual is provided below.

Savannah Guthrie: Savannah Guthrie is the co-host of the third hour on The Today Show on NBC and has also been a substitute main host and news anchor. Guthrie entered law school after working for several years as a broadcast journalist. She received her JD from Georgetown in 2002 and is a member of the Arizona and Washington DC bars. She practiced law briefly before returning to broadcast journalism.1 Her quotes are drawn from an interview with a fellow NBC journalist about an interview Guthrie did with President Obama.

David E. Kelley: David E. Kelley is an Emmy-award winning television producer and writer. His most well-known shows are L.A Law, The Practice, Doogie Howser, MD, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal. Kelley received his JD from Boston University School of Law and practiced law for a few years (including maintaining his practice while also writing for L.A. Law for a year) before turning to television full time.2 Kelley’s quotes come from an interview with

Tony LaRussa: A former Major League Baseball manager and player, Tony LaRussa has managed three World Series Champion teams and is third all-time in major league wins by a manager. LaRussa earned his JD from Florida State University College of Law in 1978 while playing baseball in the minor leagues. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1980 and remains affiliated with a Sarasota law firm, although he is not currently eligible to practice law.3 LaRussa was interviewed by Brian Kersey of and LaRussa’s quotes are drawn from that.

Louis Sachar: Louis Sachar is a children’s book author from the United States. He is best known for his books Sideways Stories from Wayside School (which was accepted for publication as Sachar was entering law school) and Holes. Sachar graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in 1980 and he wrote books and practiced law part time until 1989, when he quit practicing to write full time.4 Sachar’s quotes are drawn from an interview with Scholastic readers.

Will Shortz: Will Shortz is the editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle and a graduate of the University of Virginia law school. Shortz did not take the bar exam, opting instead to pursue a career in puzzles. He also holds the only known bachelor’s degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles, from Indiana University.5 Shortz was interviewed by the University of Virginia Law School and his quotes came from that conversation.

Terence Winter: Terence Winter is a television and film writer and producer whose credits include writing for The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Xena: Warrior Princess, and others. He earned his law degree at St. John’s Law School, graduating in the late 1980s, and moving to Los Angeles to pursue his career in television and film writing in 1991 after only a few years of practice.6 Winter’s quotes were drawn from an interview with the Huffington Post.

Steve Young: Steve Young is a former NFL quarterback who won Super Bowl XXIX with the San Francisco 49ers. A graduate of Brigham Young University law school in 1994, Young now works as an NFL commentator and in the private equity arena.7 He is a member of both the college and professional football halls of fame.8  Young’s quotes are taken from an interview with

Nina and Tim Zagat: Nina and Tim Zagat are the founders of the Zagat surveys, a set of user-generated consumer reviews about restaurants, hotels, movies, airlines, and various other consumer activities and services.9 The Zagats met at Yale Law School and were practicing law when they founded the Zagat survey company. Tim was a plaintiffs’ attorney who ultimately worked in house for Gulf and Western. Nina was a tax attorney who practiced at Sherman and Sterling.10  Both practiced for nearly two decades before beginning the Zagat survey. The Zagats were interviewed for Bloomberg Law shortly after their survey was acquired by Google, and their responses are drawn from that interview.

While traditional practice or, at the very least, employment in the legal field is the likely career path for an overwhelming majority of law school graduates, many other paths are available, and potentially viable. This roundtable examines some of the choices that led these law school graduates and former lawyers to explore something outside of the strictly traditional career path.  

  • Tell me how you got started along the path that has led you to this place in your career.

Nina and Tim Zagat

Tim: “We were at a dinner party and . . . I said [to a friend] why don’t we do a survey of all of our friends [about restaurants in New York City]? We had 20 people at the table and I said let’s get 10 names from each of you and we’ll start a survey. . . . We did it as a hobby for three years.”

Ultimately, the Zagats decided to make their hobby a business to make their activities with the survey tax-deductible – at Nina’s suggestion.11

Steve Young: "I had to back him [Joe Montana] up for four years, and I was going crazy because I wasn't playing. I really wasn't happy with that, so I was bored to tears. I thought, what can I do while I bide my time here? Well, I always said I was going into law, so let's get it out of the way.'"12

Louis Sachar: “I went to law school, and became a lawyer, but I never really liked it. At the time I didn't know if I'd ever get a book published, or if I'd be able to make a living as an author. I always wanted to be a writer, and once my books started selling well enough, I quit being a lawyer.”13

  • Was there something that influenced you in college or law school to move into the area in which you are currently working?  If so, what was it?

Louis Sachar: “I was 23 years old, and didn't know what I wanted to do. I hoped to get my book published. I went to law school because I didn't know what else to try. It wasn't a very good reason.” 14

Will Shortz: “[M]y undergraduate degree was in enigmatology, which no one really takes seriously, my law degree from the University of Virginia gave me a substance that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

“I always wanted a career in puzzles. I just didn’t think it would be financially feasible. It’s hard to make a living constructing puzzles. So my idea was to practice law for 10 years and make enough money so that I could then shift into what I really wanted to do.” 15

Tony LaRussa: “I had started law school at Florida State University as a part-timer. I would go two quarters, and they allowed me to drop out to play baseball, and then I'd get readmitted in September. I was convinced I was going to be a lawyer and was using my baseball salary to pay my way through school.” 16

One of LaRussa’s law professors provided LaRussa with some very specific direction about the possibility of a career in baseball. Just before graduation, LaRussa told this professor that he had an opportunity to manage a minor league baseball team after graduation and he asked the professor what he should do. The professor responded, "Grow up, you're an adult now, you're going to be a lawyer." 17

Terence Winter:  “My choices were born of unhappiness. I knew I'd made a terrible mistake by initially pursuing a legal career . . . , but that was the result of somehow thinking that a law degree was the validation I needed before I could pursue what, in my heart, I wanted.” 18

  • Tell me about how you found your first job after graduation. 

LaRussa: “I graduated from law school in 1978, but my wife, Elaine, and I decided I should take a job managing in the minors to get it out of my system. The White Sox gave me the opportunity, and I spent half the year at Double-A Knoxville.” 19

Savannah Guthrie: “I actually started in local news . . . in Columbia, Missouri and then in Tucson, Arizona. I was actually working in local news in Tucson when I decided to go to law school. I [then] moved to Washington . . . . [W]hile I was in law school, I started working part-time at the NBC affiliate there [in Washington]. [A]fter law school I took the bar, and I went and practiced for a short time. . . . I started . . .  wondering if I could . . . combine journalism, and  . . .  this new education I had in the law. . . . [S]o I decided to start sending tapes around trying to get a job and I ended up getting a job at CourtTV.”20

Terence Winter:  “I finally said, 'I'm going to go for this,' so I got on a plane and went west. And I showed up in L.A. with a really intense work ethic and a real drive to succeed, and I planned to live, breathe, and eat writing until I made this happen -- and that's what I did.”21

  • How did you get your next job/opportunity?

LaRussa: “At the end of the year [1978] they hired Don Kessinger for the '79 season, and I got the job in Des Moines [Triple-A]. And in August of '79, they offered me the White Sox job [after Kessinger resigned]. This was a shocker. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, but here it is, 30-plus years later.” 22

Winter:  “After I saw the pilot of The Sopranos, I called my agent and said, 'You have to get me on the show. It's terrific.' My second call was to Frank Renzulli. He said he'd seen the pilot and was meeting with David Chase [producer and head writer for The Sopranos] that same week. I said, 'If you work for that show, you have to get me on there with you.' But Frank became one of the last people David hired, and the door closed, and there wasn't an opportunity until season two. So finally David asked Frank, 'Who's this guy you've been telling me about?'”23

Winter was hired onto the writing team for The Sopranos at the beginning of season two.

  • What role have mentors had on your career? 

Kelley: “Steven Bochco [Kelley’s first boss in television] . . . was extremely collaborative: You got to pick his brain and you got to watch him. So just through observation and osmosis, you learned a great deal about writing and production. It was probably the best experience any young writer could possibly hope for. And it probably helped that he and I clicked. We just got along right from the beginning. When I came out to Los Angeles, I walked into that writers’ room and I knew within fifteen minutes I was home, and that there was a strong likelihood that I would never be practicing law again. I chalk much of that up to the connection that I made with Steven.”24

Winter:  “Frank Renzulli, one of the people who gave me my first job. . . . He and I became good friends and over the years we kept in touch. . . . Frank was hugely instrumental in my career by helping me make” the connection that ultimately landed Winter a job on the Sopranos.25

  • What have been some of the critical turning points in your career including both successes and disappointments? 

Sachar: "My first book was accepted for publication during my first week at University of California, beginning a six-year struggle over trying to decide between being an author or a lawyer."

Sachar’s first book, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, did not sell particularly well and so Sachar continued to write and practice law until he was successful enough as an author to quit his practice a few years later. 26


Nina: “We had gone around to all the major publishers and asked them if they wouldn’t publish our guide because originally our idea was to not stop practicing law and do the survey but, rather, to have someone else publish the survey. But they all turned us down.” 

Tim: “I had two publishers that reported to me at Gulf and Western and I was turned down by both of them.”
. . .
“Thank God we got turned down, because if they [the publisher] had taken us they’d have [the publisher would have] taken 80-90% of the revenue and we would have been lucky to get 10-20%. As it was, we learned how to publish these things ourselves and distribute them, and we got 100% . . . it made the whole thing much more profitable.”
. . .  
Nina:  “Also . . .  had we gotten somebody to publish “guides” they wouldn’t have seen it with the broad vision that we had and we wouldn’t have had the business that we ultimately built.” 27

Winter:  “I was in my late twenties and starting to develop more self-confidence that I thought, 'Do you want to stick with something you're really not good at and really not enthused about just because it's safe and respectable, or do you want to have a life you can really embrace and that allows you to reach your full potential?' Once I was able to make that choice and say out loud, 'I want to be a writer,' the world really changed for me dramatically.”28

  • If you were advising a young attorney today who was entering your field, what advice would you give them about how to find a job, how to develop their expertise, and how to be successful?

Shortz: “Law is great training for the mind for almost any career. It was good for me because the thinking skills you get from law school are important in puzzle-solving and puzzle-making.”29

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