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The Life and Career of Mark Geragos Defender of Underdogs

published May 21, 2007

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( 175 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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At a very young age, Mark Geragos gained respect for the legal profession and decided that he was going to follow that career route.

"I was programmed. My father was a lawyer, so I had no choice. I used to follow him around the court when I was about five or six years old," he said. "I quickly appreciated the fact that it's the greatest job in the world—you get to talk and get paid."

Geragos' father, Paul Geragos, prosecuted for 13 years at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office before transitioning to criminal defense, which he has been doing for more than 35 years now. His father's example as an attorney sparked and inspired Geragos to attend law school at Loyola Marymount University after he completed his undergraduate work at Haverford College in 1979.

By day, Geragos was a studious law scholar, and by night, he was a rock-and-roll-concert promoter for Pasadena's historic Perkins Palace (now called the Raymond Theatre). From 1979 to 1982, Geragos booked some of the decade's hottest names in music, such as the Go-Go's, Oingo Boingo, The Pretenders, and Missing Persons.

Although the district attorney's office offered him a job fresh out of law school, Geragos decided to join his father at his firm after he graduated, leaping right into criminal defense. Geragos wasted no time in making a name for himself. He gained notoriety only two years out of law school when he represented the vice president of American Savings, who had 16 counts of fraud against him.

Geragos really hit the big time when a legal aide tipped him off that Susan McDougal, a former Whitewater figure and business partner of former president Bill Clinton who was in custody, did not have representation.

"After a 15-week trial in Santa Monica and a six-week trial back in Arkansas, we got her pardoned, so she did quite well," he said. McDougal's case strengthened Geragos' approach to handling and supporting his clients.

Despite pressure from the media, Geragos decided to take on the Scott Peterson case in 2003.

"I was so incensed when he was arrested and taken into the Stanislaus County Sheriff's lockup—there was just, like, a lynch mob out there," he said. "I was contacted by his parents after that, and after meeting them and him, I thought, 'As a criminal defense lawyer, if you don't take a case like this where everyone already assumes his guilt, then what are you doing in criminal defense?'"

Time and time again, Geragos has had family members of accused criminals ask him why the system is so against them, proving that there are always two sides to a story.

"People just don't get that this could happen to them or a loved one," he said.

After representing clients like Scott Peterson, whom the media attacked from day one, Geragos is used to the never-ending stream of critics who judge him for defending alleged criminals.

"I usually ask if they have ever been falsely accused of something and needed some help, and when they start to think about it, they understand that they don't want a lawyer who is going to judge them; they want a lawyer who's going to fight for them," he said.

Geragos takes criminal defense to the max by choosing to represent clients who seem to have the most hits against them. Fascinated by the more media-targeted and scrutinized defendants, Geragos often takes on legally challenging cases when no one else will.

"I tend to pick clients with the basis of whether or not I think they're getting railroaded or run over. If they are, that has attraction to me," he said.

With a reputation for loving courtroom commotion, Geragos has even been noted for trying to take on perhaps too much legal work at one time, especially during the Peterson case and the Michael Jackson case in 2004; he tried both cases simultaneously until Jackson dropped him from his case.

Possibly Geragos' most substantial influence was his father, Paul. He took Geragos on as a criminal defense lawyer immediately after law school and groomed him to be one of the country's most well-known attorneys. Geragos credits his father with coaching him in cross-examination, ultimately helping him develop his style and approach.

Throughout his West Coast-based law career, Geragos has found mentorship in various legal professionals aside from his father. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Warren L. Ettinger influenced the manner in which Geragos handles relationships with prosecutors and clients. Geragos also notes San Francisco attorney Marshall Shulman as a tremendous resource.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I go to the gym. I run and exercise.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. The Allman Brothers' Eat a Peach.
Q. What was the last magazine you read?
A. Men's Fitness and Atlantic Monthly.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. The Sopranos.

Geragos' outlook toward law is very down-to-earth. He said that "the whole idea of trying cases is just reading people, knowing people, and understanding how people react." Being oneself is also a huge component of success as a lawyer, according to Geragos.

"Just be yourself. When you're comfortable in your own skin, that's when you're best in front of a jury," he said.

Along with being comfortable in front of the courtroom, Geragos advises law professionals to dive head first into the industry—no matter what.

"Don't be afraid to take a case that you believe in, even if there's no money," he said. "Always have a passion; if you don't have a passion, get out."

published May 21, 2007

( 175 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.