Two witty new books by attorneys who opted out of big-firm jobs for the literary life have former colleagues buzzing.
Hot off the presses are “Chambermaid,” a roman � clef by Sairo Rao, and “Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student” by Martha Kimes, a former Simpson Thacher associate and Columbia Law School graduate who describes her work as an update of Scott Turow’s classic 1977 memoir of the Harvard Law School experience, “One-L.”
While both books are suffused with humor, Ms. Rao, a former associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, adds to her novel what some might consider wickedness – perhaps Judge Delores K. Sloviter of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, for whom the author once clerked.
The fictive judge in Ms. Rao’s “Chambermaid,” which is set in the Third Circuit, is a “power-hungry sociopath,” according to publicity material from her publisher, Grove Press. Further, the book “breaks the code of silence surrounding the clerkship – that most lofty and untouchable rite of passage for so many young lawyers – and boldly takes us into the mysterious world of the third branch of the U.S. government, where the leaders are not elected and can never be fired.”
Ms. Rao writes of first encountering her fictional female judge in chambers:
I dashed into the torture chamber, skidding to a stop before the Honorable Helga Friedman. She was clearly pissed. Vertical eyebrows. Penciled in. Squinty eyes. Lips curled. Dancing bouffant. She was about to pounce. So was her bright red lipstick, which was curiously everywhere but on her lips.
“I read your memo in W.A. v. Trenton. Do they not teach you English in Pakistan?”
Not the Pakistan thing again. I was Indian.
In an interview, Ms. Rao said her book is “a work of fiction” that invites readers – particularly lawyers – to draw their own conclusions. Through an assistant, Judge Sloviter declined comment.
“I want to pursue writing now, but I might go back (to the law),” Ms. Rao said. “I never say never.”
Ms. Kimes’ “Ivy Briefs,” on the other hand, offers a straightforward and self-deprecating account of a young woman from rural Wisconsin in love with New York City from as far back as she could remember and whose application was accepted at Columbia Law – much to her surprise.
Of her orientation day on campus, Ms. Kimes writes:
. . . [T]he group of guys in front of me . . . were all wearing lightly wrinkled khakis that stood in contrast to their firmly pressed pinstriped, button-down oxford shirts – most of them with blue and white stripes, but a couple of the jauntier ones had opted for pink and white. And they all had ramrod-straight pearly white teeth and heads of hair that looked as if they had been stolen from unsuspecting JCPenney male models. Not that any of these guys had ever stepped foot into a JCPenney’s.
In a phone interview from Arizona, where she has lived for the past five years with her husband and two small children – first as in-house counsel for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and now as a full-time writer – Ms. Kimes said her book grew out of a blog she began writing while a litigation associate at Simpson Thacher. A literary agent came across the blog, contacted Ms. Kimes and the rest is publishing history.
“That probably wouldn’t happen nowadays,” said Ms. Kimes, in something of a warn-off to lawyers who would be writers. “I think the days of agents scouring blogs for prospects is passed. A lot of those blog-books haven’t been terribly successful.”
Ms. Rao described her years at Cleary Gottlieb as “lovely” and said she had not ruled out a return to the law.
“I didn’t dislike being a lawyer, but I want to pursue writing now,” said Ms. Rao, who is at work on a second novel about what she terms “self-indulgent Generation X-ers.”
While “Chambermaid” has been optioned for possible development as a TV series, Ms. Rao said she is “not holding my breath.” Meanwhile, she is busy marketing her book by speaking at law campuses and law firms around the country on the topic of how to maintain personal interests within a hectic legal career.
Ms. Kimes, however, admits, “Honestly, I was never the happiest lawyer in the world.” She does miss Manhattan, though, and considers herself a “fourth-stage” New Yorker.
“Somebody defined the four stages,” she said. “The first time you hear about New York City, the first time you set foot in the city, the day you’re much wiser but beaten down and you leave – and finally when you return to New York as the world’s most overqualified tour guide.”
- Thomas Adcock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.