I met a lawyer at a party the other day who looked familiar.

"Don't I know you?" I asked him.

"Maybe you saw me on Channel 4 when I defended Alfredo Portman for inside trading on Wall Street. I had a 4.3 TV rating the day the verdict came in."

"No, I missed that one."

"I arbitrated a holy war between three fundamentalist preachers from South Carolina, Jerry Falwell and the Ayatollah Khomeini."

"Maybe I saw you then. But didn't you plead Delta Domino guilty for stuffing U.S. Air Force missiles with Rice Krispies?"

"That was me."

"What kind of law work do you do?"

"I practice legal theater."

"I didn't know there was such a thing."

"You see it all the time," he told me. "You just don't recognize it. Legal theater is what lawyers do when they stand on the steps of the courthouse and try their case for the 6 o'clock news."

"Does it help the client?"

"No, but when people see me on the steps it attracts new business to the firm. It's amazing how much demand there is for a lawyer who has been on television."

"When you stand on the court steps with your client do you allow him to speak?"

"That would be a big mistake. After all, your client isn't too bright to start with or he wouldn't be in court."

"What exactly do you say to the media?"

"If it's a criminal case I declare that the prosecutor is driven by political ambition and is vindictive beyond any normal bounds of justice. If I am handling a civil suit I charge that the other side has no case and should be fined for wasting the taxpayers' money. In legal theater it is not what you say but how long you can get on TV that really counts."

He continued, "Sometimes I don't have to do anything to get on the air. I just walk with my client to the parking lot and let the reporters throw questions at me as I am slowly moving along. A lot of the news shows prefer that long walk to any dialogue you can exchange with their correspondents."

"There seems to be a lot more to practicing law than hitting the books," I said in admiration. "How did you decide to go into legal theater?"

"I had the choice of either becoming a lawyer or playing Hamlet. Legal theater gave me a chance to do both. My dream is to sit next to a witness at the Iran-contra congressional hearings and be on camera all day long."

"That must be every lawyer's dream."

"Actually, my real dream is to make each senator and congressman apologize for how they treated my client."

"I guess that fantasy will never come true if you don't have anyone to represent in the scandal," I said.

"Rumor has it that Fawn Hall is looking for a younger lawyer," he whispered.

"You certainly would get on TV if you represented her."

"Not just any TV," he said, "I'd get on the Ted Koppel show."

"No one would ever forget you if you appeared on Ted Koppel's show with Fawn," I told him.

"The trick of legal theater is to always ask yourself before taking a case, 'Can this client cut the mustard on the Phil Donahue show?' "

"What was the most touching line you ever delivered?"

He replied, "This is an outrage. We are enormously disappointed by the verdict and intend to appeal."

"Did you write that yourself?"

"No, I saw it on 'People's Court.' "

1987, Los Angeles Times Syndicate