What I Learned About Law Practice in My Advanced Fiction Workshop

Anything worth doing, like writing fiction or practicing law, is complex. It’s challenging. It will challenge your will to keep doing it.

That’s a good sign.

Because it means that the activity holds the promise of a lifetime of intrinsic reward, simply by doing the activity itself. So if you’re a young lawyer and writer, as I am, facing a depressed job market, or you’re a law student, and you find yourself challenged by how difficult law school can be, take heart. In my advanced fiction workshop, I learned that writing fiction can be one of the most difficult (and disheartening) activities—but that’s no reason at all to give it up.

Dealing with Reality

Nothing is more disheartening than reality. That is, if you decide to take reality very seriously. The reality is that law school is difficult and uncertain. It’s one thing to approach your studies in such a way as to court the attention of BigLaw and a big salary and the partnership track. You’re completely devoted to your studies, your reality is the inside of a library cubicle for three years. So be it. Just don’t turn a blind eye toward the reality of the job market and the possibility that you will not make BigLaw despite great grades, and then think all is lost when it doesn’t happen.

Let’s Stop Bashing Law School

But to be honest, bashing law school (and other challenging activities) is super trendy these days, and I’m getting sick of it. Yes, there might be a problem with law school rankings and reported employment statistics and promises of BigLaw dreams made and broken. Yes, there could be a problem with the persistent myth that becoming a lawyer is the equivalent of hitting the lottery, or getting that corner office, or that cool courtroom job. Yes, there’s a problem with the tremendous amount of student loan debt young lawyers take on.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t study law if that’s what you really want to do. If that’s what you’re suited for.

Doing Something For Its Own Sake

Toward the end of my workshop, we had a discussion about the realities of writing and publishing in today’s market. Talk about disheartening. One of the workshop participants had significant experience working for an independent brick-and-mortar bookseller, and she volunteered that many (the majority, in fact) of authors who proudly publish their first novels will see those novels get in the hands of far fewer readers than you’d think.

The story is even worse for those who write short fiction: she said that she’d recommend a great short-story collection to an avid reader, and that same reader would turn it down out-of-hand, simply because it wasn’t a novel. (I’d argue that people don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to short stories: for busy professionals, like lawyers, who can finish a story in one or two sittings, for example, or the average reader, who by reading short stories can sample some of the best fiction writers have to offer, as another.)

What do you think?

I might never make a single red cent writing fiction, so maybe I should just quit now. Maybe you’ll never make six figures as a lawyer. Many don’t. Maybe you should quit too.

Or maybe not.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nirak/6071515104/)


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  • Stephanie

    I have just finished reading The Element by Ken Robinson and he discusses extensively the need for people to pursue their passions for intrinsic purposes. He points out that, for most, pursuing a passion as a day job would not be practical. So, instead, professional amateurs – Pro-Am’s – earn a living by doing one thing and then carve out blocks of time to dedicate to their secondary crafts. Of course, it would be difficult to pursue law as merely a hobby, but I agree that law students should inherently love the law or want to study it. Without any personal motivation, anyone would be discouraged by the difficult labor of studying without a promise of incredible monetary rewards after graduation. At this point, potential law students should be advised to take the time to decide whether they truly want to become lawyers before committing and develop a feasible financial plan for law school and the years after. Indeed, the majority of those featured in the slew of articles about the depressing market for lawyers give the impression that they never thought hard and long about their financial undertakings. Personally, I can’t feel too bad about those who were surprised that they graduated with $200,000 in loans. Anyways, I appreciated your post and wish you fun times with your ukelele!

    • Chris Bradley

      Thanks for your comment, Stephanie, and I’m glad you appreciated my post. I will take a look at Robinson’s book, which sounds like it’s along the same line as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow.” Thinking of yourself as a Pro-Am when pursuing a secondary craft or hobby sounds like a great way to go about it.

  • I couldn’t agree more about the challenges of both fiction writing and practicing law. I actually find writing fiction harder because there is no “best practices” way of writing fiction. The possibilities are endless, which I find dizzying. It also helps if you’ve got talent and the jury is still out on that in my case.

    • Chris Bradley

      Amen. Writing fiction—good fiction—is probably one of the more challenging things out there. It’s not just putting words down on paper and suddenly you’ve got yourself a compelling story. Here’s what I’ve learned so far: (1) make time to write every day (or try to); (2) read a lot; and (3) try not to get discouraged by the rejections that will undoubtedly roll in. (My first ‘rejection’ just rolled in over the weekend, by the way, in the form of not getting into a local mentor program. Try, try again.)