Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 37, Number 2

Transferrable Skills

A Vanderbilt law degree opens doors whether practicing law or not.

Elaine McArdle, '83, found law school a great preparation for a career as a reporter.

Elaine McArdle, '83

When Elaine McArdle graduated from law school in 1983, she immediately joined a corporate law firm in Austin, Texas. "I loved Austin, and I loved the people at my firm -which was a good thing, because I was with them seven days a week," she says.

But as someone who "really loves connecting with people," McArdle recalls being bothered most by the fact that her working days were spent confined in "an office on the 12th floor of a bank building." Longing for work that would allow her to get out from behind a desk and into the real world, she left after a year, "right after getting a big raise," to take a job as a reporter for The Register, a small weekly newspaper in Cape Cod. "I was editor of my college newspaper and really loved journalism," she says. "But after writing legal memos and briefs, my writing had become stilted, and I really had to work to convince the paper to give me a try." The new job had a big advantage-McArdle loved it-and a big disadvantage-her salary. "I was making about a third of what I made as an attorney, and I still had student loans," she recalls. McArdle, who today frequently lectures to law students on alternative careers for lawyers, doesn't recommend the path she took to resolve this dilemma: She used the proceeds of a settlement she received after being seriously injured in a car accident to pay off her student debt. However, had fate not taken such a turn, McArdle is certain she would still have found a way to become a journalist, a career she is still happily pursuing as a freelance writer for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and other publications, as well as a co-author of a new book that's been featured on NBC's Today Show and NPR's Fresh Air.

McArdle believes her legal training-she especially loved the constitutional law courses she took from Professor Tom McCoy-made her a better journalist. After she moved from the weekly Register to a larger daily paper in New Bedford, Massachusetts, she was naturally assigned to the court beat. "I loved watching trials, and my law degree from Vanderbilt gave me an enormous advantage," she says. "I had a huge leg up as a reporter, because in law school, you learn critical thinking and analytical skills, and how to find information and do solid research." Her law degree also increased her credibility with judges and lawyers, making them more comfortable in talking to her about complex and sensitive legal issues.

"Disorder in the Courts," a series she wrote about serious problems in the Massachusetts Court system, including patronage, disorganization, and lack of adequate resources, took two months to report and write, and garnered her awards from both the American and Massachusetts Bar Associations. In New Bedford, she also taught media law as an adjunct professor at the Southern New England School of Law. Soon after her son Cliff was born, McArdle was offered a position with a national start-up trade publication, Lawyers Weekly USA, which afforded a more regular schedule. Within two years, she had become editor of Lawyers Weekly, covering all aspects of the legal profession, and was interviewing the nation's top lawyers, including Jim Neal, '57, the former Watergate prosecutor who is married to McArdle's former classmate, Dianne Cooper Neal, '83.

In 2000, itching to cover more than law alone, she decided to take the plunge as a freelance writer and hasn't looked back. Today, her writing spans everything from medicine to politics to social issues. She especially enjoys delving deeply into controversial matters, such as in a recent piece she wrote for the Globe about the gender gap in the hard sciences. A commitment to accuracy and her genuine respect for people she writes about-even those with whom she doesn't necessarily agree-are the keys to getting them to open up, she says. For a Boston Globe Magazine profile of Michael Sullivan, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, McArdle interviewed more than 40 judges and attorneys, many of whom spoke off the record. She also spent a great deal of time with Sullivan, a Bush appointee who has been criticized for his politically conservative positions in a liberal state.

Today, McArdle writes regularly for the Globe and Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, the Harvard Law Bulletin and other publications, and she recently celebrated the release of her first book, The Migraine Brain: Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health (Free Press, 2008), coauthored with Dr. Carolyn Bernstein, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School whom she met through an interview. She also teaches memoir and nonfiction writing at Boston's Grub Street writing center. "I love being a writer and a journalist," she says. "It's an honor, really, when people share their lives with me. Journalism plays a critical role in our democracy, and I take accuracy and fairness very seriously."

A migraine sufferer herself, McArdle is particularly excited about The Migraine Brain, which has gotten lots of national press, was nominated for the Books for a Better Life award, and hit No. 44 on Amazon.com after the Fresh Air interview aired. "More than 30 million people in the U.S. alone get migraines," she says. "There are many new treatments that can help. Dr. Bernstein and I teamed up to write an easy-to-understand guide that explains what migraines are and how to prevent and treat them." — Grace Renshaw

Emmett McAuliffe, '83, is a media personality as well as a well-regarded entertainment attorney.

Emmett McAuliffe, '83

While Emmett mcauliffe does practice law-he's a well-regarded intellectual property and entertainment lawyer who is of counsel to Spencer Fane Britt & Brown in St. Louis-he is better known to some St. Louisans as the host of a weekly radio talk show, "Friday Night Fracas" on KMOX in St. Louis. The "Fracas" actually airs from 2 to 5 a.m. Saturday morning. (McAuliffe insists that, as long as it's still dark outside, it's still "night." "If you dropped your date off at her doorstep at 12:01 a.m., you wouldn't kiss her 'good morning,'" he quips.) "Emmett is the only show host who gets complaints to station management for being both too liberal and too conservative," the KMOX program web site boasts.

McAuliffe has entertained a loyal audience of night owls on KMOX, which has been the mainstay news station in St. Louis since the early days of radio, for the past 12 years. Although he recently took a three-month hiatus-his first break from pulling an all-nighter every Friday in 12 years-McAuliffe, who has been on the air in some fashion for much of his career, has no plans to stop. In the '80s and early '90s, he was a cast member on a cable television program, "World Wide Magazine," which he describes as a precursor to many of today's television trends. "It was ahead of its time," says McAuliffe, "one part reality show, one part ambush journalism, and one part sketch comedy. Our producer/director was a genius, but he did the proverbial thing of dying penniless in his forties. He would have loved to have seen the renaissance the show is getting through YouTube." McAuliffe has also been a panelist on a combative television program, Donnybrook, which for many years has been the highest-rated locally-produced public affairs discussion program among nationwide PBS affiliates.

McAuliffe has balanced his career between the entertainment industry and an entertainment law practice since he began practicing law, which he didn't do until three years after earning his law degree. "I had skipped a grade, and I was only 23 when I passed the Missouri bar exam," he recalls. "I was too young to put on a suit from 9 to 5. I had always wondered about wealth and poverty-what makes some people rich, and others poor." Even so, McAuliffe's first career move after graduating from law school-"I moved out of my parents' house and became a live-in co-director of a rather large homeless shelter for around 75 'guests.'"-left his parents "shocked, to say the least." The shelter, a commodious, if shabby mansion built by a distant relative of Mark Twain's, had been divided down the middle, with rooms for men on one side, rooms for women and children on the other, and "a kind of Fort Knox door between them," McAuliffe recalls. He counts the three years he spent at the shelter as among the most rewarding and frustrating of his life. "I knew I would never get a chance to do something like that again," he says. "And the experience has come back to help me in a lot of different ways; I learned to speak the language of the less fortunate. In the end, I didn't burn out on the people we helped; I burned out on my fellow staff members. They helped turn me into a talk show host."

For the past 20 years, McAuliffe has built a successful 'soft IP' practice as well as a niche practice representing artists and entertainers. Clients McAuliffe has served include the internationally renowned graphic artist and illustrator Mary Engelbreit and rap stars J-Kwon, Huey and Nelly (for his clothing trademarks). As his legal practice grew, he remained committed to maintain a media presence. "I've always had one foot in radio or television and one foot in law," he says. "Right now, the balance is 95 percent law and 5 percent media stuff, but there have been times when it was 50 percent media and 50 percent law."

As an entertainer with media experience who is also an attorney, he finds he has more credibility with his clients. "The fact that I've had the freedom to keep a media career going has really benefited my practice," he says. "I get a lot of referrals from people I meet through my media connections. Clients in any field prefer to have a lawyer who understands how their business works." McAuliffe was recently elected to the board of directors of the St. Louis local of AFTRA, a national talent union that represents more than 70,000 artists and performers. "That puts me directly in touch with artists of all stripes, and I wouldn't have that position if I didn't have a media career," he says. His serious contributions to the arts in Missouri, both as a professional and as a volunteer, were recognized with a three-year gubernatorial appointment to the state's Arts Council in March 2008.

When McAuliffe was looking at law schools, he chose Vanderbilt because "it was the only one of the top 15 law schools at that time that had an entertainment law program." (One of his professors, Mike Milom, '71, still teaches entertainment law as a member of Vanderbilt's adjunct faculty.) Early in his career, as a television host and attorney, McAuliffe recalls, "I was hedging my bets-if my media career took off, I could do that, but I could also practice media and entertainment law. As it turned out, I've been able to do both." — Grace Renshaw

Bill Gatzimos found his legal education at Vanderbilt the perfect preparation for managing the career of his wife, country/pop star Crystal Gayle.

Bill Gatzimos, '80, with Crystal Gayle

Bill Gatzimos, '80, with his wife, Crystal Gayle

When he began studying law at Vanderbilt University, Bill Gatzimos, '80, fully intended to pursue a conventional legal career. But life intervened. Gatzimos' wife, singer Crystal Gayle, fired her manager just as Gatzimos was finishing his final exams at the end of his 2L year, and Gatzimos stepped in to take his place.

He and Gayle had met as high school seniors in Wabash, Indiana, and married two years later, after Bill's freshman year at Indiana University. The couple moved to Nashville in 1974 to allow Gayle to pursue a career as a country singer.

By the time Gatzimos started law school at Vanderbilt in 1976, Gayle was already well on her way to stardom. Her hit, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," released in June 1977, rose quickly on both country and pop charts. Gatzimos found himself enjoying law school almost as much as his wife was enjoying her success as a performer. "At Vanderbilt, I found myself among the largest group of bright people I had ever met, plus it was totally different from the music industry," Gatzimos recalls. "It was a wonderful experience."

After Gayle broke the news that she had fired her manager in the spring of 1979, Gatzimos recalls, "we started doing it ourselves. I had been working with the manager anyway, and after that we did everything in-house." Gatzimos remembers his first year as his wife's manager as one of the busiest of their lives. "I was memorizing and learning so much information in law school; the classes required a lot of preparation," he says. "I would have finals or projects due at the same time, and Crystal would have something big going on, too."

Gayle had actually recorded her first songs during spring break of her senior year in high school with the influential record producer Owen Bradley. But Bradley had also produced records for country/pop legend Brenda Lee, who started her singing career as a young child. "Owen thought Brenda had missed out on her childhood," Gatzimos recalls, "so he refused to release any of Crystal's songs until she graduated from high school." Mooney Lynn, the husband of Gayle's famous sister, country music star Loretta Lynn, became Gayle's first manager. "Mooney took Crystal to radio stations to introduce her to the deejays and get them interested in playing her records, just like he did for Loretta," Gatzimos recalls. Gayle's career was also boosted by the fact that her records were played on both pop and country stations. "At that time, lots of TV variety specials were produced in Nashville, and every special had a goal for certain demographics," Gatzimos says. "Crystal was in high demand because she was on both the country and pop charts and attracted a bigger audience."

Gatzimos found his law degree an ideal preparation for the job of managing his wife's demanding career, which involved negotiating recording and touring contracts, hiring and supervising booking agencies and publicists, merchandise licensing and numerous business ventures, including television specials, DVDs and a recording studio. "Having a law degree really helped me deal with the business end of Crystal's career," he says. "You have to learn good time management skills just to complete the tremendous amount of work you do to get through law school. And you have to develop a work ethic and self discipline." — Brenda Batey

Entrepreneur Michael Kranitz, '85, used his knowledge of contracts to develop online automotive and advertising services.

Michael Kranitz, '85, with Rick Winston, '85

Michael Kranitz, '85, with classmate Rick Wintston, '85.

In the early 1992, corporate reorganization lawyer Michael Kranitz, '85, began planning his exit strategy from the legal profession. At the time, Kranitz was a partner in bankruptcy practice with Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff in Columbus, Ohio, and his success at helping his corporate clients navigate their way out of serious difficulties whetted his ambition to start his own business. After he was badly burned by his first car lease, he hit on the idea of developing a resource aimed at helping consumers planning to buy or lease a car compare their options and find the best deal. Four years later, Kranitz left law practice for good to launch his first entrepreneurial venture: a book and software program aimed at enabling individuals to lease cars under the most favorable terms.

Kranitz's book, Look Before You Lease: Secrets to Smart Vehicle Leasing, and his LeaseWizard® Lease & Loan Software program, are both still selling 12 years later, and Kranitz started two online information services, LeaseSource and CarWizard, the following year. "At the time I had the bad experience with my car lease, I was working on a Basic Guide to Bankruptcy for a publishing company," he recalls. "After I wrote that book, it occurred to me that I could write a guide to leasing a car to help other consumers avoid the trap I'd fallen into." Look Before You Lease was so successful-"I testified before the Federal Reserve Board about leasing problems, and I went all over the country on a book tour and appeared on Fox Money and CNN," Kranitz recalls-that it enabled him to "carpet my way out the door" of his lucrative law practice. He promptly began to explore the potential of other online spinoff businesses, and he credits his years as a corporate reorganization lawyer, during which he helped all types of businesses navigate or avoid bankruptcy, with giving him an indepth understanding of how businesses operate and the reasons they fail.

Kranitz moved his family from Ohio to Denver because they liked the area, and founded an Internet-based automobile sales site, DriveOff.com, which became the first such site to obtain approval to conduct business in Texas. "All other competitors had been denied due to Texas' very restrictive anti-brokering statutes," he recalls. "We were approved because I crafted a business structure that convinced the head of the auto brokering division of the Texas state government to permit us to do business in his state." By the time Drive-Off.com merged with CarPoint.com, a service operated by Microsoft and Ford, in 2001, Kranitz's company had 77 employees.

Kranitz founded his current entrepreneurial venture, Kaango, in 2005 to offer a sophisticated software platform for online advertising. Today, Kaango's clients include newspapers in 23 states and D.C. as well as radio and TV stations. Although Kranitz sold an 84-percent stake in the company to a partnership formed by the Hearst Corporation and MediaNews Group for $20 million in November 2007, he retains 16-percent ownership and remains the company's CEO. "Again, all of my legal training and experience was brought to bear in the creation, operation and sale of a major stake in this enterprise," he says. "I don't think law students and practitioners always appreciate how valuable their legal training and experience can be to them no matter what they end up doing. My training at Vanderbilt and beyond allowed me to navigate waters as an entrepreneur that I would never otherwise have been able to traverse."

Along with Kaango, the Hearst/Media-News partnership also acquired a share of a business that was an outgrowth of one of Kranitz's hobbies, RCUniverse.com, an online community for radio control hobbyists, which includes a marketplace for equipment.

Kranitz credits his understanding of the inner workings of legal contracts with enabling him to design consumer-friendly software that complied with legal requirements in various states. "I am a poster child for the applicability of law in different fields," he says. "I've used my understanding of contracts and negotiation and review skills both in the design of my products and the operation of my businesses." — Grace Renshaw

Chuck Dunn applied his legal skills to starting and running his own business.

Chuck Dunn, '76

Several years ago Chuck Dunn, '76, ran across his application for Vanderbilt Law School. Applicants were asked why they wanted to go to law school, and when Dunn reread his answer to the question, he discovered that it was quite prophetic. "I wrote that I may not practice law and instead go into business, but I wanted a legal education," Dunn says. "And my dad always said, 'Be your own boss!'" Dunn's father, former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn, had set a good example; the elder Dunn was a dentist for 14 years before entering politics, was elected governor of Tennessee in 1970, and is now a respected elder statesman in the state. During Dunn's first year and a half of law school, he lived with his family at the Governor's Residence in Nashville.

Today, Dunn acknowledges that he is glad he practiced law for eight years prior to working full-time at his own company, MTA Distributors, beginning in 1985. In the 28 years since he founded the company with partner David Harrington, MTA Distributors has become America's largest rental equipment distributor, supplying rental companies with the finest light construction, lawn and garden and party equipment available. The firm also trains existing and startup companies for entry into the rental industry.

"My legal education and experience have aided me immeasurably in my business," he says. "They help with contract review, bank lines of credit, and contracts with customers such as Home Depot and with banks. They also help me monitor our compliance with business regulations so we stay out of trouble. I always tell my employees that it's easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble, and my legal education and experience help me determine the right things to do."

When Dunn left his law practice to work fulltime with MTA Distributors, he knew that owning and operating his own business would be "much harder work. But it's a lot of fun, too," he says. "And even though I don't practice law, I keep my license current, just in case."

After graduating from high school in Memphis, Dunn received his undergraduate degree in political science and sociology at Washington and Lee before starting law school at Vanderbilt. Immediately after earning his J.D. in 1976, he worked for a year in the Territory of American Samoa as a legal assistant to the governor of the territory. Dunn left American Samoa with plans to travel around the world. "Two weeks into it, I came down with the Russian flu and lost 25 pounds," he recalls. He was forced to return to Nashville to recover. In 1977, he joined Stokes and Bartholemew, where he practiced until leaving to devote all of his time to his growing company.

Today MTA Distributors has 42 employees, 70,000 square feet of office and warehouse space, and is a wholesale distributor of Honda gasoline engines in Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, and light-duty construction equipment to rental businesses across the country.

Dunn, who has always been civic-minded and currently serves as president of the Rotary Club of Nashville, met his business partner and friend David Harrington when both were involved in a community service project for the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1980. "It was Christmas, and we had a charity event for underprivileged kids," Dunn recalls, "We took a group of children to a five-and-dime store and helped them shop. David and I struck up a conversation while we were waiting in line to pay for the items."

Harrington, a recent Vanderbilt graduate, told Dunn that he planned to start a business. "When he found out I was a lawyer, he wanted to know if I could help him charter a corporation," Dunn says. "David said he was good with sales, but not with details, and he asked me to be his partner." The two men started their business with $1,000 of capital in July 1980. "David sold equipment out of the back of his pickup truck," Dunn recalls. "I had been treasurer of my fraternity, so I handled the bookkeeping. I kept my options open and didn't leave the law firm at first."

Throughout the 1980s, the partners worked to build the business. In 1987, MTA Distributors was awarded Tennessee's Outstanding Achievement Award by Governor Ned McWherter,. The company was selected as the 1988 Small Business of the Year by the Nashville Business Journal, although Dunn acknowledges, "It wasn't until 1992 that we made our first significant profit." However, by 2000, MTA Distributors had made the list of Nashville's 100 largest privately held businesses.

Dunn has fond memories of his years at the law school, recalling Dean John Wade and Professor Paul Hartman as "tough taskmasters, and as a result, I got a great legal education. Law school was also a great time for getting to know people, and I value the relationships I built during that time," he adds.

Dunn has his own thoughts about legal education. "Someday I'd like to teach a course for third-year law students that covers all of the things you need to learn to do for yourself, such as how to buy life insurance, how to read financial statements, how to negotiate your own contracts, and write your own will," he says earnestly. "I also want to tell students not to spend all their time practicing law, which can be so overwhelming, but to pay attention to their personal lives, too."

Being your own boss, Dunn notes, is one way to achieve that goal. — Brenda Batey