Lis Wiehl, Fox News legal analyst and New York Times best-selling author, is a great role model for law students and young lawyers. Since graduating from Harvard Law School in the early 80’s, she’s had a career that has brought satisfaction, joy and reward. As she puts it paraphrasing mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell: “I have really followed my bliss.” In his writings, Campbell argued that if you follow your bliss (something that brings you profound satisfaction), you put yourself on a track that has been there all the while, waiting for you.
Growing up in Washington State, the daughter of a lawyer turned FBI agent and a Danish mother with a Ph.D. in English, “always correcting my grammar and essays,” Wiehl hadn’t heard of the Ivy League and never dreamt that one day she’d be living in New York, working as a legal analyst for a major news network.
Wiehl’s career path demonstrates the importance of brains, talent, timing and, following your bliss. After graduating from high school in Yakima, Washington, she attended a nearby community college where an interest in journalism prompted a professor to ask if she’d thought about seriously studying the subject. Naively, Wiehl contacted Columbia University where she was told, “Oh, you’re a woman, you want Barnard.” A meeting with a Barnard alum in Seattle, sent her on her way to New York – a place she had never even visited. After graduating from Barnard with a degree in English and Political Science, Wiehl headed to Harvard Law School. In between her first year of law school and graduation, she attended the University of Queensland (Australia) on a Rotary Scholarship, earning a Masters in Literature.
Following graduation, she worked as a well-paid litigation associate at a major law firm. While the salary was great, anyone who’s worked as a junior litigation associate at a big law firm knows the hours are long and the opportunity to go to court is limited. Optimism is a big part of Wiehl’s nature, however, and her career choices reflect both a strong practical bent and a focus on finding work she loves. As she explains, “At the law firm, the hours were long but I learned how to put a case together, which served me well in my next role as a federal prosecutor. After having my first child, I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office, to teach criminal law, evidence and a trial law program at the University of Washington Law School where the hours allowed me to spend more time with my infant son.”
But Wiehl’s journalism bug remained. “I wanted to combine law and journalism and on a whim contacted an old professor, New York Times reporter, Anthony Lewis, to see if he had any suggestions.” In hindsight this contact proved a major turning point in her career. Wiehl got an opportunity to work as a writer for the Times law page, giving her the confidence to “cold-call” National Public Radio, where she was hired for All Things Considered, NPR’s flagship news program. Wiehl laughs and says, “I have a great face for radio.” But anyone watching her today on Fox can’t help but be struck by both her physical beauty and her easy manner that sits well with television viewers.
Working for NPR opened another important door for Wiehl. In 1998 Independent Prosecutor Ken Starr issued the now-famous, Starr Report, which alleged that President Bill Clinton had lied about the existence of an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, during a deposition. Lis Wiehl was hired as counsel by the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in the Clinton impeachment proceedings and its investigation of Starr’s charges. This prominent role led to a call from MSNBC, followed by a “baby contract” with Fox, where Wiehl provided occasional legal commentary. Fox was so impressed with Wiehl’s legal analysis that they persuaded her to relocate to New York. For five years, she joined colleague Bill O’Reilly for a radio program, serving as the perfect foil to the wise-cracking O’Reilly. Despite the, at times, sharp repartee, Wiehl and O’Reilly have a good relationship. As Wiehl admiringly says, “Bill O’Reilly is an amazing guy who gave me a chance. “
So how does the Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee end up as a legal analyst at a network like Fox? Wiehl doesn’t see an issue: “Many of my Democratic friends tell me they really do watch Fox. And, even my children (Wiehl has an 18 year-old son who is a freshman at MIT and a 14 year-old daughter who loves soccer) worry about a double-dip recession and question some of the change and opportunity President Obama promised.”
It is apparent in talking with Wiehl that her children take front and center in her life. “I’ve got these two amazing kids and I constantly talk to them about things happening both in their world and in the bigger world affecting all of us.”
Given the challenging economic times, our conversation turns to jobs and how young people, especially young lawyers, can best be prepared in a world where education doesn’t necessarily translate to career opportunities.
Wiehl advises young law students today to “ Think about where your talents are, pay attention to the bigger, outside world, read, look at trends, think of where you can best be of service, and, try to find the thing you love.” And, practically speaking, she adds, “Everything in the law today: contracts, torts, first amendment rights, relates to a keen understanding of economics. Finding a career opportunity that combines the disciplines of economics and the law is important. You don’t always have to be in a big law firm.”
Aside from spending priority time with her children and her busy role on Fox, Wiehl teaches a course at New York Law School called: “Advocacy, Media and the Big Case”, writes a blog, “Wiehl of Justice” and is about to publish a new novel, Waking Hours, that includes among its main characters a former NFL player. This is Wiehl’s fourth novel and follows the Triple Threat Club: Face of Betrayal, Hand of Fate, and Heart of Ice. The three main characters in The Triple Threat Club are: a Federal prosecutor, an FBI agent and a TV reporter – all women and in careers Lis knows something about.
If Wiehl’s career sounds rewarding and even fun, it is. But as she sums it up, “Careers can’t be completely planned. When the opportunities present themselves, be ready for them.” And, of course, follow your bliss.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Langan’s on 47th Street
Favorite Place to Shop: Gwenn Marder’s Trunk Shows at Fox and for fun, Daffy’s
Favorite New York Sight: Grand Central Station at Christmas time.
Favorite New York Moment: Street parades when I have the time to watch them.
What You Love About New York: Everything is possible. When I came here to attend college, I had never been here before.
What You Hate About New York: Potholes in the rain.
Books by Lis Wiehl: