- Law Job Star
The Life and Career of Attorney Nancy Grace, who turned lawyer after the murder of her fiance.
by Mary Waldron
"Like most other crime victims, Keith's murder changed the course of my life. At the time of his death shortly before our wedding, I was studying to become an English professor, concentrating on Shakespearean literature. In one moment my world exploded and Keith's ended," she says.
As a result of this traumatic event, Grace became empowered to do something in response to the senseless act that left her torn. She abandoned her original career plans and decided to go to law school.
"I have never had any interest in pursuing most avenues within the legal profession, such as slip-and-falls, wills, torts, or money matters. After Keith's death I have only been interested in one thing: pursuing violent criminals and stopping crime. Why? I do not want others to live through what I did when going through the justice system," says Grace.
Grace attended Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law to obtain her JD, and she continued her education even further, earning a master's degree in constitutional and criminal law from New York University.
After law school Grace clerked for a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia until she began prosecuting antitrust and consumer protection cases with the Federal Trade Commission.
In 1987 Grace was hired as a special prosecutor for the Atlanta-Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney's Office in inner-city Atlanta. Grace also worked two night jobs, teaching business law to undergrads and teaching trial strategy and technique at Georgia State University, to make ends meet.
"For the next decade I prosecuted everything from shoplifting to rape, child molestation, arson, and murder. The cases I prosecuted and the people I met changed my life forever. Those 10 years not only defined my legal practice but molded me into a victims' rights advocate," she says.
In 1997 the elected district attorney, Lewis R. Slaton, was the longest-serving district attorney in the country, having served approximately 40 years. When he announced his planned retirement, Grace started to consider her next career move.
"I was distraught," says Grace of Slaton's retirement plan. "I knew the next elected DA would likely clean house of all the top litigators under the old regime."
Coincidently, Grace flew out to New York to appear on a panel of legal experts, which sparked her next job opportunity.
"I happened to sit between Johnnie Cochran straight off the O.J. Simpson win and Roy Black straight off the William Kennedy Smith rape case win. The three of us got into a huge argument, in good nature. That night, the idea of a he-say-she-say, Cochran & Grace, was thrown out," says Grace.
"I took Court TV up on their offer and flew to New York with three boxes of clothes, a curling iron, and $300 in my savings account!" she says.
"I do not think show analysis affects juries in any way...do I have to say O.J. Simpson?" Grace adds.
Cochran & Grace ran for a few months until Grace left the show to pursue trial coverage. Also during this time Grace began substituting for Larry King on Larry King Live. Grace had her own live daily trial coverage show, Closing Arguments, on Court TV until 2007, when she left the show. Since then she has hosted her own nightly legal show for Headline News, Nancy Grace.
Her trademark roll of the eyes, intimidating Southern accent, and relentless interviewing style quickly earned Grace a place in many hearts as well as on hate lists.
"I have had many, many critics during my career, dating all the way back to the courtroom, especially from defense lawyers. I try not to listen. If we listened to our critics, we would never accomplish any task, no dream would ever come true. I try to learn from constructive criticism...it's never too late to learn," Grace says.
In 2005 Grace released a book further illustrating her intense perspective on the US legal system titled Objection!: How High-Priced Defense Attorneys, Celebrity Defendants, and a 24/7 Media Have Hijacked Our Criminal Justice System, which quickly became a New York Times bestseller.
As an accomplished woman in the legal industry, Grace is no stranger to proving one's self to an industry dominated by men. Regardless of the career setbacks, Grace encourages women in the legal industry, and those hoping to jump in, to not overlook their own struggle for justice.
"Women are still the minority in the legal profession. We have a very long way to go. I sincerely hope that women have not become complacent or have forgotten our battle for equality."
True to her stubbornly driven nature, Grace also advises all legal professionals to follow their career dreams.
"If a girl off a red dirt road in rural Georgia can graduate from law school and go on to NYU and CNN Headline News, anyone can. Also, nothing is ever won without hard work and lots of it. You may not be the smartest, the sharpest, the prettiest, the best-dressed...but you can outwork anybody. Trust me on that."