School of Journalism director Willow Bay and daytime TV host Judith "Judge Judy" Sheindlin.
USC Annenberg

Judge Judy to USC Annenberg students: ‘Make yourself indispensable’

Court was in session on Monday April 11 when daytime TV host Judith Sheindlin—better known as Judge Judy—paid a visit to USC Annenberg to share her secrets for creating a lasting, multifaceted career.

School of Journalism director Willow Bay kicked things off for the crowd of students, faculty and other guests gathered in Wallis Annenberg Hall by having Sheindlin reflect on the success of her Emmy Award-winning show, “Judge Judy,” which has been on the air for 20 years.

Sheindlin said that viewers have continued to tune into her show for a very simple reason: They care about right and wrong, and they want to see people held responsible for their actions in direct and immediate ways. To that end, Sheindlin described her TV courtroom as a place where the truth is spoken in blunt and unvarnished terms.    

“In order to get your message across, you have to be specific and you have to be clear,” Sheindlin said, adding that she expects people in her courtroom to do the same. “I know that, if you could, you’d deliver your version of the Gettysburg Address, but I have to know A, B and C, so I’m direct.”

These communication skills are also applicable outside the courtroom as well, Sheindlin said, sharing that she uses the same approach when negotiating her contracts. Over time, Sheindlin has been able to leverage the success of her show to ensure contracts meet all her demands.  

She advised students the use the same strategy of creating leverage in order to build the career they want. Asked by Bay what a college student or recent graduate with little work experience could leverage, Sheindlin suggested focusing on a unique skill—any skill, even if it’s just making a good cup of coffee—and making it an essential part of their job.

Equally important, however, is choosing a career that is enjoyable, Sheindlin said.

“Choose the job that’s interesting to you, even if it pays less money,” she said. “Go with your passion, because if you go with your passion, you’re going to be able to make yourself indispensable.”

She offered the example of a pair of dentists she knew who retired much earlier in life than they had intended when their assistants quit. As it turned out, they had no idea how to run an office without their assistants.

“The assistants had made themselves indispensable.”

Students from various USC Annenberg media outlets in attendance found Sheindlin’s guidance a refreshing change of pace from the standard career advice they often recieve.

Drew Schwendiman (Broadcast and Digital Journalism, ’18), who works on USC Annenberg’s entertainment talk show “The Buzz,” said he loved how “unapologetically direct” the judge was, both on her show and during the event.

“To some she's intimidating,” Schwendiman said, but “she's only speaking the simple, basic truth.”