Career Spotlight: Jeffrey Scott Shapiro
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro (JD 05) began each week like any other UF Law student, consumed with classes and studying. Come most Thursdays, however, he was boarding a Colorado-bound plane to work as an investigative journalist for CBS News’ “48 Hours Investigates.”
When Mondays rolled back around, he was sitting in his law classes once again, ready to repeat the cycle.
Shapiro’s journalism background and law career has come full circle, now that he has been prosecuting cases related to the First Amendment for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C. for the last year and a half.
“Since I used to be a journalist, I have an interest in the First Amendment,” Shapiro said. “I think I may be one of the only prosecutors in the country who prosecutes cases that somehow seriously involve First Amendment law.”
He deals with many protestors participating in unlawful conduct at the White House, U.S. Capitol, and other federal properties, particularly specializing in cases with mass protestors. Shapiro has prosecuted as many as 31 codefendants in one trial.
Shapiro has also worked on high-profile cases, just recently prosecuting and subsequently convicting a woman who accosted Condoleezza Rice on Capitol Hill with hands painted red to look like blood.
However, dealing with high-profile issues is nothing new to this journalism veteran, as he spent his seven years after his Florida State University undergraduate education as an investigative reporter. He covered stories that included the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, Columbine shootings, Chandra Levy investigation and Sept. 11 attacks. These experiences exposed him to the intersection of the law and media and the problems that can occur.
“My real interest in going to law school was because I had an interest in First Amendment law,” Shapiro said. “I feel that the media abuses the First Amendment a lot, and I was hoping to go to law school so I could eventually represent people who were victims of that abuse.”
This knowledge initially came from his beginning in journalism as a reporter for tabloids. In this capacity, he witnessed the abusive way the First Amendment was regarded in news coverage about JonBenet Ramsey. Shapiro ended up reporting these publications to the FBI, which led to a criminal prosecution and his testimony before a grand jury.
Shapiro’s journalism career quickly ascended, as he went from employment at the tabloid, The Globe, to publication in Time Magazine. Just before law school, he was working for Gannett in New York City.
“I actually spent a few months in Manhattan and all of the New York City area working on 9/11 and trying to track down information about Al-Qaeda, and then I came back to Florida and started law school,” he said. “You can kind of imagine the culture shock.”
Law school didn’t deter Shapiro from journalistic endeavors. In addition to his academic work and involvement in the Military Law Students Association, he wrote some stories and columns and made appearances on television shows, including the “The O’Reilly Factor.”
The summer after his first year, Shapiro was contacted by “48 Hours Investigates” to conduct a preliminary investigation on the Kobe Bryant case. This involved extensive time in Colorado that summer, extending into his second and third years of law school.
This commitment also required a class schedule conducive to long weekends traveling to cover the case.
“It was like I was living two lives at the same time,” Shapiro said. “It was a fun experience because I got to fly out of town every other week. It was a bit exotic for a full-time student, but it was also pretty exhausting.”
Shapiro described the Kobe Bryant case as beneficial in two ways. He was able to witness concepts he was learning in classes in the real world and also had the ability to grasp complex legal issues brought up in hearings that very few reporters would be able to clearly understand without a legal education.
“The Kobe Bryant case was sort of a whole part of my law school education,” Shapiro said.
The still full-time law student decided he had enough information on the Kobe Bryant case to write a book. “Kobe Bryant: The Game of His Life” was published in February of 2004 and broke an Amazon.com Top 100 sales during the first week it was released.
Upon graduating, Shapiro encountered another event that ultimately translated into his second book – bar preparation.
Shapiro didn’t pass his first bar exam in June 2005, which he had the unfortunate timing of taking right after the bar examiners’ decision to rewrite the test just six weeks before. This was due to a bar preparation course’s successful duplication of actual exam questions.
His second shot at the exam missed the mark by just one point.
At that point he had a bar tutor, Steve Friedland, who used to teach at Nova Southeastern University Law Center. Friedland had devised a methodology based on a system of protocols. For every section of the bar, he created a system a student should use to approach each subject.
“He had this great system he had developed, and I was very impressed,” Shapiro said.
The idea to write another book sparked, and Shapiro used his own writing experience combined with Friedland’s material to write a book co-authored by the two, entitled “The Essential Rules for Bar Exam Success.” The book serves as a bridge between the last year of law school and the start of bar preparation courses, since it can be an abrupt shift.
An important aspect of the book, which focuses on the Multistate Bar Examination, is understanding the language of the exam and teaching students how to “think the way the bar examiners think,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro passed the bar the third time, an accomplishment he credits to applying the protocols in the book.
Shapiro says the most valuable aspect of the book is preparing a third year law student for the psychological and emotional shift that accompanies bar exam preparation.
“This book really helps you understand every aspect of studying for the bar. It’s not just about the bar exam itself,” Shapiro said. “It’s about what is going to happen to your life when you enter this Twilight Zone called bar exam class.”
The book was published a few weeks ago by Thomson West with complimentary copies sent to every law school in the country. All law school bookstores, as well as select Barnes & Nobles and Borders bookstores, will be selling the book. Thomson West also selected the book as one of only two selected each year for its professional series.
A strong writing background has influenced more than his current legal specialty, as Shapiro is now working on his third book. The story is about a forbidden love that takes place in a future utopian society, complete with civil rights issues he learned about in Constitutional Law.
“There were a lot of things learned at UF that I wrote about in my stories,” Shapiro said. “If I hadn’t had that education at UF, I never would have been able to write those stories with the punch that they had.”