“What you see is what you get,” Avenatti says. “This isn’t some shtick.”
“I’m just being me, this is who I am,” he said. “And I’m just doing what I do. It just happens to be on a really big stage.”
And despite some bumps, like a large settlement against the accounting firm KPMG that was overturned by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2012, Avenatti has had a successful career in the world of high-stakes litigation, including a $454 million verdict against Kimberly-Clark in a class-action suit about surgical gowns. (A judge later substantially reduced the verdict.) It’s a field in which lawyers often operate as “lone wolves,” Turley said, and in which the amount of work involved in the pretrial and trial phases can be immense and all-consuming. Avenatti has a team of people helping him, but says he has been working nonstop, and the first thing on his agenda when it’s all over will be to sleep.
Avenatti is not the first lawyer to rely heavily on media attention to litigate his case, nor is he the first to do this in a case involving the president. There are examples in the not-so-distant past: Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer William Ginsburg, famous for inventing the “full Ginsburg” maneuver of doing all of the Sunday talk shows the same day, and the lawyers for Paula Jones, who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment in 1994.
Joseph Camaratta, one of Jones’s lawyers, said he saw similarities in what Avenatti was doing “in the sense that you wanted to move the case along, keep the president on his heels, and, to the extent permitted, use the media as a tool in the toolbox.”
“We used to say, ‘Look, this is a case not a cause,’” Camaratta said. “I am not here to take down the president of the United States. I am here to give my client her day in court. An opportunity for truth to be tried—that was my tagline.” The press frenzy surrounding his case “was craziness,” Camaratta said. “It was something I’d never experienced in my life.” And this was before Twitter and round-the-clock cable news.
Camaratta said Avenatti had done a “masterful job” getting Daniels out from under the NDA. “He wants to invalidate the arbitration, he wants to take the president’s deposition. These are all things I’d be doing. These are all the right things to do for an aggressive trial lawyer.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who worked on O.J. Simpson’s defense team and who has become a Trump confidant, said that Avenatti’s approach is the right one if he’s truly doing it for Daniels’s benefit and not just for himself. “If he can look in the mirror and honestly say that he’s doing it to help his client’s case, then he’s doing fine, he’s doing the right thing,” Dershowitz said. He rejected the comparison to the Simpson case, saying that in that case, like in most cases, the object was to win a result in court, whereas in his view, “Here the object is not just to win the lawsuit, it’s to destroy the presidency. It’s to create problems for Trump.” Dershowitz compared Avenatti to William Kunstler, the radical lawyer who represented the “Chicago Seven” activists who were put on trial for their role in the 1968 protests around the Democratic National Convention, and who was known for his media-friendly approach. Both lawyers, he said, promote “causes as well as clients.”