The Life and Career of Neal Hersh, Celebrity Divorce Lawyer
by Mary Waldron
''There's no substitute for preparation. This is a very hard, time-consuming business, and we have to be prepared to be prepared,'' said Beverly Hills divorce attorney Neal Hersh.
It seems that most attorneys are not sure why they went into law; they just did. Hersh is no different. It's just something that has always been in the cards for him. "Gee, the truth is, I've known I was going to do this since junior high," he said. "Maybe it was process of elimination. I couldn't stand blood and all that; I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer. I've just always known that I was going to do this."
After Hersh completed law school at Southwestern Law School in 1976, he did what any normal law graduate does: looked for a job. The only problem was that he could not find a job anywhere, so he soon took another approach. Hersh rented an office space and a secretary's desk and set up shop. Hustling work from other attorneys, Hersh was able to connect with many of Southern California's most in-touch lawyers. This networking brought Hersh the opportunity to work for the Beverly Hills law firm Freshman, Marantz, Comsky & Deutsch. There, he was introduced to personal injury work and family law, which would ultimately become his specialty.
Kim Basinger was separated from Alec Baldwin in 2000 and later filed for divorce with the help of Neal Hersh.
After approximately a year at Freshman, Marantz, Comsky & Deutsch, one of Hersh's good friends introduced him to legal veteran Simon Taub, who Hersh refers to as the "Godfather of family law in Beverly Hills." Hersh ended up working for Taub for five years, and he later became one of his career mentors. Shortly after Hersh broke off from Taub, he went into private practice in 1984.
Today, Hersh is a partner at his own firm: Hersh, Mannis & Bogen in Beverly Hills. Throughout his years in family law, he has gained quite a reputation in the celebrity divorce arena. Hersh's first score came in the late 1980s when he represented actress Robin Givens in her divorce from boxer Mike Tyson. From there, he went on to represent powerhouse celebrities like Brad Pitt in his divorce from Jennifer Aniston, Pamela Anderson in her divorce from Kid Rock, and Halle Berry in her divorce from Eric Benet.
Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin met while filming The Marrying Man and later wed in 1993.
As Kim Basinger's attorney for almost a decade now, Hersh has been maneuvering through the legal and media turmoil that has gone on between Basinger and ex-husband Alec Baldwin with regard to their now-11-year-old daughter Ireland. Once their divorce was final in 2002, Basinger and Baldwin agreed on joint legal and physical custody of Ireland. Since each party began accusing the other of violating custody rights, the drama continued on. When Ireland missed a scheduled call from Baldwin last April, anger got the best of Baldwin. With Baldwin's violent and heated voicemail now playing a role in the custody battle, Hersh's team remains on top.
"I believe strongly in my client's position," he said. "I've done family law for almost 30 years, and I don't advocate positions regarding custody, or rather anything, that I don't believe in. I fully support her position, and my advocacy of her position is a very natural outgrowth of my support of her."
What do you do for fun?
I like to travel when I can get away.
What CD is in your CD player right now?
I'm a big country fan, so it could be any number of country songs. I like Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn.
What was the last magazine you read?
I get so many magazines it's not even funny. Smithsonian.
Who is your role model?
Probably my father.
Neal Hersh is one of Hollywood's top divorce attorneys, with clients like Denise Richards, Pamela Anderson, and Robin Givens.
Custody battles seem to be one of the most stressful and difficult aspects of family law for the lawyer and the client, and Hersh has become an old pro at dealing with this. Ultimately, he is confident that those who should win custody usually do, if he or she has a case that is well-formulated and prepared. "If you have a very truthful position that's very well-reasoned and well-based, the nice thing about truth is it generally does shine through," he said. "Secondly, you have to be very circumspect about what you present—the positions that you bring before a court—because they're going to be scrutinized. They have to be reasonable and predicated on some rational basis."
Brad Pitt called on Neal Hersh to represent him when he divorced Jennifer Aniston.
Hersh advises new attorneys to have the right mindset when they enter into the real world of law, as he said, "There's no substitute for preparation. This is a very hard, time-consuming business, and we have to be prepared to be prepared."
He also knows that in order to excel in family law, it takes some extra bonuses to stick out in the crowd. "Try to develop a sub-specialty because I think that in the area of family law, you need to separate yourself from the others if you want to build a name, reputation, and firm. That gives value added to any young lawyer." Sub-specialties like juveniles, child abduction, tax issues, and domestic partnerships can boost any new lawyer's diversity and allure.