07.25.10

Celebrity Legal Eagles

A-list train-wrecks may be making headlines from the courtroom these days, but also grabbing press are their power lawyers. Rebecca Dana on the big guns chosen to fight famous people’s battles. Plus, VIEW OUR GALLERY.

At a time when almost nothing can crowd Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, and their crackpot celebrity kinsmen out of the headlines, one group has had startling success: their lawyers.

Shawn Chapman Holley, Robert Shapiro, Blair Berk, Gloria Allred, Mark Lane, James Spertus, Manley Freid, and an assortment of others are commanding nearly as much attention these days as their A-list train-wreck clients. Their office visits are duly chronicled by tabloids; their courthouse motions recorded for all posterity by the same swarms of paparazzi who used to mob just Britney Spears.

Who are these people, and since when do they deserve their own tags on TMZ?

They are Hollywood’s new—and in some cases also Hollywood’s old—crop of power lawyers, the big guns chosen to fight famous people’s frequently losing battles. They are glamorous and fearsome, building celebrities up and tearing them down, dumping them, rescuing them, making them cry.

Click Image to View Our Gallery of the Top Celebrity Lawyers

This year has been a particularly litigious one for leading ladies and men, filled with a seemingly endless string of divorces, deaths, and DUIs. Through the diligence of RadarOnline and its many companion outlets, the old style of reporting on the entertainment business—attending junkets, writing fawning profiles, publishing lavish photo spreads—has begun to give way to a brand of journalism more resembling Cops than Vanity Fair.

Off-duty Hollywood is now a full-time reality crime TV show, and the legal professionals involved are starting to get top billing. Not since the O.J. Simpson circus have lawyers and judges figured so prominently in the celebrity media narrative.

The lawyers are chosen not just for their acumen but also with an eye toward the filmic. Berk, a woman, helps Gibson look marginally less like a dangerous, fire-breathing misogynist. Spertus, a computer specialist, counterbalances Oksana Grigorieva’s image as a kept woman with a tape recorder with his legitimate tech savvy. And in less successful casting, Holley and Shapiro, both veterans of the Simpson defense team, seem finally to have reached their limit with Lohan.

Lawyers are usually among the most boring participants in any unfolding scandal. Anonymous and sworn to secrecy, they eschew the spotlight and spend their time in dark offices, highlighting documents. But these particular lawyers have panache. Laura Wasser, counsel to Angelina Jolie and Gibson’s first wife (and sole defender) Robyn Moore, looks like she gets dressed for court in the Sex and the City wardrobe closet. Lane, a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist who met with Grigorieva, already has inspired a number of film projects. Allred is the Nancy Meyers of press conferences.

The judges are no less compelling: Scott Gordon, charged with deciding the unhappy fate of Gibson’s infant daughter; Marsha Revel, the only authority figure Lohan has ever acknowledged. Watching them preside over these cases has all the drama of an episode of Judge Judy and almost as much resemblance to the actual legal system.

As summer’s threats turn into fall’s litigation, these legal eagles will likely only see their fame grow. Law & Order may have been canceled this year, but in its places, the public should have all the personalities of the Gibson/Grigorieva showdown—heating up just in time for the new TV season.

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.