the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Lawyerwriter

This blog is called the lawyer writer. I'm not quite sure why I chose the name, because I rarely talk about law and only sometimes about being a lawyer.

I came upon the interesting realization that I've spent the last three trying to have as little to do with law as possible. If had my way, I would have left the firm, started writing novels, and never looked back. Instead, it's been a slow hard progression away from law, towards writing, but, in a Godfather-like way, law keeps pulling me back in.

Okay, so maybe the mob analogy is a little melodramatic. But I remember feeling like law was the wrong idea for me about three years before I actually left. And when I left, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. This elicits many responses from inside and outside my head:

The Mob: "You can't really leave the law, can you? After you put so much in?"

The Army: "You just couldn't hack it, could you? Weren't tough enough."

The Cult: "But everyone wants you to be a lawyer."

The Parents: "You'll go back. You will. Really."

Now, the most obvious question is--why? What exactly am I running from? I spent three years studying, two years practicing and I wrote a book about it. I did okay. I didn't hate all of it. So why am I hell-bent on carving on being writer rather than lawyerwriter?

I don't want to write a courtroom drama or expose of law firms. I looked into true crime. They specifically asked for "stories of middle class men with double lives that explode in murder." I am not making this up. But I don't read about the law. I can't stand Grisham, and I really dislike Linda Fairstein. Intensely. Basically, television does this much better now, if you like the courtroom stuff. Most episodes of Law and Order (the original, and Criminal Intent) are much better than anything I've found in the bookstore. They have finer legal points, more newsworthy scenarios, and better courtroom surprises. There are some great legal movies, but Law and Order really broke the mold. So I could go work in television, writing Law and Order shows, which might be fun.

I could be a paralegal just to earn some cash, instead of writing full time. Or, preferably, I could set my hair on fire.

I did write The Street Law Handbook. I hadn't planned on it. I'd planned on agenting it, but I didn't know if I had enough of a background in criminal law to write it. But then I started getting so many ideas of how I wanted it to be, and what I wanted it to cover, that I starting outlining it. And, except for a very brief, extraordinarily unfortunate few months where I had a partner (a real criminal lawyer long on ego but very short on ability), I enjoyed writing it very much. I learned more about criminal law than I'd known as a lawyer.

And that, actually, was all I planned on doing in terms of legal writing. No blog, no sequel, no legal writing to pay the bills, or anything like that. I figured that once you get published, you'd sort of entered the elite club of authors, and that was that. And I would go as far as my talent would take me. And then I would quit and write my memoirs. Preferably in my eighties, in Paris with a 20-year old lover. Who cooks.

Anyway, back to the point. Why did I want to ditch the law thing entirely, without making use of it to pay the bills?

There's the faux-rebellious reason: I reject law and the corporate world. I want no part of office life. I hate suits, and really hate pantyhose.

There's the logical reason: I'm a writer. I was only a lawyer for five years, but I've been writing since I was ten. All I studied, besides law, was literature. But the law degree seems to what I'm defined by--branded by, in a way--because it's a profession.

There's the insecurity reason: I'm not sure exactly what having a law degree has taught me. I liked studying it, but the practice is just awful. And I don't even know if I'm any good at it.

There's the honest reason: The law degree, and everything that went along with it, isn't nearly as interesting as writing and publishing.

There's the defensive reason: I'm afraid that if I'm lawyerwriter today, that's all I'll be writing tomorrow. Courtrooms and corporate boardrooms--that's all they'll want from me.

But lately I've started to think--what if I really could find a way to use the law degree without practicing, and without having all my books be about law? Someone suggested legal marketing, or writing for public relation firms that specialize in law firms and legal entities. Of course, I haven't done much public relations writing, but it might be fun. It might even pay the bills.

So I'm doing some investigation into this. If anyone knows anything--or has any thoughts on why some ex-lawyers run screaming from their law degrees, instead of using them, I'd like to hear them.


Anonymous said...

Let me know if you'd be interested in writing for Law and Order.

11:39 PM  
Blogger the lawyerwriter said...

qksail you are such a tease

1:15 AM  
Anonymous qksail said...

I am... but not in this case. :-)

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go use your legal, cultural and language background to do development work in India. After getting experience in India go somewhere else. Write about your experiences.

You'd have to leave NYC though... :(


12:12 PM  
Blogger legis said...

I have a similar problem to yours, but after reading a bit about you, I think I can safely say that I don't even come close to having your credentials. Some say that matters not, but as we both know, in the profession of law, credentials are all.

I've got to ask the same question of myself - how to make my stupid law degree work for me without starving to death. I just went to law school so I could have a job, big mistake. It's been a year since I graduated and guess what - no job. Just small sucky little temp things for which I must claw and be grateful. I'm always out of money. Worst of all, I'm not really cut out for what I'm "doing".

My first love was also to write (been writing since I was 8), but I basically punked out on it since I was told, over and over and over again, by people in whose opinion I put way too much stock, that I would never make a living at it. The message I got was that I certainly wasn't talented enough to even attempt it. You know what - I believed them. I avoided majoring in English in college (my original intention) because I felt I wouldn't be strong enough to take the hurt of being told again and again that my writing wasn't up to snuff. I went to law school for lack of something better to do (plus being pressured by my parents to "get a profession") and realized about 2 weeks in that it wasn't for me. Stayed in figuring that it would be better having the degree than not. Well I'm right back where I started four years ago, jobless with 2 good degrees that have so far gotten me nowhere. Sitting at home depressed (when I'm not taking the goddamned bar) and with no motivation or will to write or do anything else, and all because I was too much of a wimp to take a chance and do what I suspect God might have put me on this earth to do. Now I have thousands of dollars I must pay back and I may never get back the chance (or the inclination) to write full time like I had almost 8 years ago.

My point is - you are in kind of a cool, though tricky position. The way I figure it, at least you went after what you wanted. It must have taken a lot of guts and smarts to do that, especially since you were walking away from an actual good paying job (rather than me, starting from nothing). I think you should stay with that. You know what you want to do. It might be a risk but if others want to pigeonhole you into a little box, I think its even more dangerous to let them do so. Because if you don't write what's really in your heart, then what did you take that plunge for?

My $.02. (I love your site, by the way. I generally post here under another name which I'd like to keep completely seperate from this one since that one is less anonymous)

5:26 PM  
Anonymous qksail said...

Legis, you are another poster child for why law school is evil. You spell out the myth, the disappointment, and the shortcomings quite eloquently (and lawyerwriter and opinionista spellout the abuse and enslavement). When will we stop throwing our smart young to the legal sharks? Parents, listen up.

Legis, there are lots of careers where writing is the primary focus. Don't back off the dream.

10:03 PM  
Blogger legis said...

There are? And can I get them having been one year out of school and little writing experience? If so do tell, please, I'd love to know. I'm tired and running out of ideas. :-)

7:04 PM  
Blogger Nick Dowling said...

Legis, yes there are. The internet has greatly expanded the opportunities in the the many obvious writer career options (newspapers, magazines) and made written online content a must-have for an amazing array of other types of organizations (from Disney to Green Peace to Museums to anything). These writing jobs make free lancing and specialized writing a great way to develop professional writing experience. Perhaps Lawyerwriter or some of the other professional writing blog readers can add more to that. In short, the web is thirsting for content and a big part of content is good writing.

But writing can be a central part of many other careers I'm familiar with such as media relations/pr, politics/government, consulting, lobbying/advocacy, marketing and sales. A good writer is invaluable to these functions and can be a way to combine your writing with other interests.

I don't mean to say its easy. Job searching when you are unemployed, underemplyed, or misemployed is always a pain in almost any phase of life including the dreaded early 20's when your resume could be printed on a 3x5 card.

My biggest advice there is to think big, go for your dreams, take risks, and be willing to work for free if the opportunity is right. One of the most successful people I know (top Clinton aide and a Hollywood writer) told me a while back "the secret is to go from one failure to the next as quickly as possible."

12:56 AM  
Anonymous qksail said...

P.S. Potus B is my other alias

12:58 AM  
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2:11 PM  
Blogger Galen E. Bull said...

I've made the leap from law (10 years practicing) to writing. I was a web copywriter for a Fortune 500 company for awhile. And I was a legislative affairs writer/researcher in the state senate. Both great jobs and I learned a lot. While not making six figures like my lawyer colleagues, I know I will if I keep at it and stay positive. Just write. Everyday. I discovered that writing was my strength and the thing I did easier and better than most. I'll keep at it and good things will happen. And I don't miss practicing law.

2:19 AM  

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