ALUMNI PROFILE Alan Barinholtz (JD ’80)

Reporting for Jury Duty

Meet Alan Barinholtz (JD ’80), the judge on the hit show

Alan Barinholtz (JD80) got the call shortly before Thanksgiving 2021. Someone in Hollywood was looking for a retired or semi-retired lawyer with improv experience to star in a new courtroom comedy series. Would he be interested?

The caller was Alan’s son Ike Barinholtz, a comedic actor known for Mad TV and The Mindy Project, who encouraged his father to audition. After all, the part was something the elder Barinholtz—a veteran lawyer with long-honed performance chops—had been preparing for his entire life.

Here are eight things to know about Alan Barinholtz, who landed the role of Judge Alan Rosen on Amazon Freevee’s Jury Duty, which would go on to receive four Emmy nominations. (Spoiler alerts are noted later in the article.)

1. He didn’t plan to become a lawyer. Barinholtz grew up in Skokie, attended Evanston High School, and majored in theater at Ohio State University. With years of experience in improvisation and standup, he dreamed of becoming an actor and performing musical comedy in New York City. After graduation, Barinholtz moved to New York to work for a brief time before coming home to Chicago, where he tried a variety of jobs, first directing a children’s theater group, and, later, doing phone sales. “I was very successful” he says, “but I wasn’t crazy about it.”

2. He saw an omen. While trying to figure out his next career move, Barinholtz met with a friend who was attending law school. “I said, ‘Boy, it’d be great to get a law degree—not to practice law—but to have it for business purposes,” he says. At age 25, he applied to several Chicago-area law schools and waited. “The day my older son [Ike] was born, on February 18, 1977, I got accepted to Loyola—and that was a good omen.” On his first day of law school, Barinholtz was so inspired by Dean Charles Murdock’s speech—that lawyers improved society—that he decided then and there to become a practicing attorney.

3. He found parallels between law and acting. Barinholtz specialized in personal injury litigation and eventually formed his own Chicago firm. Over a 40-plus year career, he also represented individuals and corporations in actions concerning professional malpractice, contract disputes, civil rights, and class action suits. For the last 25 years, he also has been an arbitrator for AAA, among other entities. And he never really stopped performing. Whenever his actor sons Ike and Jon came back to Chicago to perform improv, he sometimes joined them on stage—and the parallels between acting and lawyering are not lost on him. “When you’re presenting to a jury, you’re playing to an audience of 12,” he says. “I was a performer. I really enjoyed it. I studied improvisation. I learned how to think on my feet.”

4. He got an offer he almost refused. After the Jury Duty showrunners offered Barinholtz the role of the judge in early 2022, the 70-year-old hesitated. He would have to move to Los Angeles for three months at his own expense. The job didn’t pay much, and he’d have to spend $10,000 to join the actor’s union. He thought the whole arrangement might upset his wife, but he says, “her response was, ‘Get the hell out of here!’”

“This show resonates with lawyers because maybe they’ve seen some of this stuff go on in their courtrooms.”

5. He wasn’t sure Jury Duty would work. The show is a mockumentary about the jury system in which all the people onscreen are actors—except for one, Ronald Gladden, an easygoing everyman who believes he is participating in a legitimate documentary about the judicial process. Barinholtz estimates that about 85 percent of the show was improvised. After all, the actors had no idea how Gladden would react in any given situation, so they had to be prepared for multiple scenarios, and everyone had to keep up the ruse throughout the three-week shoot. [**SPOILERS AHEAD**] The effort required continual, on-the-spot pivoting, but, Barinholtz says, “The only time I was nervous was during the reveal.” As the judge, he had to tell Gladden, face to face, that the three-week jury trial was completely fake. “We had no idea what was going to happen. I was surprised it went as smoothly as it went.”

6. He’s amazed at the show’s success. “Everybody’s trepidation in the beginning was that this could come out very mean-spirited, and it didn’t,” Barinholtz says. “It had the opposite effect, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the show is a massive success. It’s a nice show.” Jury Duty was nominated for four Emmys: Outstanding Casting For A Comedy Series, Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series, and Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series (James Marsden).

7. He says lawyers love the show. “This show resonates with lawyers because maybe they’ve seen some of this stuff go on in their courtrooms,” he says. Since the show debuted in April, Barinholtz has received mounds of praise from friends near and far, many of whom compliment his spot-on portrayal of a “Cook County judge,” thanks to his many years of trying cases in their courtrooms—and because of the unmistakable Chicago accent. “I’ve heard from a lot of [Loyola] classmates, which just thrills me to death,” he says. “It’s great hearing from attorneys who I’ve been up against too.” Months after the show premiered, he still gets recognized by fans wherever he goes.

8. He’s enjoying his second act. Now 72, Barinholtz is semi-retired from his law career and lives in Los Angeles to be closer to his two sons and five grandchildren—and to be more available for acting gigs. He has secured an agent and landed a few jobs, including a guest spot on Apple TV’s Physical and a role in the new NBC pilot St. Denis Medical, which he describes as similar to The Office.

“I love being an attorney—it’s still hard for me to say ‘I’m an actor.’ But if you love something, don’t give up—because 50 years later, look what’s happened to me. Anything’s possible.” –Kristi Turnbaugh (October 2023)


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