Judy Sheindlin, the New York family court judge turned TV star, is by all measures a great success. She is happily married. Her program, Judge Judy, is the number-one syndicated show on daytime TV with more than 9 million daily viewers. She even beat The Oprah Winfrey Show in ratings during its final years on television.
The judge works about two days per week during filming season and for this, she's being paid $47 million, which comes out to around $900,000 per day. As if that weren’t enough, a recent Reader's Digest poll ranked her as the most trusted jurist in the country, beating out the entire Supreme Court. She's even more trusted than President Obama, according to the same poll.
But what does the most trusted judge in the country have to say about small business? Plenty. Watching Sheindlin's show is my guilty pleasure, and over the years, I’ve seen more than a few episodes. The decisions she hands down in court, the reasoning behind her decisions and the way she conducts her own business of being a judge all offer great lessons for us.
Here are the top five:
1. Always Get Paid For What You Bring To The Table
Sheindlin has caused more than a few raised eyebrows for what's considered to be an exorbitant amount of compensation. Her current $47 million salary is a bump over last year’s $45 million payday and is only the first year of a four-year contract worth more than $180 million. But she deserves every penny. According to Steve Battaglio, TV Guide’s business editor, CBS spends just $10 million producing her show but generates $200 million per year in advertising revenue. That leaves $190 million in gross profits to be split between CBS and Sheindlin. Looked at that way, $47 million seems low.
2. Don’t Sell Out To Sell More
Sheindlin has an acerbic personality—and that’s putting it nicely. Many people, including other famous jurists like Judge Joseph Wapner, formerly of The People’s Court, can’t stand her and believe her methods are unnecessarily antagonistic to plaintiffs and defendants.
But what critics fail to see is that she is being authentic; she isn’t putting on a show for anyone. Before becoming a celebrity, Sheindlin was a family court judge with years on the bench and a reputation for being very tough. Nearly 25 years ago, she was featured in an episode of 60 Minutes where anyone can see she is just as “lovable” as she is today. In recent years, she has discussed how producers at first tried to change her and tell her how to be a successful TV judge. Rather than pretend to be something she isn’t, she remained authentic and became a success. People can sense authenticity and will always reward it.
3. Come Prepared Or Prepare To Lose
A common problem among plaintiffs and defendants on Judge Judy is a lack of evidence. Many cases are decided not based on the actual merits of the arguments but rather on who can produce evidence to back up their story. Keeping receipts, meeting notes, phone records and other documents is a necessity.
To help with document management, I purchased a high-speed scanner several years ago and make it a point to have every critical piece of paper scanned. Many people think it's overkill, but it only takes about two hours per month to organize, scan and electronically file all the paper that comes into my office. And it takes just a single audit or lawsuit that's decided in your favor to justify the effort.
4. Don’t Lie. Ever.
Judge Judy hasn't met the people presenting their arguments prior to their appearance on her show nor was she present when the alleged incidents in dispute took place. She has to rely on the evidence presented as well as her judgment as to the truthfulness of each party's testimony. It’s on this latter point where many cases are decided. Sheindlin frequently catches litigants in a small lie, exaggeration or embellishment—this destroys their credibility in her eyes. People who lie little can also lie big. It's in your best interests to be honest.
5. Know When To Keep Quiet
It never fails to amaze me how many plaintiffs, after having virtually won their case and being told as much by Sheindlin, go on to lose the case. The reason? They annoyed the judge by insisting on venting about the defendant or by trying to convince the judge of some minor point.
I frequently see similar mistakes being made after someone has sold me something I want to buy—they know I’m sold, but they keep talking as if they haven’t yet convinced me. Be warned: If you keep on selling after the sale is done, you may just wind up losing it.
Do you watch Judge Judy? What do you think of Sheindlin's rulings? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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