Attorney Johnnie Cochran has been on his journey to justice for nearly forty years, emerging as a strong spokesperson for African Americans. Although most noted for his participation on the "Dream Team" for the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Cochran has also represented others whose names have dominated the headlines such as Abner Louima, Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, Michael Jackson and Sean "P Ditty" Combs.
Although Cochran's recognition started out in the courtroom, his growing popularity has also earned him celebrity status. As pointed out in his new book, A Lawyer's Life (St. Martin's Press, $25.95), Cochran has enjoyed more visibility than most attorneys. "Court TV hired me to co-host a nightly TV show," he writes. "Characters in movies reference me; I appeared as myself in Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy film Showtime. I appeared often as a guest on shows ranging from the very serious Nightline to Larry King's show to sitcoms like The Hughleys. Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld parodied me."
But the notoriety came with an increased responsibility. In a discussion with The Network Journal, Cochran shares the lessons he's learned over the course of his career as well as the things that make him most proud.
TNJ: What is the biggest lesson you can point to over the course of your career?
Cochran: There is no substitute for hard work and that three keys to successes are preparation, preparation and preparation.
TNJ: What is one of your most memorable cases?
Cochran: The Geronimo Pratt Case. It took 27 years to free a man who was wrongly convicted and framed by the United States Government through a program called Cointelpro. We established that he was a victim of the FBI counter intelligence group.
TNJ: Any lessons from that case?
Cochran: I rarely believe the so-called official version [of what is public record]. I learned that you can infact not only fight City Hall but also beat City Hall. We recovered the sum of 4.5 million dollars from the FBI and the city of Los Angeles.
TNJ: What are the biggest challenges you've faced over the course of your career?
Cochran: Fighting governmental entities and large corporations.
TNJ: How has your career transformed?
Cochran: For the last 10 years or more I tried to take cases where I could make a difference in just changing the system, I got away from criminal cases.
TNJ: Why have you stopped practicing criminal cases?
Cochran: I just felt that I have been doing that for so long. I only want to do civil cases.
TNJ: Is your clientele primarily made up of celebrities?
Cochran: Not at all. Actually, my career is built on the "no jays," people that you've never heard of. I think all of my clients are important.
TNJ: Any advice for newcomers?
Cochran: Work hard and be passionate about the practice of law... If you are an African American you have a lot of obstacles to overcome. Build your confidence and be committed to being accepted for who you are. Then people will respect what you're doing.
TNJ: What issues are most important to you?
Cochran: Trying to make a difference in society and using the law to bring about change. Reparations and racial profiling are things I feel passionate about.
TNJ: It's been said that when you're having a conversation with Johnnie Cochran, he makes you feel as if you're the only person in the room. Do you do that consciously?
Cochran: I try to be real. If you saw me at a book signing I'm not going to quit until I've seen every person in the room.
TNJ: What do you want TNJ readers to know about Johnnie Cochran?
Cochran: I don't want to be defined by others, define me by my work. And don't judge me by what you think I should do, judge me by what I've already done. Let my career speak for itself.
By Monique R. Brown