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It's a tough gig to impress a crowd of lawyers, but Carter is handling the challenge quite successfully. Associations and law firms are increasingly opting out of boring and dry legal education classes and turning to Carter to satisfy their required legal education classes. As 40 states require their licensed attorneys to take an annual legal education class, Carter has a wide and growing audience.
Although Carter's early lectures had his audience roaring with laughter, CLE organizers were more skeptical, worrying that the program would be more entertaining than informative. However, Bill Corbett, Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel, seems to think that humor enhances the learning process. In a recent press release, Corbett said, "Carter's review of the Supreme Court term was one of the most entertaining, and yet informative, CLE presentations I have heard."
The response to Carter's Comedic Legal Education program has been so positive that clients across the country are booking him for his famous speeches. This year alone, Carter will conduct more than 100 seminars. In the past, he has spoken to law firms such as Akin Gump and Fisher & Phillips and corporations such as Xerox and Taco Bell.
The path to success has been a long, winding, and—to say the least—wacky road for Carter. When Carter was growing up, his parents offered him three career options: Be a lawyer, a doctor, or the black sheep of the family. He chose to be a lawyer and was unwavering in his focus.
He graduated from Harvard Law School; was hired at a firm in Boston; and then secured a position at a major law firm in Los Angeles, Heller Ehrman, for more than two years. His experience at Heller Ehrman changed his life.
Carter joined the Lawyers Basketball League and played on Heller Ehrman's team, the Heller Hornets. He composed emails for his firm, apprising everybody of the games' outcomes. Carter recollected, "The first email had a couple of jokes; and as they progressed, these emails became more elaborate, with pictures and everything."
Heller Ehrman's partners—who were also recipients of these emails—approached Carter, pulled him aside, and asked him to seriously reconsider being a lawyer.
Carter recalled fondly, "They came up to me and said, 'You are so much better at this [comedic writing] than you are at being a lawyer. It's clear that you have another talent other than law.'" He continued with a sudden laugh, "They were very supportive. They even bought me books on how to start a career as a writer."
In 2000, Carter started working as an in-house attorney at New Century Financial Corporation in Irvine. During his free time in 2001, he began moonlighting as a comic, frequently performing at local clubs in the Los Angeles area. He soon found that the pay, which was miniscule, was not enough to support his wife and two kids.
Concurrently, Carter became a prolific and dedicated writer, churning out an article a day during the start of his new writing career. He tried writing funny columns, but was rejected.
Carter said, "I had to figure out another way to do this."
In September 2002, Carter published his first book, the critically acclaimed If It Does Not Fit, Must You Acquit? Your Humorous Guide to the Law.
His major break came when he wrote an article about a Supreme Court case and added in the byline that he was a lawyer. Suddenly, his weekly humor columns started getting published in papers across the country, making their way to publications such as The National Law Journal and websites such as Findlaw.com. Although Carter struggled in his new profession, he gradually earned a reputation as a frank and funny legal commentator.
Carter was persistent in pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian. One gig thoroughly surprised him. Carter was offered $1,500—an amount far greater than what he was usually paid—to entertain law students.
Carter recalled thinking, "If [law students] were willing to pay $1,500, what would law firms and legal departments pay?" Carter continued, "From then on, it was simple. I'll start working at bar associations. I would be the only one; there's money in the market; no one else was doing it."
At first glance, it seems unconventional for law firms to hire comedians; but Carter's programs are informative, perceptive, and relevant to the legal world. Along with his extensive legal background and wicked wit, Sean's new career as a "comedic legal educator" has catapulted him forward. Radio-TV Interview Report has already anointed Carter as "America's Funniest Lawyer."
One of Carter's personal goals is reaching out to a broader audience. By 2007, Carter wants to speak in all 50 states. In fact, Carter dreams of it. This became blatantly clear when Carter said, "At two in the morning, I thought, 'I got to get to Alaska.'" For Carter, being a humorous lawyer is more than a tactical career shift; it is an adventure.
In addition to being a comedic legal speaker, Carter is a frequent guest on local television programs and talk-radio shows. He was previously the special legal commentator for the nationally syndicated radio shows Trip N Tyme and The Ric Bratton Show. He is also the weekly legal columnist for the ABA e-report.
It will be very interesting to see what other surprises this adventurous Renaissance man has in store for the legal world. Carter's next venture? Look for a novel that he terms a fictional comedic legal thriller. Anyone who explains the First Amendment as "the freedom to pray, bitch, and moan" should be able to deliver a truly riotous novel.
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