The legal profession seems to breed writers. John Grisham turned to legal thrillers, Scott Turow and Meg Gardiner the same. And who could forget the raucous and bawdy story of Tom Jones, penned (literally, it was the eighteenth century) by seated judge Henry Fielding?
Science Fiction and Fantasy have their own cast of lawyers who have turned their hand to writing. Some of these individuals are still practicing law, others have become full-time writers, but each can point to their profession as a part of their success as an author. Whether it be discipline, knowledge, or skill, each owes some debt to their argumentative and much maligned first profession.
Terry Brooks (private practice)
Brooks was once asked about his legal profession in a roundabout way in a query from a fan named Johnny D. (I have left in his grammatical mistakes on the question), “i have just finished my first year studying law, should I get out now while i’m still young?”
Flee now, Johnny D, while you still can! No, maybe not. I liked practicing law. I didn’t like law school much, but I liked being a lawyer. I quit mostly because the writing was eating up all of my time, and you cannot be a master to two demanding mistresses and stay sane. Writing was my first love. It always will be. I stay interested in what I am going to write several years down the road mostly because I don’t think too much about it.
Robert Buettner (corporate general counsel)
Buettner, author of a series of military SF novels, says on his website that he “received his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati in 1973…practiced natural resources law internationally and in the American West, and was for fifteen years General Counsel for the oil exploration arm of the biggest company and richest family that you never heard of….served as a Director of the Southwestern Legal Foundation…[and] as attorney of record in more than three thousand cases, he practiced in the U.S. federal courts, before courts and administrative tribunals in no fewer than thirteen states, and in five foreign countries. Six, if you count Louisiana.”
When I queried Buettner about how lawyering affected his writing he wrote back:
The most obvious effect lawyering has had on my fiction writing is stylistic. Good lawyers learn to write compactly and precisely. That’s because most court documents are strictly page-limited. So a good brief, like a good novel or short story, makes every word tell.
But beyond disciplined prose, fiction writing and legal writing share little. Though, when I practiced, my opponents would have told you I was writing fiction then, too.
That said, have come into conflict with the law in every novel I’ve published (Undercurrents , the seventh, releases July 5, 2011). The details and the characters’ reactions and emotions ring true because I’m writing from life experiences. But they’re not experiences I really care to revisit, or to visit upon readers, except as part of a broader story. I don’t forsee writing an SF courtroom drama, nor would I care much to read one.
David Drake (town attorney)
Drake is the author of many epic fantasy and military SF novels, including the Hammer’s Slammer’s and Isles series, as well as numerous short stories. He entered Duke Law School, but was drafted out of law school and served in the army 1969-71, spending most of 1970 as an interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse, in Vietnam and Cambodia.
He returned, finished law school, and spent eight years as Assistant Town Attorney of Chapel Hill, NC.
When I contacted Drake about a comment for this article he had this to say: “There should be cheaper ways to learn logic than by graduating from Duke Law School, but that one worked. Logic is darned useful for a writer.”
Theodora Goss (corporate law)
Goss received her J. D. from Harvard Law School in 1993 but explained her reason for leaving succinctly in a review of David Foster Wallace saying, “I was a corporate lawyer, remember? But I got out of practicing law, left it to the people for whom being a corporate lawyer was not boring.”
Paul S. Kemp (transactional law)
Kemp is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the University of Michigan law school. When he’s not writing tales in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms or George Lucas’ Star Wars, he practices corporate law in Detroit.
When I asked Paul to tell me a little about how his writing is affected by his other profession, he said:
Avoiding all the obvious jokes: Because I’m a transactional lawyer and negotiation is such an important component of job description. lawyering has given me a keen eye for body language, hearing what people actually mean rather than what they say, and sussing out true motivations. I think those skills have help me in developing nuanced characters.
(Paul recently found out that his wife is pregnant with their third child. Congrats to the happy family!)
Marjorie M. Liu (biotech law)
Liu, a paranormal and urban fantasy author who has won the PEARL and Romantic Time Reviewer’s Choice Awards, says at her website: “I attended law school at the University of Wisconsin [interning with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing regarding biotech law], graduated in May 2003, and was admitted to the bar a couple weeks after. I loved law school. Did not like being a lawyer. Which is why I decided to become a writer.”
Melinda Snodgrass (corporate law)
…graduated from New Mexico School of Law. Her focus in school was Constitutional law, jurisprudence, and legal history.
After graduation she practiced law for three years working first for Sandia National Laboratories, and then with a corporate law firm, but discovered that while she loved the law she wasn’t terribly fond of lawyers. At the urging of Victor Milan, she tried writing and never looked back.
John C. Wright (private practice)
Wright graduated from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in 1987, turning to private practice. Wright is a Nebula and Mythopoeic award nominee who has written both science fiction and fantasy. In an 2004 interview at SF Signal, he had this to say about his switch from law and journalism to novel writing:
There is nothing I miss about those other professions. I rise every morning at dawn, don my festive garb of bells and motley, and dance a madcap tarantella of joy to the Great God Finuka, hoping by my leaps and hops to express the my gratitude that I need not see the inside of a law office or newspaper bullpen again.
Do not misunderstand me: eight out of ten lawyers are honest men, who help increase the justice and harmony in society by putting criminals behind bars, or, through the simple act of getting everything in writing, by smoothing out misunderstandings before they bloom. Two of ten are employed for the opposite purpose, to stir up controversy, feed the envy of the negligent, blackmail businesses, and free the human animals that prey on us. Likewise, one out of ten newspapermen are honest men, crusaders for truth and justice, helping to bring dark secrets to light; and only nine of ten are men who tell lies for pay. Both, despite the disesteem it is fashionable to heap upon them, are honorable professions. Neither has any use for an idle dreamer like me.
Law degrees make for talented writers, if this list is anything to go by. But this is far from a comprehensive list, so I need your help. Can you think of other SF/F/H authors who should be here, but weren’t included?