That time John went to Court with and watched the OJ Simpson parole hearing at Robert Shapiro’s house.
It was supposed to be a pretty casual encounter- one up-and-coming lawyer meets a been-there-done-that lawyer and shadows him in court. It’s turned out to be something more.
John Phillips remembers being in college and watching the OJ Simpson trial, led by the Dream Team of lawyers including Robert Shapiro. It was then that he probably first learned about the role of the lawyer as a brand manager and ultimate story teller. Phillips had no idea as a college student that he’d ever be able to talk about similar shared experiences with Robert Shapiro.
So, there Phillips sat- somewhat the student yet again. There’s a saying he has had in his office since day one, if you ever think you are the brightest one in the room, it’s time to find a different room. He flew 3000 miles to be in this room.
From the first second, Robert Shapiro was kind and cared. Phillips somehow didn’t expect that from someone so accomplished. He’s met many lawyers who have achieved “it,” from John Morgan to Judge Judy, from Ben Crump to Star Jones. He’s seen John Morgan play ping pong with strangers at Pete’s Bar and been speaking beside Ben Crump at the national NAACP convention, watching him weave a story into a movement. CNN commentator Joey Jackson and Darren Kavinoky are both good friends and some of his favorite people. Jacksonville has the likes of Hank Coxe, Howard Coker and Bill Sheppard. He’s had cases with/against or studied and commented on some of the best. Robert Shapiro was different. He couldn’t put it into words.
From courtroom to courtroom, he saw a level of personality and professionalism lawyers all aspire to. Judges nodded to him and young lawyers got star struck. But there Shapiro was- humble, charming and sharp-witted while handling people’s problems. “He has a way with people, congenial and caring but with a boxer’s knockout punch,” Phillips said.
Phillips continued, “We spoke about handling high profile cases and expectations, media and press conferences. We went to lunch and I listened and learned. His parting words were an invitation to come back in a few weeks.”
Well, that and a special message he left for his wife:
“He showed me uncommon courtesy- he listened and was free with a compliment if not an outright exaggeration, calling me the best lawyer in America. He knew about Jordan Davis and other cases we handled.”
“We needed to get back to Florida so that first time with Bob was a little shorter than I hoped but I needed to get back to my family and firm after a week in California. He ended with an invite back- to the hearing which had been continued and a spot at counsel’s table and some backstage access to the case. I could have floated home just from the offer.”
“Three weeks passes and Bob and I reunited. I had literal front row access to a very high profile dispute and watched him carve up a great resolution for a client and community. During the appearance, he realized he left his glasses in the car. I personally ran to his car and had them to him 10 minutes later.”
“We walked out and the press was waiting. It wasn’t just about the case, but OJ was up for a parole a state over. Everyone was interrupting other coverage to carry and comment on it. He and I had spoken about it briefly, but here is the question the world wanted answered- what’s Bob Shapiro’s take. He gave it with me by his side. It was surreal.”
Phillips has done many press conferences before regional and national media- probably more than all but a few lawyers in the county. Yet, he describes being mesmerized. The reporters were also Shapiro’s students and he guided them in ways Phillips said he learned from.
But the learning didn’t end in court. As Phillips got to Shapiro’s car, the radio carried the parole hearing. He and Shapiro listened and OJ’s ex lawyer commented on this and that- none of which he would ever repeat. Shapiro audibled out of their lunch plans. He asked if Phillips wanted to go to his house and watch the coverage. That they did. Phillips even told Shapiro he was making the 22 year old Phillips do flips and the moment wasn’t lost on him.
As Phillips sat on his couch getting a first hand narration by the key member of the dream team, each moment was more spectacular than the one before. And then Phillips said he returned to “just remembering we are all just folks.” However, Shapiro had a heightened level of open heartedness and graciousness.
After OJ, Phillips and Shapiro revisited lunch pans. But wait, there’s more. Oh? Famed inventor and branding forefather Ron Popeil was met them. Wait, that Ron Popeil? Yes. Long before “as seen on tv” was even a thing, there was RonCo.
Phillips also ran into Muhamid Hadid and his family. Not only did Shapiro introduce him but had him tell part of the story from earlier in the day. He did that with Popeil, too. And Shapiro was very complimentary. Phillips said, “In Jacksonville, our bar is very professional, but lawyers often want control and to tell the story. But Bob let me have a moment with his friends and clients and it also wasn’t lost on me.”
In the past 12 months, Phillips has had a prayerful nod by the Dalai Lama, drinks and an environmental chat with Erin Brockovich and gotten to meet some people who are world leaders and Nobel Prize winners. He said, “I’d never rank these moments and many have made tears fall simply because I know how blessed I am. Meeting Robert Shapiro is up there. Not just because of what he’s done, but who he is. Thank you, Bob.”