I had always wanted to write about the nature of the legal profession, so when I got an offer to write a compendium about how lawyers practice in the modern world and what a lawyer needs to know to be successful I was overjoyed.
Shortly thereafter (right around the time I saw how much they proposed to pay me) my euphoria evaporated, and I had to grapple with the idea of whether I could tackle such a serious project. “Serious,” of course, doesn’t do the scope of the project justice. Really, it should be “gargantuan,” or “gigantic,” or “epic” or some word that doesn’t exist in English that encompasses the idea of a magnitude that borders the incomprehensible.
I mean, really. A book that talks about what it’s like to practice law today is not going to be remotely interesting to anyone who practices law (we know what it is like) and a “true-crime” peek under the hood is almost certain to scare off the hordes of young prospects anxiously waiting to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars on an overpriced education. In thinking about the lawyer books that caught my eye in the last two decades the one I remember best is Cam Stracher’s book Double Billing (subtitled A Young Lawyer’s Tale Of Greed, Sex, Lies, And The Pursuit Of A Swivel Chair), which I read as a young associate and never forgot. The rest of them fall into a reasonable facsimile of categories such as How Not to Be Miserable As A Lawyer, The Recovering Lawyer, The Lawyer’s Guide to Zen, and Leaving the Law. The one exception to this rule is a remarkable book that recounts interviews by a lawyer of his law school classmates some ten years after graduation. Some were happy, some were bitter, some felt misled, and some had died, but the book itself was marvelous. [Unfortunately, the name escapes me at the moment, so if you’re interested you will have to search Amazon until you stumble across it].
What the world knows about lawyering, and what it wants to know, is either summed up in classic mysteries in the style of John Mortimer’s Rumpole series, or in a new genre that starts where John Grisham left off and merges noir and murder with lawyering (see, e.g., The King of Lies). Neither of these genres renders anything but lip service to the idea of real lawyering (hence the term “fiction”); on television, their equally-misleading counterparts might be Law & Order or Suits. For those of you too bright to watch television, Law & Order is the painful-to-watch show where all criminal trials take place within a month of an arrest, and where virtually all defendants take the stand and confess. Suits – which is the hot new USA offering – is admittedly just as fictitious, but at least has the benefit of good casting, romantic subplots, and witty repartee. And it steals the idea from Numbers and Criminal Minds of the guy with total recall (which is, of course, incredibly helpful if you’re planning on being a lawyer but don’t really want to work very hard).
So what, pray tell, is left to write about in between the romanticized rose-colored fiction of what it’s like to practice law, and the gritty reality of how practicing law will drive you to drink and despair?
A jaundiced-but-middle-of-the-road treatise that concludes that practicing law is “okay” (if you can’t be a brain surgeon, a trust fund baby, or a member of the PGA tour)?
An authoritarian tract that reminds its gentle readers that law is a demanding but honorable profession, and that a lawyer will derive satisfaction from an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay?
An autobiographical “this is my story and not to be construed outside the context of my experience” sort of book?
What sort of lawyer book would you like to see rear its hoary head and find its way into your Christmas stocking this year?
Let me know, and I’ll dedicate the book to you.