Law degree helps lawyer-turned-reporter land network job

A law degree has opened many doors for UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law alumna Chanley Painter, who has worked as a deputy prosecutor, a private practice attorney, and for the past year as a multimedia journalist for Little Rock’s KARK-TV Channel 4.

Painter, who is a former Miss Arkansas-USA, starts a new job in February as a legal correspondent for Court TV, which launches May 1. All but one of her colleagues at her new workplace have law degrees.

“It has certainly opened doors,” she said. “You have more to bring to the table because you have a law degree plus years of practice experience.”

In her new job, Painter will travel the nation, covering court cases from start to finish.

“This job combines all of my personal interests in one, and I am able to use my law degree,” she said.

Painter earned an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Central Arkansas, and then she enrolled in the concurrent degree program offered by UA Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law and the University of Arkansas’s Clinton School of Public Service. In four years, she earned both a Juris Doctor with high honors from Bowen and a Master of Public Service from the Clinton School.

“I’ve always liked school. I’m kind of nerdy that way,” she joked. “My strengths as a student were always history, reading, and writing. When I was growing up, most kids watched cartoons. I watched Matlock. I knew I wanted to go to law school. It was a natural fit for me.”

Scholarships paid for much of Painter’s graduate education. She also applied for Law Review at the Bowen School of Law and was accepted to the Editorial Board, which provided an additional scholarship.

“It’s a very affordable law school, and I’m so thankful I was able to graduate debt-free,” she said.

Painter, who is a state fiddle champion, traveled to Nashville quite often throughout school and was unsure if she wanted to move to Nashville or stay in Arkansas. After graduating, she passed both the Arkansas and Tennessee bar exams and is licensed to practice law in both states.

Then, one of Painter’s former classmates had a case in Cleburne County, and Painter attended to observe the courtroom proceedings where she met many attorneys, including the county prosecutor at the time. That meeting led to a mentorship, and in early 2012, Painter became deputy prosecuting attorney for the 16th Judicial District of Arkansas.

Painter worked as a deputy prosecutor until 2016, the year a TV opportunity came her way. The news director at KARK 4 and FOX 16 asked Painter to serve as a legal analyst, starting with the week-long trial for the murder of realtor Beverly Carter.  

“I would work to translate the courtroom lingo into what my audience could understand,” she said. “It was rewarding to use my degree in a way which helped educate people as to what was happening.”

Painter already had some on-camera experience with modeling and acting, and she quickly learned how to find stories, operate the camera, and write and edit stories.  In January 2018, she was hired full-time as a multimedia journalist for KARK 4 and Fox 16.

All the time she worked in TV, she continued her private practice as time allowed, working on cases mostly involving family law and estate planning.

In November 2018, the call from Court TV came.

“I sent them some of my clips, and they flew me to Atlanta for an interview and offered me a job,” she said.

Did she accept the offer right away? Of course not.

“I wanted to see the contract,” she said. “As a lawyer, you take that way of thinking with you in every part of your life.”

For her new position, Painter will travel around the U.S. and cover trials “gavel to gavel.”

“Even if I wasn’t on Court TV, I’d be watching it,” said Painter, who likes to watch true crime shows.

She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of practicing law again one day.

“Because I have my law degree, I can always come back to Arkansas and join a firm or have a private practice,” she said. “It’s a skill I can make a living with no matter what the economy is like; people will always need lawyers.”

Photo Courtesy of Chanley Painter

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