Love or Money? A Question for English Majors and/or Future Lawyers

TCS with Quote and Line

[WordPress has reminded me that it’s my blog’s anniversary! I set it up on June 9, 2012, and my first true post was on June 10th. It’s hard to believe that four years has gone by so fast. Happy Birthday, The Misfortune of Knowing! Okay, back to the post:]


In my comments on Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, I discussed Sugar’s graduation speech to a class of writers, a group tired of being told that “being an English major prepares you for law school.” Instead of that typical advice, she said:

You’re going to be all right. And [] not because you majored in English or didn’t and not because you plan to apply to law school or don’t, but because all right is almost always where we eventually land, even if we fuck up entirely along the way. […]

You have to do what you have to do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with law school, but don’t go unless you want to be a lawyer.

That’s right: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with law school, but don’t go unless you want to be a lawyer.”

The conventional wisdom is that lawyers are a particularly unhappy group of people, even though satisfaction surveys actually indicate that many lawyers are pleased with their careers. However, some are not. Of the unhappy lawyers, how many are people who never really wanted to be lawyers in the first place? How many had an unrealistic impression of what “being a lawyer” really means?

As I said in my post on Strayed’s advice:

No two lawyers are alike. The only thing a law degree does [in the United States] is give us is the ability to sit for a 2-3 day-long bar exam in the state(s) of our choice. Then, if we pass, we can say we’re lawyers, members of a profession that is so diverse that the term is almost meaningless, like if every oncologist, dentist, immunologist, and veterinarian was called “doctor” without any further delineation.

Imagine a person who went to law school because they wanted to be like To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch (pre-Go Set a Watchman, presumably). How happy is that person when they find themselves representing Wall Street upon graduation? They’re making more money than the real-life Atticus Finch-types are, but job satisfaction and money aren’t necessarily correlated.

I thought about this topic when I read Clare Ashton’s That Certain Something, a novel I included in my Diverse Books Tag. This cute romantic comedy (which takes place in the UK) raises a couple of issues, including:

  • When it comes to relationships, do you prioritize love or money?
  • How about when you choose a job?

With both romantic relationships and occupations, it seems that prioritizing money rarely results in happiness.

When it comes to careers, many people don’t have the luxury of choosing a job. Options are limited in our current economic climate, even for lawyers from prestigious law schools. However, it seems like the lawyers with the greatest number of career opportunities–the ones who went to top 10 law schools–are among the least happy lawyers.

That is, if they joined “Big Law,” the large private law firms that typically represent huge companies in transactions and litigation.

The ones who went into public interest law (as I did) tend to be happier at least in part because the work is meaningful. It’s easy to love your job when you care about the work you do, even if the pay barely covers law school debt.

With Big Law, as Professor Organ noted in What Do We Know About the Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction of Lawyers? A Meta-Analysis of Research on Lawyer Satisfaction and Well-Being (PDF), some of the lawyers’ dissatisfaction stems from how hard it is to see “how they are contributing to the common good” (because, quite frankly, they’re usually not).

I also suspect that there comes a point when these lawyers look around their swanky 19th floor offices at 10 PM and think, “Is this all there is? Is this why I went to law school?” They can afford a very comfortable lifestyle, but they don’t have the personal time to actually live it.

Money definitely isn’t everything.



“There Is Absolutely Nothing Wrong With Law School” (For Some People)

tiny beautiful thingsAs the “Dear Sugar” columnist for The Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed doled out encouragement and guidance to souls who described themselves as “stuck,” “suffocated,” and “crushed” (among other similarly unfortunate states). Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (2012) is a collection of these requests for advice and Sugar’s responses.

Strayed provides nuggets of wisdom, but they’re buried within what sometimes seems—at least to me—like a mountain of gibberish. I’m not a poetic or philosophical person. I like writing that gets to the point efficiently, and so I cringed every time Strayed went on a tangent about events in her own life that were, at best, only marginally related to the request. Still, some of Strayed’s letters are beautiful and resonated with me, particularly when she answers a question similar to one I’ve had to answer myself.

For example, in The Future Has an Ancient Heart, a creative writing professor asks Sugar to “deliver a graduation speech for [a] class of writers,” many of whom “are tired of the ‘being an English major prepares you for law school’ comments being made by friends and family alike.” To this class, Sugar says:

“You’re going to be all right. And [] not because you majored in English or didn’t and not because you plan to apply to law school or don’t, but because all right is almost always where we eventually land, even if we fuck up entirely along the way. […]

You have to do what you have to do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with law school, but don’t go unless you want to be a lawyer.”

As a public interest attorney who regularly interacts with undergraduate interns, many of whom are studying English and contemplating law school, I have often said something along the lines of “There is absolutely nothing wrong with law school, but don’t go unless you want to be a lawyer.”

I was an undergraduate history major, which is about as marketable as an English degree. With my stereotypically South Asian mother to appease, I couldn’t have a gap or temporary job on my resumé. It was already bad enough that I wasn’t pre-med. So, law school it was, and it turned out to be the perfect choice for me. But, obviously, it isn’t a good choice for everyone with an undergraduate degree as useless as mine.

Sugar is right about law school—don’t go unless you want to be lawyer—except that few undergrads really know what it means to be a lawyer. No two lawyers are alike. The only thing a law degree does is give us is the ability to sit for a 2-3 day-long bar exam in the state(s) of our choice. Then, if we pass, we can say we’re lawyers, members of a profession that is so diverse that the term is almost meaningless, like if every oncologist, dentist, immunologist, and veterinarian was called “doctor” without any further delineation.

A few years ago, a preschool teacher asked Mr. A.M.B, who is also a lawyer, to explain what he does to a bunch of four-year-olds. He said, “I fix problems.” My practice is different from his, but I also fix problems. We give advice, kind of like Sugar does, but of the legal variety. Our knowledge of statutes, case law, and systems—the nuts and bolts of our society—allow us to advise clients on matters in court or in negotiations that directly affect their lives. Other lawyers, though, don’t represent clients at all, working instead in policy, academia, or other fields where insider knowledge of how laws work helps them.

So, I recommend law school to those who want to understand how our society functions, particularly if they’ve made an effort to see what “being a lawyer” looks like in real life and not just on TV (as elucidating as entertainment like My Cousin Vinny may actually be!). But they should do it as cheaply as possible, because one thing a law degree won’t guarantee is a job. Far too many JDs have found their degree about as marketable as the one they received in the humanities.

I say this as one of the lucky ones. I had a great law school experience that helped me secure the job of my dreams, but I’ll be paying off those loans until I’m 45.*


*My law school has a loan forgiveness program for public interest attorneys, but I don’t qualify because I got married to someone who earns more money than I do. The decision to get married can have downsides, but that’s a topic better suited for an advice column like “Dear Sugar.” 😉

**Mr. A.M.B. recently reviewed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m skeptical of the premise, but my husband liked the book.

***Thanks to Katie from Words for Worms for choosing Tiny Beautiful Things for the Fellowship of the Worms read-along. Please check out her blog to see what everyone is saying about it.

When Our Literary Heroes Become Victims

Harper Lee Lawsuit 2013A few weeks ago, Harper Lee, the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, made headlines by filing a lawsuit in New York against her agent, Samuel L. Pinkus, and his affiliates.

Lee alleges that Pinkus, the son-in-law of her former agent Eugene Winick, took advantage of her age and poor health, including the residual effects of having suffered a stroke, her poor eyesight, and her impaired hearing, to dupe her into signing over the rights to her novel. He paid her royalties of some amount (it’s unclear how those royalties compared to what she should have received) and reassigned the copyright back to her in 2012, but Lee alleges in this lawsuit that Pinkus breached his fiduciary duties (by self-dealing, failing to be truthful, and failing to ‘work’ the copyright to maximize royalties) and manipulated her into assigning away the copyright as part of a complicated scheme to avoid paying back Winick’s agency for commissions he diverted while Winick was ill.

From the complaint, filed on May 3, 2013, it’s unclear whether or not Lee has suffered an economic harm (she might have received all of the income she was entitled to receive), but it makes sense that she would sue to clarify the status of her copyright and for a full accounting of those royalties.

Interestingly, the complaint alleges, among other alleged breaches of fiduciary duty, that Pinkus failed to “work the copyright,” including by “not respond[ing] to offers by HarperCollins to discuss the licensing of e-book rights.” Back in October, when I wrote about Lee’s 2006 letter to Oprah decrying the use of “cold metal” to read books, I noted how To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t available as an e-book. It’s fascinating to learn that Lee might not have been the one to stand in the way of digital access to her work.

Overall, the complaint is a difficult set of allegations to untangle. I am interested in literary lawsuits, such as the Faulkner estate’s frivolous attempt to dismantle copyright law’s fair use doctrine, but I struggle to articulate my reaction to Lee’s allegations.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time as a kid, and the novel inspired me to go to law school. Many in my profession can genuinely say the same, even though most abandon their dreams of vindicating the rights of the oppressed in favor of the ample pay that comes with maintaining and expanding the hegemony of corporations.*

It’s sad to think someone may have preyed upon one of our literary heroes, but in the end this looks less like a scheme unique to authors and more like yet another case of a duplicitous person in a position of trust manipulating an elder with medical problems for their own gain (allegedly). Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is common, and it’s always a sad situation, whether the victim is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist duped out of her copyright or a factory worker swindled out of her savings.

*It’s hard to resist when we graduate with so much debt.

On Writing Standards (And Our Unreasonable Love Affair With The Past)

Same Shit Different Century_Misfortune of Knowing Blog

When I had a spare minute in the office yesterday, I grabbed this month’s ABA Journal out of my mailbox and opened it to Bryan Garner’s piece, Why Lawyers Can’t Write. I recognized the author as the guy who, laughably, teamed up with Justice Antonin Scalia for Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, as though Scalia applies a principled legal analysis to cases rather than a political agenda.

While I know Garner by reputation, this brief ABA Journal piece is the first time I have actually read his writing. In general, I agree with his proposition that legal writing is too often dull and convoluted; however, I rolled my eyes at his bold and unsupported assertion about writing standards, which goes beyond the legal profession: “Writing standards have consistently fallen over the last century in secondary and higher education. (It would take a full-scale book to unpack that set of issues.).” I am curious to know what he would cite in this “full-scale” book to support this claim.

Anyone who has ever read a legal opinion from 1913 would know that legal writing had nowhere to go but up in terms of clarity and creativity. A quick Lexis search for 100-year-old U.S. Supreme Court opinions reveals numerous examples of atrocious legalese from our most illustrious legal thinkers of the time — men (and they were indeed all men) educated in the very best secondary schools and universities. Justice Mahlon Pitney’s prose makes me cringe, and though I know that any assessment of writing is subjective, I’m going to follow Garner’s example and simply assert that Pitney’s writing shows us that writing standards were low across the board in the early 20th Century.

In reality, though, every generation has its star writers, like Pitney’s contemporaries, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Judge Learned Hand, and our situation today is no different. Many lawyers love to write and write well, while others produce mediocre writing to meet the demands of our legal market. Skilled writing takes time, and the time of a skilled writer costs money. No client wants to be billed for beautiful writing. They want the cheapest brief, memo, or motion that gets the job done.

Garner’s assumption about the difference between writing today and writing a century ago is nothing more than an unreasonable glorification of the past. His complaints in 2013 are similar to the complaints of educators in 1912, when Edwin M. Hopkins of the University of Kansas wrote:

For every year the complaints become louder that the investment in English teaching yields but a small fraction of the desired returns. Every year teachers resign, break down, perhaps become permanently invalided, having sacrificed ambition, health, and in not a few instances even life, in the struggle to do all the work expected of them.

Similarly, as Shakespearean scholar and Yale professor Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury lamented around 1912:

On no one subject of education has so great an amount of effort been put forth as on the teaching of English composition with so little satisfactory to show for it. … While there are many men who write excellently, there is no increase in the proportional number of this body …

My guess is that educators in 1813 had similar complaints, as it seems nearly everyone thinks life was better in the past. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Garner’s ABA Journal article suggests his antiquated outlook extends beyond his love of antiquated legal writing. For example, he recounts an experiment he performs on his unsuspecting secretarial candidates: “[I ask them] to spell three words — such as idiosyncrasy, inoculate, and anoint. Candidates rarely spell more than one correctly, and I gently correct them.” After eighth grade, spelling an uncommon word correctly on the first try is a big deal only if you’re using a typewriter.

The Next Step for Dishonest Writers: A Legal Career?

The internet has been ablaze with tales of dishonest writers who are paying for fake reviews, authoring reviews of their own work, or writing negative reviews of competitors’ books.  Should we be surprised?  I think we’ve all come across a book for which there are incongruous five or one star reviews, usually by a reviewer who has never rated any other book or only rates books by a single author.  The extent to which these fake reviews stem from authors should not be a surprise either, at least not according to research on the connection between creativity and dishonesty.

In a study published earlier this year, researchers from Harvard and Duke explored the “dark side of creativity,” finding that “a creative personality and an activated creative mindset promote individuals’ ability to justify their unethical actions.  In turn, this increased ability to justify potential unethical actions promotes dishonesty.”  While this study did not focus on authors, there is no doubt that writers tend to be a creative bunch and those trying to make a living off of their writing have a major incentive to lie, cheat, and steal.  The publishing world is highly competitive, and the more positive reviews a book receives, the more likely it is to sell.  Thus, to some authors, the costs of dishonesty seem remote (“who’s going to find out?”) and easily justified (“everybody’s doing it!”), while the benefits appear weighty (“I need to make a living!”).

This selfishness ultimately cheats consumers and may harm the publishing industry, especially when authors resort to bashing their competitors’ work, as British author R.J. Ellory has admitted doing.

To deter authors from using their creativity to cheat, Amazon, publishing houses, and the public must change the cost-benefit analysis.  Amazon should better police its reviews, possibly by only counting verified purchase reviews in determining the average rating and whether or not its algorithms recommend a book, and the public should not let authors who cheat off the hook so easily.  Dishonest behavior should reflect negatively on an author’s reputation: publishing houses should not reward such behavior with contracts and the public should not buy that author’s books.

Anecdotal evidence suggests authors shooed out of publishing as a result of ethical scandals are drawn to the legal profession.  Remember Stephen Glass, the journalist at the New Republic who was found to have fabricated facts?  Well, he received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and is currently awaiting admission to the California bar, which (understandably) has given him a hard time on the “character and fitness” criteria for admission.  Then there’s Kaavya Viswanathan, who was an undergraduate at Harvard when I was at the law school there.  She’s the one who received a sizeable book deal as a teenager, perhaps when she did not have the requisite maturity to understand the seriousness of plagiarism, and was caught having copied passages from other books (she claimed it was unintentional).  She also went on to attend Georgetown’s law school, and at one point had a summer internship at one of the more prominent law firms in DC.

I believe that it is entirely possible for fabricators and plagiarists to reform themselves.  At some point, everyone deserves a second chance.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the addition of people with such a history to the bar does much to improve the public perception of lawyers.  A Gallup poll revealed that only 19% of respondents rated the honesty of lawyers highly or very highly, below even bankers, the people responsible for the Wall Street collapse.  Maybe the public is right; maybe fabricators and plagiarists fit right in. 

If you’d like to see what other bloggers are saying about the recent ethical scandals, see Life, Love, Literature and Dan Harris

A Guide for Writers: Researching the Law

Based on some of the Google, Bing, or Yahoo searches that have led people to my blog, such as one for “writing fiction researching law,” I suspect some of my readers are writers trying to research the law as background for their next book.  I thought it might be helpful if I did a quick introduction to a handful of American legal concepts and legal research tools for non-lawyers.  This is not an exhaustive list.  If anyone has additional tips for non-lawyer writers, please add your thoughts in the comments section.

Why Should I Research The Law for My Work of Fiction?

Unless your novel takes place on another planet, a parallel universe, or on a deserted island, your novel may touch on issues for which a legal framework exists.  As an author, you are free to ignore it, but if you are aiming to give your novel a realistic feel, you may want to know a little bit about how the law would apply to your fictional scenario.  I appreciate novels that comport with an accurate understanding of the law because books and television are among the ways people learn about the world around them.  In an example taken from television, many believe that shows like CSI, with its exaggerated depiction of forensic investigations, may affect the beliefs jurors carry into the courtroom, thus impacting whether justice is served.

You are free to change the legal rules in your fictional universes, but if you do not make your alternate legal framework explicit, the result will look poorly-researched rather than creative.  For example, a novel in which a person is sued for copyright infringement for plagiarizing Shakespeare would be just wrong, unless you decide to change the law in your novel and make it explicitly the case that all works, no matter how old, are under copyright.

What Law Applies to the Scenario in My Novel?

Put simply, certain areas of U.S. law are governed primarily by federal law (U.S. Constitution and laws enacted by U.S. Congress and the President and usually interpreted by federal courts) and other areas of law are governed primarily by state law (state constitutions and laws promulgated by state legislatures and governors and usually interpreted by state courts). There are also laws and legal systems specific to native tribes.  Determining what laws apply to any scenario is complicated, but these are the basics.

Most areas of law have some degree of overlap between federal and state laws.  For example, when it comes to workplace rights,  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (federal law), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance overlap extensively, with Philadelphia’s local ordinance applying to more employers and prohibiting a wider range of workplace discrimination. So, if your character works in Philadelphia, s/he may have more workplace-related rights than if s/he works in some other parts of the state.

Some issues that are typically covered by state law include: family law (marriage, divorce, child custody, paternity), contracts, real estate / property, etc.

Some issues that are typically covered by federal law include: immigration, intellectual property, bankruptcy, etc.

Criminal law involves a lot of overlap: the majority of criminal prosecutions (theft, assault, simple drug possession) occur under state law, but federal law reaches into those areas as well, typically through drug laws.  It also reaches other unique areas like child pornography and organized crime, including drug gangs and terrorists.

If your novel deals with an area of law governed by state law, then where your novel takes place matters.  For example, if a novel features a same-sex couple getting married and the state in which they live recognizes their union, then where they live is limited to the small (but growing) number of states that recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.

After you’ve figured out what jurisdiction you’re in (federal vs. state, and then which state and locality), the next step is finding the right laws.  There are several sources of law:

  • statutes (from legislative branches of government),
  • case law (courts interpreting statutes or common law), and
  • regulations (from government agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency).

It would be difficult for most non-lawyers to interpret the finer points of these laws, but it’s possible to find articles or blog posts written by lawyers that explain it to you.

Where Can I Find Information About the Law?  What if I Don’t Understand It?

No one is expecting a non-lawyer to do detailed case law research on Lexis or Westlaw (the databases lawyers use) or to parse cases and statutes the way a lawyer would (After all, you’re writing a novel, not a legal treatise!).  Reading articles published in law journals (which are usually affiliated with law schools) and law blogs could help you understand how legal thinkers sum up the law in a certain area.  There are also books about legal research that might be helpful, such as Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law (15th ed.) by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo.

Here are a few resources anyone can use to research the law:

If you do not have access to Westlaw, Lexis, or Lexis Academic (which is often available to students and staff affiliated with educational institutions), Google Scholar is a wonderful search tool through which you can search for “legal documents,” including court decisions and law review articles.  It’s available to everyone, and I know some lawyers who believe that it’s better than Lexis and Westlaw in terms of ranking the most relevant materials. Start with a phrase — for example, “three strikes laws constitutional,” for which the top result is the U.S. Supreme Court considering California’s three-strikes law, Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003) — and start looking around. The “how cited” feature is particularly interesting in seeing how one court describes another court’s decision.

NCSL and the DOJ provide reports and charts on a wide range of legal issues.  To give you an idea of the range of topics NCSL covers (it’s a lot!): you can find a summary of state laws and/or guidebooks related to embryo and gamete disposition, breastfeeding, immigration (so you can see how states have dealt with a primarily federal issue), and juvenile justice.

  • Law Libraries  

Some law libraries allow the general public to use its resources on a per diem basis, including access to online reference materials like Lexis.

  • Legal Organizations

There are many organizations that provide legal information aimed at non-lawyers, often for the purpose of self-representation (consumer education).  By the way, if you are using the free legal resources prepared by an organization, you should consider donating to that organization in the future.

  • Legal Blogs

Many lawyers author blogs aimed at other lawyers and non-lawyers.  A lot of it is crap (SEO spam), but there are excellent blogs out there, too.  As Max at Litigation and Trial describes in his post, Panda Blogging is the New Legal Treatise, Google has made some effort to separate the good legal content from the crap.  His post gives you a sense of how to tell the crappy legal blogs from the better ones.

The American Bar Association (ABA) produces a list of what it believes are the Top 100 Law Blogs each year.  Not all of these blogs are great, but the list is a starting place for any non-lawyer looking for legal information.  If you find a blog you like, check out its blog roll to find other great options.

I’ve Done the Research.  Did I Get the Law Right?  How Can I Tell?

Anyone who practices law will tell you that there are rarely “right” answers to any legal question, but there are often answers that are more likely to be right than others.  If your novel addresses legal issues directly, you should consider having a friend with some legal background serve as an early reader of your manuscript.

Good luck researching and writing your novel!

Photo credit: Misfortune of Knowing; Includes portions of five publications:  Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law (15th ed. 2009) (on Kindle); Julie A. Allison & Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Rape: The Misunderstood Crime (1993); ABA Journal (Aug. 2012); Handling the Sex Offense Case (Pa. Bar Inst. 2012); David S. Olson, First Amendment Interests and Copyright Accommodations, 50 Boston College L. Rev. 1393 (2009).

Why Do Lawyers Write Fiction?

Many of the books sitting on my shelf or stored in my Kindle are authored by lawyers, such as Francisco X. Stork and Kerry Reichs, whose works I’ve reviewed recently.  It seems like law school is as good a stepping stone to a legal career as to a publishing career.  After all, law schools pride themselves on honing a handful of skills that could translate to creative writing, such as analytical reasoning, problem-solving, critical reading, and research skills.  But what is it that attracts lawyers to creative writing?

(1)  Many lawyers have always wanted to write.

Many lawyers went to law school only because they didn’t know what else to do with their humanities or social science degrees. Unlike medical school, which requires a pre-med undergraduate major, many undergraduate paths can lead to a legal career.  A review of Columbia Law’s entering class revealed that the majority of students had humanities or social science degrees.  Indeed, it isn’t obvious how studying F. Scott Fitzgerald or 17th Century witchcraft will put food on the table and pay back educational loans.  A law degree might have better odds of resulting in stable employment (and more debt), not that there aren’t any JDs making frappuccinos and delivering pizzas.

(2)  There’s only so much dry legal writing lawyers can do before they crack (pun intended).

Have you ever read a legal memo?  It’s painful.  Now imagine having to write those dull memos day in and day out, punctuated only by mind-numbing document review, case law research, and billing your life away in six minute increments.  That’s the reality for a large percentage of lawyers, particularly the underlings at large firms.  The persuasive form of legal writing has been reduced to an amusing acronym:  CRAC, which stands for Conclusion, Rule, Application, Conclusion, and is the blueprint upon which many lawyers build their memos.  It’s dull, repetitive, and ultimately unsatisfying for lawyers who wish to be a bit more creative in their written communications.  I can imagine why these more creative lawyers would have a manuscript for a novel in the works as a way of escaping the painful writing they do for money; ask any lawyer who has practiced for more than five years if they’re working on a novel and odds are good you’ll get a guilty glance and a coy “no…”

(3)  Writing offers an escape from the secondary trauma associated with helping clients in difficult situations.

Individuals who work with traumatized individuals, such as police officers, therapists, and even lawyers, may suffer “secondary trauma” and burnout.  The likelihood of suffering from secondary trauma is, in my opinion, probably more likely for public interest attorneys who represent traumatized clients, such as sexual and domestic violence survivors, plaintiffs’ attorneys who represent personal injury clients, and family law attorneys who are in the middle of high conflict cases.  While these types of work are generally more fulfilling than the work many associates do at large law firms (see #2), it takes its toll, for which creative writing may be an escape or a way of processing the trauma to which they are exposed.

(4)  Lawyers write because they have delusions of grandeur.

Law schools attract competitive students who generally excelled academically in undergrad and see themselves as using their law degrees to change the world, make a lot of money, or both.  These students graduate from law school and learn a harsh reality: they are not that important.

Those who ride the On Campus Recruiting conveyor belt to large corporate defense firms will be stuck in document review, memo writing, and billable hour hell for years.  Those who go into the public interest world may encounter an infinitely more palatable workplace but at a quarter of the pay and with little room for promotion in a world dominated by baby boomers.  These young law school graduates—the younger edge of Generation X and the so-called Millenials—believe they will do something important, or at least newsworthy, someday.  They’re going to write the next international bestseller, the next National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize winning novel, a book that will change readers’ lives.  The reality is that these lawyers probably won’t write the next literary masterpiece, but their efforts may still result in a good bit of entertainment for the right audience.


As a lawyer myself, I enjoy reading novels with legal themes, particularly when it’s done well.  Law school provides a general knowledge about legal theories (I think of my theory-based law school experience as getting an enhanced BA), and practice gives lawyers an “insider’s knowledge” into how society works, an introduction to interesting character types, and a peek at conflicts that could become the basis of intriguing plots.  What a legal career doesn’t give its practitioners is the time to pursue interests outside of the law.  I guess that’s why most of the successful authors I’ve read with JDs are former lawyers.