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Maybe You Could Leave the Law to Run a Major TV Network

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on June 01, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Introducing our Ex-Lawyer of the Week: David Westin.

A former private-firm partner turned corporate counsel, Westin is currently making the rounds on the lecture circuit with his new memoir "Exit Interview," about his tenure as president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010.

It's a role that many journalists initially scoffed at, as Westin had no prior newsroom experience before taking the helm at ABC News. But as huge national stories began to unfold, Westin's legal knowledge became immensely valuable.

First there was President Bill Clinton's scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "David was very helpful on legal issues," an ABC News correspondent told New York magazine in 1998.

Soon the scandal turned into impeachment. "I was most worried with how the legal process worked and providing an understanding of how the Constitution worked for my reporters," Westin told his ex-firm WilmerHale. "I remember discussing the rule of law with Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel on the set. It was back to Constitutional Law I."

In fact, a lot of big stories during David Westin's tenure at ABC News involved legal issues, such as Bush v. Gore and post-9/11 treatment of terror detainees.

Westin has some experience with big legal issues of national importance. A University of Michigan law grad, Westin worked as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, and for a judge on the Second Circuit. Westin then became a partner at WilmerHale before leaving for a corporate counsel gig with ABC. He served as president of the ABC Television Network for three years before being tapped to lead ABC News.

"I believe there is very substantial overlap between what a good lawyer and a good journalist does," Westin said. "They have as their most important trait the requirement to ask the right questions. And to know who to ask questions of."

David Westin's "Exit Interview" delves a bit into his transition from law to broadcast journalism. He discusses the book in this interview from ABC's Good Morning America:

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Curious about other ways to use your JD, or how ex-lawyers have found success in other fields? Check back here for more ex-lawyer profiles and success stories. And if you have suggestions for our Ex-Lawyer of the Week series, let us know by posting your tip on our FindLaw for Legal Professionals Facebook page.

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