A Different Kind of Legal Writing - Articles

All Content

Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on May 22, 2019

Journal Issue Date: Jun 2019

Journal Name: Vol 55 No 6

If you got to the back of this magazine without noticing that we have a piece of fiction in this issue, flip back to page 16 in a minute and read our 3rd Annual Fiction Contest’s winning entry. As a nod to that and lawyers who read fiction or dabble in fiction writing, let’s look at some who have made that leap. 

We start not with the most obvious, but those with Tennessee ties. We know there are many more, so please let us know your faves. But to start, check out Robert Reuland, a Vanderbilt University Law School grad. He was an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn in the homicide bureau, and this is where his novels are set. His first novel, Hollowpoint, came out in 2001, and his second, Semiautomatic in 2004, both published by Random House. Soon after the first book was published, he was fired. Reuland brought and won a federal suit claiming infringement of his First Amendment rights. He then went into private practice, in homicide defense.

Two Tennessee lawyer-writers are Bill Haltom and Terry Price — they have juggled both lawyering and writing at the same time. Haltom’s books and columns are nonfiction but involve an enormous amount of creativity and dedication. Now retired, the Memphis lawyer brought laughter to readers of this magazine for 25 years, writing more than 260 columns. Price is a writer, photographer and creative coach, helping people hone their creativity through writing retreats and personal coaching. He also practices law in Nashville and Springfield.

Now we’ll get to Scott Turow and John Grisham because we know they are on your mind. Turow, a graduate of Harvard Law School, published Presumed Innocent in 1987, which many credit with the start of the modern legal thriller genre. Grisham is an Ole Miss Law School grad. His first novel, A Time to Kill (1988), was famously not a hit until his second book, The Firm, became a bestselling novel in 1991. So take heart, debut novelists! It is reported that 16 agents and 12 publishers turned down Grisham’s first try before it was published to lukewarm reviews.

Readers of a certain age will be rooting for Erle Stanley Gardner to be included here, and of course he is! His novels showcased the undefeated Perry Mason, who became an American legal icon. Gardner, a California lawyer, wrote nearly 150 novels, 82 of them about Mr. Mason, which were later adapted for television.

In 1958 Robert Traver, pen name of John D. Voelker, published Anatomy of a Murder. Traver, a 1928 University of Michigan Law School graduate, was a prosecutor and later a member of the Michigan Supreme Court. The novel was a success at the time, expanding its audience when Jimmy Stewart starred in its adaptation.

Lisa Scottoline, a 1981 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, published her first book, Everywhere That Mary Went, in 1994. She now has more than 40 books to her credit, with 30 million copies in print.

Novelist and comic book writer Marjorie M. Liu graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2003 but soon switched careers. As she writes on her website, “I loved law school. Did not like being a lawyer. Which is why I decided to become a writer.” Liu, has since written many urban fantasies and paranormal romances. She also wrote the last 21 issues of Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men comics, completing this work in October 2013.

As Meg Gardiner was considering being a writer, her father gave her some early career advice: “He said I could write novels after college and be another novelist who waits on tables or I could become a lawyer who writes novels.” So she graduated from Stanford Law School and practiced law in Los Angeles and also became a legal writing instructor. Gardiner, now a best-selling crime author who has written 14 novels, refers to herself as an “escaped attorney.”

We can’t leave this discussion without mentioning Harper Lee, who, although  not a lawyer, did attend the University of Alabama School of Law for one year before quitting to work on To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. She undoubtedly influenced the legal profession more this way than had she practiced law.

If you are an aspiring writer ready to bust out of that legal day job, or just wanting to supplement your life with creative writing, go for it! But you probably already know that the prospects are slim for making a living this way — for every John Grisham or Scott Turow there are thousands and thousands of wanna-be’s. Then again, the world already has those guys. What it needs is your voice, so go ahead and write.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE LAWYERS WHO ARE authors? Tag  @TennBarJournal in your Tweet, #LawyerAuthors. Hat tips to the D.C. Bar’s Washington Lawyer, Mental Floss and Online Paralegal for some details in this article.

Editor’s Unbiased Note: Once you write a story, you’ll want to get an objective editor to help you craft it before sending it out into the world. Everybody needs one!