Shapiro, Robert Leslie

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Shapiro, Robert Leslie

"Put simply, a defense attorney's job is to see to it that the man or woman who stands under … scrutiny does not stand alone."
—Robert Shapiro

Robert Leslie Shapiro is a prominent West Coast defense lawyer. He entered private practice in 1972 after a brief stint as a prosecutor. Within a decade, he was representing film stars, producers, professional athletes, and other celebrities. Shapiro is known for his calm, tactful manner in negotiations and for building relationships with law enforcement agencies and the press. In 1994, he turned these abilities to the defense of O.J. (Orenthal James) Simpson in a case that was followed closely throughout the nation.Shapiro was born on September 2, 1942, in Plainfield, New Jersey. While still a child, he moved to California with his family. He later studied finance at the University of California, Los Angeles, and then law at Loyola Law School. After earning his law degree in 1968, he joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office as an assistant district attorney. That same office also served as a stepping stone for another noted West Coast attorney, johnnie l. cochran jr., who later became Shapiro's colleague on the Simpson defense team. In 1972, Shapiro left the public sector for private practice.

Shapiro's first well-known case was his defense of Linda Lovelace, an adult film star who had been charged with a cocaine offense in 1975. Shapiro got the charges dismissed. Famous figures in sports and entertainment began to call on Shapiro. He represented television comedian Johnny Carson, New York Mets outfielder Vince Coleman, film producer Robert Evans, and Christian Brando, the son of actor Marlon Brando. Shapiro also won an acquittal for his friend, attorney F. (Francis) Lee Bailey, who had been charged with drunk driving.

After two decades of success, Shapiro published some of his insights for other lawyers. In February 1993, he wrote an essay called "Using the Media to Your Advantage," which was published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The essay's message was that big cases are tried as much in the media as in court, and usually to the prosecution's advantage. Prosecutors know how to play to reporters, and defense attorneys usually do not. Shapiro contended that media headlines proclaiming an arrest destroy the Presumption of Innocence and instead create a presumption of guilt. Shapiro believed that combating the public mind-set that "if the press said it, it must be true," is the defense attorney's most challenging task. He advised defense lawyers to get to know reporters, to look into the camera, and to speak in sound bites, so that the defense's position also finds its way into news reports.

Shapiro's most prominent case was the trial of former football star o.j. simpson for the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman. One of Shapiro's first moves in the case was to arrange for Simpson's surrender to Los Angeles police, something that he had done for other clients. Instead of surrendering as arranged, however, Simpson fled, leaving a suicide note; shortly thereafter, he led police on a long, slow-speed chase along Los Angeles freeways, driven by his friend and former Buffalo Bills teammate, Al "A.C." Cowlings. Massive publicity followed, putting the case and Shapiro under virtually ceaseless scrutiny.

Shapiro worked to ensure that the defense's perspective would be part of the media's coverage of the case. He also assembled a powerful team of lawyers and scientific experts to prepare for trial. Shapiro's team of experts, though widely praised, may have been as big a challenge as the media, for the many well-known attorneys did not always agree on strategy or on who should play what role. Serious disagreements arose within the team, including one between Shapiro and Bailey, whom Shapiro accused of trying to undermine his reputation. Although Shapiro handled most of the early trial work, it was Cochran who assumed the lead role toward the end of the trial, delivering the most widely quoted defense remarks in the closing arguments.

Simpson was ultimately acquitted of murder, and the team that Shapiro had assembled disbanded. By the trial's conclusion in 1995, Shapiro had gained nationwide fame for his part in one of the most widely followed cases in U.S. history.

In 1996, Shapiro published his recounting of the Simpson trial in a book titled The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case. In recent years, Shapiro has practiced law as a partner in the firm of Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro. He also cofounded LegalZoom, an online provider of legal documentation services.

Further readings

Shapiro, Robert L., with Larkin Warren. 1996. The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case. New York: Warner.

Toobin, Jeffrey. 1997. The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson. New York: Touchstone Books.

Williams, Linda. 2002. Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press.

Cross-references

Clark, Marcia Rachel; Simpson, O. J.