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Skakel’s attorney Michael Sherman speaks to Quinnipiac Law School
“You only accomplish something by winning,” explained Michael “Mickey” Sherman during his presentation last Wednesday, Sept. 3, at the School of Law.
The high-profile criminal defense attorney who is best known for the Michael Skakel murder case delivered a presentation called “Managing the High Profile Client” in front of approximately 50 people at an event sponsored by the Criminal Law Society.
However, long before this well-known attorney represented the elite in murder cases, he was focusing his efforts on game shows.
After law school, the University of Connecticut graduate got a job as a clerk in the Stamford court-system. He earned himself a public defender position for about a year and then became a prosecutor for about four years.
“It was very political back then,” said Sherman. He noted how people landed the position of prosecutor by achieving the liking of a judge.
Because “the governor’s nephew didn’t need a job, I got it,” said Sherman.
“Being a prosecutor is the best job in the world…it’s the most amazing thing,” he said.
Sherman believes that being a prosecutor is beneficial because “you get to pick your own cases” and if you lose one, you get to try again to win another.
However, he craved something more, something that came in the form of game shows. He appeared, and earned tens of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes on well-known game shows such as “Joker’s Wild,” “Jackpot,” and “$25,000 Pyramid.”
Consequently, while he did earn about $21,000 in cash and “an attic full of crap,” it did not get him a house – something he needed for his wife and children. This need to put a roof over his family’s head caused Sherman to leave the game show genre and return to law.
He resurfaced in the legal profession as a criminal defense lawyer.
“You really don’t find a practice,” said Sherman to the room of predominantly law students. “A practice finds you, just like you don’t find the ‘big case,’ the ‘big case’ finds you.”
“I’m like a car repairman, I deliver a product,” said Sherman.
His product, is getting his client in and out of the court system with as few repercussions as possible.
Sherman’s career as a criminal defense attorney began with his defense in smaller cases.
He warned the students that knowing what to do without actually doing it is not good enough.
“The only way of getting better at trying cases is by trying cases,” said the attorney. “You actually have to prove yourself to be a good lawyer, not just a scholar,” he added.
Sherman’s career began to grow as he worked on several rape trials.
The American Lawyer Magazine featured him several times; and in 1989, the publisher called him and asked if he would do a pilot of a law-centered television program. Sherman agreed and a new network called “Court TV” debuted six months later, causing his growth in the law circles.
“If I’ve learned anything it is that there is no lock-keyed case,” said Sherman, “You can never predict what a jury is going to do.”
The attorney stressed that a successful defense attorney needs a theme and needs to “[put] your head down and [fight] like hell,” but not obnoxiously and not by objecting to every motion.
Rather, it is essential to pay very close attention to what is going on and to respond intelligently and genuinely.
“If [the jury] thinks that you are acting insincere then it is over…you have to look sincere to a jury in order to win a case,” said Sherman.
Since the Michael Skakel case, people have gone up to him and said things like, “I’m glad to see you out,” and “It’s gonna be okay.”
Most of the time, the famed criminal defense attorney would like to respond sarcastically but does not, mostly due to the reality that the feeling is surreal.
“Criminal law is not a profession where you get credit for trying hard,” warned Sherman to the room of many soon-to-be lawyers.
“You only accomplish something by winning,” because “when you lose a big case, it is the same job that the Fed Ex guy could have done…except at a much higher cost,” he added.
Sherman reinforced the fact that criminal law is not an area where much praise is awarded.
“You cannot go into this business to be patted on the back because it just isn’t going to happen,” said Sherman.
“The better we do, the more people get pissed at us…naturally everyone we defend ‘did it,'” he continued.
One bit of advice that all lawyers should follow, according to Sherman, is that “you have to believe in your client. If he said he didn’t do it, you have to believe he didn’t do it.”
When asked about handling the media’s attention, Sherman said, “you get to learn how to deal with the media or how not to deal with the media.”
“The only way you learn is by making some mistakes,” he said.
Sherman advised the students to always be cautious in terms of who they trust.
“Never think that reporters are your friends; they aren’t,” said Sherman.
“Never let [the media] use you and don’t get caught using them,” he added.
According to Sherman, the most important thing an attorney has is his credibility, and in order to keep that credibility, one should always be direct and intelligent about when to remark and when not to.
“The best thing you can do is play it as straight as you can because once you lose your credibility in the courtroom, it is over…you are better off saying nothing sometimes.”
However, in today’s day and age, there is always the need to know, and more importantly, there is the right to know.
Sherman ended his commentary by reinstilling this notion.
“The days of ‘no comment’ are over; you have an obligation to respond [as a lawyer] to the media.”