Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz Biography

Lawyer (1938–)
Attorney and longtime Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has been involved in some of the most controversial trials of his day.


Born on September 1, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York, Alan Dershowitz became a famed attorney and Ivy League scholar known for his emphasis on civil liberties. A prolific author, he also became involved in some of the most highly publicized trials of his time, including the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995. Dershowitz has continued to garner major media attention for his speeches, writings and courtroom appearances.

Education and Achievements

Alan Morton Dershowitz was born on September 1, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Though initially not regarded as a stellar student by some of his teachers and peers, he would go on to become one of the leading figures of his field. After finishing Yeshiva University High School, Dershowitz was a student at Brooklyn College, where he thrived, graduating in 1959. He attended Yale Law School, where he graduated first in his class, and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg. Returning to academia, Dershowitz became the youngest scholar to become a full professor at Harvard Law, doing so at 28 years old.

Civil Liberties Icon, Controversial Cases

Dershowitz dynamically focused on civil rights and civil liberties law both domestically and abroad. His successes garnered him an array of accolades over the course of his career, including an appointment as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard and a 1979 Guggenheim Fellowship. Yet his public litigation efforts have received the bulk of scrutiny, with controversy abounding at times. In the mid-1970s, Dershowitz represented heiress turned bank robber Patty Hearst, as well as porn actor Harry Reems, who’d been convicted for moving what was deemed obscene material across state boundaries.

Dershowitz took on another notorious case the following decade—that of businessman Claus Von Bulow, who’d been convicted of the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. Dershowitz was able to have the verdict overturned on appeal. Other high-profile clients on the attorney’s list have included filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, televangelist Jim Bakker, “Queen of Mean” hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley, boxer Mike Tyson, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and socialite Gigi Jordan.

O.J. Simpson Trial and Recollections

Yet the case that arguably eclipsed all others on the Dershowitz roster was that of former football star/actor O.J. Simpson, who was charged with the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Teaming up with what was billed a "dream team" of defense lawyers that consisted of F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian and Robert Shapiro, Dershowitz took part in one of history’s most widely followed trials, which began in January 1995.

After months of proceedings, Simpson was found not guilty in October 1995, with the verdict highlighting America’s often fraught racial lines. A decade later, in a Frontline interview, Dershowitz related his thoughts on the case, stating that he believed the prosecution made extensive errors even with a mountain of evidence on their side, and that the police had committed perjury and significantly tampered with the scene of the crime. The trial has continued to live on through the media, most recently with the 2016 FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Dershowitz is depicted by actor Evan Handler.

Sexual Abuse Allegations

In 2006, Dershowitz was brought into the case of Jeffrey Epstein, a money manager friend who was accused of eliciting sexual massages from underage girls. Dershowitz successfully negotiated a plea deal in 2008, though the legal maneuverings continued when a lawsuit was launched against the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the rights of two of the girls.

In a 2014 filing connected to the case, a woman charged that Dershowitz, as well as England’s Prince Andrew, had engaged in sexual activity with her while she was still a minor. Dershowitz, who was not able to respond in court because he’s not part of the lawsuit, has steadfastly denied these charges, with Harvard colleagues publicly offering their support amid a storm of legal entanglements.

Personal Life and Publications

Dershowitz is married to Carolyn Cohen, his second wife, and has three children and two grandchildren. He is a prolific author as well, having penned books such as The Best Defense (1982), Chutzpah (1991), The Advocate’s Devil (1994), Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000 (2001), The Case for Israel (2003) and Taking a Stand: My Life in the Law (2013).

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