Not all lawyers practice law. Some attorneys develop other interests while still in law school. Some attorneys never wanted to be lawyers in the first place; they earn their law degrees and immediately look for work in another field. Other attorneys, myself included, practice law for years, or even decades, before deciding to change careers.
And that, in my opinion, is a good thing. After all, how many attorneys does the world really need?
The following lawyers are famous — but not for practicing law.
Famous attorneys who never practiced law: John Cleese
John Cleese earned his degree in law at Downing College, Cambridge, but never practiced. Instead, he decided to do something completely different and embarked on a long and illustrious career as a writer, director, actor and comedian.
John Cleese achieved fame and fortune by being exceedingly silly as a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as well as co-writing and starring in Fawlty Towers, one of the most uncomfortably funny British sitcoms ever made. Aside from the co-writing and starring in films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and A Fish Called Wanda, John Cleese played memorable supporting roles in Silverado, Yellowbeard, Die Another Day, Shrek and as Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter movies.
John Cleese even has a species of lemur named after him. How many lawyers can say that?
Famous attorneys who never practiced law: William Sanderson
William Sanderson is another law school graduate who found fame outside the legal profession. William Sanderson caught the acting bug while still in law school. Although he earned his law degree from the University of Memphis, after graduation he chose to pursue a career as a character actor rather than looking for a job as an attorney.
William Sanderson has had several memorable roles over the years, acting in such films as Coal Miner’s Daughter and Blade Runner. He has also appeared on TV: on Newhart as Larry, of “this is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl” fame; as E. B. Farnum on Deadwood; and as Sheriff Bud Dearborne on HBO’s True Blood.
Famous attorneys who never practiced law: Tony La Russa
Tony La Russa, who currently manages the St. Louis Cardinals, went to law school following his retirement from Major League Baseball after ten years as a player. Shortly before he graduated with his Juris Doctor from Florida State University College of Law, he received an offer to coach baseball in the minor leagues. Despite the fact that his law school advisor told him to “grow up” and be a man, La Russa says “I decided I’d rather ride the buses in the minor leagues than practice law for a living.”
Good call. Tony La Russa ranks third on Major League Baseball’s list of all-time managerial wins, and has won the NL Manager of the Year and the AL Manager of the Year three times. La Russa is also one of the few Major League Baseball managers to win multiple pennants in both the American and National Leagues, and is one of only two managers to win the World Series with teams from both the American League (Oakland A’s) and the National League (St. Louis Cardinals).
Famous attorneys who practiced law, but not for long: Jerry Springer
Jerry Springer is another law school graduate who achieved fame– or possibly infamy– outside of the practice of law, deciding that he would rather interview lowlife scum-sucking bottom feeders on television than work with them at a law firm.
Jerry Springer earned his JD from Northwestern University in 1968. After graduating from law school, he was hired as a political campaign aide to Robert F. Kennedy. Jerry Springer took a job as an attorney at a Cincinnati law firm after RFK’s assassination.
His career as an attorney was short lived: Jerry Springer was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1971, resigned after a prostitution scandal in 1974, was re-elected in 1975 and served as mayor of Cincinnati in 1977. It was during this time that Jerry Springer started his career in broadcasting, both on the radio and on television as a political commentator and news anchor. Aside from the notorious Jerry Springer Show, Jerry Springer has been the host of various radio shows, two seasons of America’s Got Talent and various programs in the UK.
Famous attorneys who practiced law, but not for long: Robert Parker
Robert Parker traded in his law practice for a glass of wine. Make that many glasses of wine: Robert Parker, founder of The Wine Advocate, is one of the most respected wine critics in the world. The day he quit is practice as a bankruptcy attorney in 1983, he and his wife celebrated with a bottle of 1976 Dom Perignon champagne.
More famous lawyers who practiced law, but not for long:
As it turns out, many attorneys abandon the practice of law for the greener field of sports. Howard Cosell was an attorney, as is the current football coach at Texas Tech University, Mike Leach, although he never practiced.
Jay Bilas, college basketball analyst for ESPN and a former professional basketball player, quit his job as an attorney to work full time for ESPN. Unlike other attorneys on this list, he enjoyed the practice of law, but when it came time to choose, he chose the job that gave him better seats at the big game.
Stephan Pastis, creator of Pearls before Swine, graduated from the law school at UCLA and worked at a law firm that most lawyers would envy– they even let him dress up as a Power Ranger. Even so, it wasn’t enough to keep him from quitting his day job to work on his comic full time– and loving every minute of it.
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