For litigators seeking an alternative career path, a television commentator might just be the way to go.
Jay Bilas, the prominent ESPN analyst who’s been working the airwaves this March Madness, attributes his on-air success — at least in part — to his legal education.
“You had to test your mental standing,” said Bilas, in a recent interview with Big Law Business. “When you’re up against a federal appeals court panel, or a federal judge… I wasn’t bothered by a little red light on the top of a camera after that.”
The comments came during an interview earlier in March when Bilas talked about his experience as a lawyer and his views on how rape and sexual assault claims are handled on college campuses — a topic covered in a recent BLB story.
Speaking of his legal background, Bilas said that qualities such as persuasiveness, conciseness, and confidence under pressure, were all strengthened from his time as a practicing lawyer. And although he didn’t say it, lawyers at some of even the most prestigious firms might take note of Bilas’s marketing talents: he has 1.17 million followers on Twitter and he consistently dominates the headlines (read his recent GQ interview here and see The Bilastrator’s reaction below).
Indeed, Bilas explained that his legal education made him value brevity, so he often doesn’t need more than the 140-character limit offered by Twitter and tries to keep things to-the-point on camera.
“I never enjoyed long legal briefs, and it’s the same with my speaking on-air,” he said. “You try to say more with fewer words.”
Bilas, who received his law degree from Duke University School of Law in 1992, has been a commentator and analyst for ESPN since 1995.
After he graduated law school, he worked on a number of cases, including one in which he defended the owner of a costume company against trademark and copyright claims brought by owners of Barney the Dinosaur, the kids TV show character.
A 2014 feature in The Washington Post on Bilas’s career has more:
Bilas’s firm was representing a local man who specialized in high-end costume rentals. One in particular — a big purple creature with a green belly named Hillary the Hippo — bore more than a passing resemblance to Barney, the singing dinosaur that enthralled children on public television. Lyons Partnership owned Barney and sued in federal court to defend its trademark and copyright. It was a contentious case, and every detail was a battle. Bilas even had to subpoena Barney to court — and after a heated hearing the dinosaur showed up in character with someone inside.
Bilas told Big Law Business that he won the case, but not until after he suffered some trauma at home: “It was a difficult case because I had kids at the time, and I had to listen to that Barney kids stuff at home, and then listen to it at work.”
Outside of qualities that what make a good lawyer and commentator, Bilas said similarities between the professions end there.
“I looked at law practice as more of a strategic game of chess,” said Bilas. “It required the long view. I couldn’t just go out and physically overwhelm an opponent.”
Bilas is currently of counsel at the Charlotte-based law firm Moore & Van Allen, although he said he doesn’t keep up an active practice. Instead, he is referring clients to the firm’s roster of attorneys — which counted 275 as of last year, according to The American Lawyer.