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Too many lawyers believe that they must make a choice between a legal career and a literary one. Although many lawyers are fine writers (at least when they’re not crafting legalese), an artificial division exists between the law and the arts. Vast numbers of lawyers mistakenly believe that to be good at their profession they must give up most of what they love, including writing for publication. But it’s not true, and it never was. When we look at history we see that lawyers have often been successful writers. From London magistrate Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, to contemporary novelists like Scott Turow, John Grisham and David Baldacci, lawyers have long been known for making significant contributions to literature. OK, Fielding and Turow have. So what stops so many? Why don’t more lawyers become authors, and among those who do publish, where are all the women and minorities? The answer lies first in the highly competitive nature of law firm politics, along with the crushing schedules that most lawyers endure, especially at the start of their careers. Women face extra challenges as they find themselves doing double duty as, for example, partner-track associates by day and mothers by night. When they do make partner, there often isn’t enough left over for the author identities they left behind. And minorities? Uh, take a look around partners’ meeting tables. They don’t exactly look like Benetton ads. And for many lawyers at any phase of their careers, there just isn’t time to write. But the lawyer’s natural pull to literature remains. How many lawyers are patrons of the arts? How many go on to become major donors to universities, museums, symphonies and cultural centers? Many lawyers were once English, history or philosophy majors in college before counselors (or relatives) pulled them aside and said that law school was the only appropriate outlet for skilled writers. Out went the possible career in journalism or college teaching, and suddenly they found themselves saying a trembling hello to Professor Kingsfield. Now, sometimes decades after their last literary essays, some are eager to start again. They have powerful stories to tell based on cases they’ve handled. A few more see Alan Dershowitz writing book after book and think, “If he can, why not me?” Ethical considerations So what does the American Bar Association say about publishing books, especially if they have to do with cases you have represented? The rules seem simple: First, get your clients’ permission. “Informed consent” is vital. And you can’t start negotiating a book or movie deal prior to the conclusion of representation. The key is to check before you write. Not all legal ethicists agree, however, and some say it’s never acceptable. Contact each bar association of which you are a member and get the rules of professional conduct in writing before you proceed. Unlike other professions, where participants have made their most significant contribution by age 36, and are ready for the retirement home by 41, lawyers become more effective with age and experience. Fortunately, so do authors, making book writing one of the smartest second acts a lawyer can possibly have. It’s astonishing to see the fire come roaring back when I work with partners who were previously morose about retirement. But, of course, you don’t need to retire to make your writing dreams come true. Many partners find that their colleagues not only support their decision to write that big book, but they actively encourage it. Few lawyers have time to write before they make partner, and solo practitioners are always swamped, but once you’ve earned some discretionary time, writing is a fine way to fill it. Books make the future for lawyers look bright indeed. Carole Sargent, who has a Ph.D. in English, teaches literature and writing at Georgetown University. She is a literary consultant, and the author of two books. She can be reached at [email protected].

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