When handling a legal matter for a celebrity client, especially in the family law arena, an attorney must not only handle the legal strategy, but also take on the Herculean task of being the ringmaster of what usually is a three-ring circus.
The first ring consists of the celebrity themselves. Each celebrity comes with baggage: press, career, public perception. They say that there is no such thing as bad press, but when it comes to the law, there is such a thing as bad press. Public perception of how a celebrity treats their spouse or children can have an effect on the overall outcome of the case as follows – a shining example is the recent case of Kelsey Grammar (“Frasier”) and his wife Camille Grammar (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”). When EXTRA or Page 6 ran stories that Kelsey had been seen around town with his new bride-to-be, exclaiming that he could wait to be married to the new Ms. Right, his wife Camille had to have a big smile on her face. Camille had been holding out on a settlement and, unless Kelsey wanted to sift through the quicksand of a prolonged divorce trial, you can bet he was going to give in to her demands. Thusly, had it not been for the press and paparazzi following Kelsey around showing him with his new fiancé, Camille may have settled for less than she received. Therefore, the second ring of handling a celebrity client is the publicist or public relations firm.
Celebrities have publicists. They are a part of the lifestyle — a part of the ‘game’, so to speak. I have a publicist –she is amazing and is the one who books me as a legal analyst on FOX news, WPIX New York, on various radio stations, and a host of other news outlets. However, this is slightly different than a celebrity athlete, rock star, hip-hop artist, or actor/actress. In those cases, these celebrities have an on-screen/on-stage persona and a “real life” image they attempt to maintain. Does art sometimes imitate life, sure, does life sometimes imitate art, yes. However, it is the publicists job to blur the lines on behalf of their celebrity clients. They want to keep the public perception of their clients as bigger than life, inaccessible, or mysterious. The less ‘real’ information they have out there, the more in control of the situation they feel. However, control is what the third ring is all about.
The third ring in the celebrity legal circus is the attorney. Set in the middle, like a Venn diagram, the law firm sits overlapped by the celebrity themselves and their public relations team. Once the attorney puts on the ringmaster hat and cracks the whip, both client and publicist need to listen. Without exertion of control over the legal strategy of the case, especially in a divorce or family law matter, the attorney will become a passive observer, unable to recognize where the strategy is going or, worse yet, allowing the publicist to dictate the words used in the legal pleadings. The attorney, as ringmaster, must be sure to always follow the legal strategy discussed in the initial meeting with the celebrity client. This should also be outlined in detail for the client and publicist so that there is no confusion. Finally, publicists will sometimes want to edit your work as an attorney – do not give into the temptation to feel like you are a part of a celebrity team. You are an attorney for your client, not their publicist. The inverse should be true for press releases the publicist wants to issue regarding your client’s case. All press releases regarding the legal matter should definitely be approved by your office. Without such approval, the publicist could state something publicly you wanted kept private, or vice vers, state something you wanted public that they chose to keep private.
Finally, with the advent of social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter), celebrities are now in direct contact with their fans. This can create a false feeling of familiarity and lead the celebrity to Tweet or update their Facebook friends with news about their legal matters. This must be discussed with your client and you must continually remind your client that not only are his or her fans following them, but likely their spouse’s attorneys as well.
In the interest of full disclosure, I represented celebrity clients. My experiences have been genuinely rewarding. However, that is not to say representing celebrity clients is for everyone, you must be able to keep the proverbial show running smoothly, tame the lions, and watch out for the clowns.