What do Nelson Mandela and Jerry Springer have in common?

  • February 3, 2010
  • Blog

Famous people that also happen to be law school graduates

There are many famous people in the world today, and with media, the internet and the other multitude of publications, we think we know everything there is to know about these people. However, there are a number of movies actors, television personalities, sports stars, well known politicians and musical entertainers who all have something in common that very few people realize. This common thread is that they graduated from law school. The following is a list of some of the most well known people that have received their law degrees and why they are well known.

1. Barack Obama, in 1988 he started law school at Harvard Law School. He became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. Obama graduated magna cum laude 1 from Harvard College in 1991. He then practiced civil rights law in Chicago and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Obama ran for the Illinois State Senate and was elected in 1996. He also was elected as a United States Senator from Illinois, and served from d January 2005 until he resigned after his election to the presidency in November 2008. He is the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American to hold this office.

2. Joe Biden, our current Vice-President, graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965 and from law school at the Syracuse University College of Law in 1968. Biden moved back to the Wilmington, Delaware area and set up his own law firm. He practiced law until 1972 when he was elected to his first U.S. Senate seat. Since 1991, Biden has been an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, where he teaches a seminar on constitutional law.

3. John Cleese of Monty Python Flying Circus fame earned his degree in law at Downing College, Cambridge. He never actually practiced law. He has developed into a well known director, writer, comedian and actor. He is best known for his roles in the films A Fish called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He currently holds the position of an honorary professor at Cornell University.

4. Tony La Russa, who played major league baseball for 10 years and currently manages the St. Louis Cardinals, went to law school at Florida State University College of Law following his retirement from Major League Baseball. He graduated in 1978 and pass the bar exam in 1979. He never practiced law. He began managing in the minor leagues in 1978. He has managed in the big leagues ever since 1979. He has won multiple “Manager of the Year” awards and is one of only two managers to win the World Series with teams from the American League and National League.

5. Jerry Springer received his law degree from Northwestern University in 1968. He then worked in politics as an aid, had a short lived attorney position in Cincinnati, worked on the city council, then became mayor of Cincinnati in 1977. He started his broadcasting career as a news anchor and political for TV and radio.

6. Howard Cosell, who was best known as one of the announcers that started on Monday Night Football in 1970 and for his ongoing relationship with Muhammad Ali, received his JD 2 from the New York University School of Law. He was the editor of the law review and passed the New York Bar exam at age 21.

7. Geraldo Rivera, a journalist, reporter, and talk show host, is a graduate of the University of Arizona and of the Brooklyn Law School in 1969. He started his reporting work in 1969 at WABC. He began contributing to national ABC news programs, such as Good Morning America and 20/20. He joined the Fox News Channel in 2001.

8. Julio Iglesias, a professional singer, early on was a world class soccer player with Real Madrid as a goalie. He then studied law at Complutense University in Madrid. During this time, he was injured in a serious car accident and was bedridden for many months. While recovering, one of his nurses brought him a guitar and he began to play, write and sing. In 1968, he won the Benidorm Festival with a song he composed himself, “La vida sigue igual,” and signed with Discos Columbia records. In 1972, to please his parents, he returned to law school and received his law degree from the law school at Cambridge University. He is Spain’s best-selling singer and the best-selling Spanish singer of all time.

9. Nelson Mandela, the South African activist who spent most of his adult life in prison for opposing the apartheid regime of his country, was the first post-apartheid President of South Africa. He started working as a clerk in a law firm while taking correspondence courses with the University of South Africa. He was awarded his Bachelor’s degree in 1941. He then enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand to study law and received his law degree there. He was instrumental in setting up South Africa’s first all-black law firm. He continued to practice until the 1950’s when he changed his focus to the people of his country.

10. John Grisham, best-selling American author, graduated with an accounting degree from Mississippi State University. He then attended University of Mississippi School of Law and graduated in 1981. He practiced law for nearly ten years in the small town of Southaven, Mississippi, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990. 3 Grisham, during this time, would work on his first novel in his time, often writing before heading off to the office, after coming home at night, and even during court room breaks. He spent three years writing A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. It was printed and published in 1988. He has written a total of 23 books since 1987 of which nine have been turned into movies. His books have been published in many languages and over 250 million sold.

Several others that are fairly well known are Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN since 1995, former professional basketball player and college basketball at Duke University, who graduated from Duke Law School in 1992; Steve Young, current NFL analyst, Hall of Fame quarterback who played football in the NFL and won a Super Bowl championship in 1995, who received his law degree from J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University in 1994; Andrea Bocelli, renowned operatic tenor, who graduated from the University of Pisa with a law degree and worked for a year as a court-appointed defense attorney before giving up the law to focus full time on singing; and Fidel Castro, who attended law school at the University of Havana and, after graduating in 1950, worked on behalf of the poor in Havana, Cuba. Soon thereafter he moved into politics and, after a revolutionary overthrow of the government, became Prime Minister from 1959-1976 and then President of Cuba from 1976 to 2008.


1 – The term “magna cum laude” refers to a level of academic distinction granted by many American colleges, and is often referred to as “Latin honors”. The highest level is “summa cum laude”, below that is “magna cum laude”, and the third level is plain “cum laude”. These are usually calculated on the grade point average for all course grades in college. At Harvard, Latin honors are bestowed so that about 4-5% of the graduating class has “magna cum laude”, and the top 20% is given either “magna cum laude” or “summa cum laude”. So, President Obama was in the top 20% of his graduating class from Harvard. See www.college.harvard.edu/ and click on “honors”.

2 – “JD” or J.D.” stands for “Juris Doctor”, which means “Doctor of Laws” or “Doctor of Jurisprudence”. It is the degree for the primary professional education for lawyers in the United States, and is generally a three year program. Interestingly, it was first given at Harvard Law School. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juris_Doctor.

3 – In Mississippi, being a state legislator is a part-time job. The same is true in the Commonwealth of Virginia.