Arts & Entertainment, Human Resources, and Law

Speaker Lis Wiehl urges women to not be content with ‘fine’

Legal analyst, attorney, bestselling author advises women who want to be influential to ‘follow their bliss.’

March 2, 2018
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Lis Wiehl became a federal prosecutor early in her career — the third generation in her family to attain the job and the only woman. She said one thing she learned along the way is “go with your gut.”

“When I graduated from (Harvard) Law School, I went to a big-paying job at a big law firm. I had bills to pay. There were nice people there. The bottom line was the bottom line, and that was fine. But I didn’t want to do ‘fine,’” Wiehl said.

“I had it in my blood, being a federal prosecutor. My dad was one, and my grandfather was one. I don’t think either thought a woman could do the job. When my grandfather died in his 90s, he said, ‘Good job; you’ve done well.’ It meant a lot coming from that old guy because a woman trying murder cases just didn’t happen then.”

She said the variety her career now encompasses has come as a result of “following her bliss.”

A trial lawyer, professor, bestselling author, former legal analyst for Fox News and newly minted anchor for the streaming network, Wiehl has authored 17 books — 14 suspense novels and three works of nonfiction, including “The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It” (Ballantine Books, 2007).

Wiehl will share her can-do spirit and insights on success in a keynote address at the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan event from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. March 7, at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.

The women who will be honored at the event come from many different fields, but Wiehl said she suspects a common thread is “strength of character and personality.”

“Influence is women following their own bliss and wherever it leads and not letting a man tell them what they should do by a male definition,” she said. “It’s in their own personalities, being strong and willing to follow that.”

Wiehl said she has seen women be influential in many ways, “from athletics to music to working in a nonprofit making air and water more sustainable, to being a mom raising a child to be a good young adult, to being in corporations breaking the glass ceiling, to being in the political sphere helping make laws that will protect women.”

She said having been a single mom of two for many years, she understands the tough juggling act of career and family.

“I always had so many balls in the air and just hoped that when they fell, they wouldn’t break my toes,” she said with a laugh.

After law school, her career has included private practice, the prosecutor role in the U.S. Attorney’s office and serving as the deputy chief investigative counsel for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.

She also taught law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle.

Her work in the justice arena earned her invitations to provide legal commentary and analysis with outlets such as NPR, CBS and NBC. 

From 2001-17, she was a Fox News legal analyst and appeared regularly on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Her departure in January 2017 came as she reached a $32-million settlement agreement over sexual harassment and assault allegations against former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who was subsequently ousted from the network as more allegations and settlements came to light.

Wiehl declined to discuss her settlement with O’Reilly or the situation.

Despite the circumstances at Fox, Wiehl has maintained a passion for broadcast journalism, as it gives her the opportunity to serve the viewer by explaining complex legal concepts.

After a year break from television, she is back in the game.

“I took a part-time job with,” she said. “I’m back in the gig. I’m anchoring there. It’s a streaming network, and it’s right up my alley.”

Wiehl also works as a professor of law at New York Law School and is writing the first book in a new nonfiction thriller series to be published by HarperCollins, called the “Hunting” series. The first book, “Hunting Charles Manson: The Quest for Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter,” is due to hit the shelves in June.

Although she puts her heart into every book, Wiehl said a couple have pride of place to her.

On the fiction side, she wrote a book called “Snapshot” that is based on events from her childhood when she witnessed a civil rights march in Fort Worth, Texas, during her father’s time there as the lead FBI investigator in the JFK assassination.

“My dad gave me this picture taken of me and this little African-American girl at a civil rights march in Texas when my dad was stationed there to debrief Marina Oswald, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald,” she said.

“I took one look at this photo and said, ‘Dad, there’s a story there.’ I made up this story, ‘Snapshot,’ about how we saw something this day, an up-and-coming civil rights leader assassinated, and me and the little African-American girl saw the killer.”

Wiehl’s nonfiction book she is most proud of is “51% Minority,” which she wrote to empower women who needed “a pocket paralegal.”

She said the statistics in the book about equal pay, domestic violence and other issues affecting women still are depressingly applicable.

But advice from people she interviewed for the book still rings true — such as the words of the late Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 was the first woman to be nominated for vice president of the United States.

Paraphrasing what Ferraro said in the book, Wiehl said, “Women can’t be complacent; we can’t forget what the generations before us have done. As easy as you think it is in some ways, women before you have paved the way. There are still obstacles, but the women before you have made those obstacles go away. It’s up to you to say, ‘Now it’s our turn.’”

Wiehl is putting that thought in motion, partly through anonymous philanthropy and partly through a “nascent stage” effort to push legislation that will help prevent and prosecute domestic violence against women.

For anyone striving to become a woman who impacts others, Wiehl said it’s impossible to do it all, so pick what aligns with your heart.

“You have to look to your moral code and your values,” she said.

“I try to live my life by the tenets of following my moral compass so that I not only can look myself in the mirror but also look in my children’s darling faces. I want them to be proud of me, of what I’m doing and who I am. I don’t call it courageous; I call it being a moral person. I try to never hurt anybody else, just always do the right thing.”

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