Because I’ve been practicing law for thirty years — gad — people often assume I write legal mysteries or thrillers. Or that my protagonists are former lawyers. Lawyers — retired or working — make great characters, but I’m enjoying exploring other career paths in my fiction, primarily those focused on food!
But I can’t stray too far from the field I know so well. In Death al Dente, first in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, protagonist Erin Murphy is surprised to discover that Bill Schmidt, the local herbalist and her widowed mother Fresca’s new beau, is an ex-lawyer. When Erin needs legal advice, she pops around the corner into Bill’s magical, mysterious shop. And in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, debuting in March 2015, Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece worked in HR for a large Seattle law firm before it imploded in a rash of scandal. That gives her access to law firm librarians, paralegals, criminal lawyers, defense lawyers, and other experts she met in her former career.
What other careers do lawyers tackle? Just about anything you can imagine. This Washington State Bar journal article profiles Tim Blue, a practicing lawyer and winery owner. Another lawyer I knew left the bar behind to, well, open a bar. One runs a campground. Greg Bartholomew, whom I worked with in Seattle, is a successful choral composer. Former lawyers run all manner of businesses — one of my law school classmates is president of Bank of America, and another runs his family’s construction business. Some work in insurance. More than a few have left the law for the ministry. A very successful local trial attorney now spends much of the year in Italy, painting. One of my writer pals spent years as a criminal defense lawyer before returning to her early love of books and becoming a junior high English teacher, in small prairie towns and on Indian reservations.
Many former lawyers work in government, at all levels, in all departments — not necessarily as lawyers. Some run charitable organizations. Others teach in law or business schools; several of my classmates at Notre Dame Law School are deans or hold other positions in university administration, and a woman who graduated a few years behind me became a woman’s basketball coach. My former dean, long widowed, is now a Catholic priest.
And of course, quite a few write mysteries. What career can you give an ex-lawyer character, to add a legal perspective to your story — and give your sleuth a resource to consult?
This is interesting, Leslie. I never thought about lawyers quitting the law to do something else, probably because it takes so long to pass the bar. Some of the professions they choose when they do leave are not too much of a stretch, but some are “far out” and would, indeed, make for fascinating characters in our novels. Thanks for this!
Jan, you make a good point: the investment of time and money can make it hard to leave the practice, giving up at least a decent income and sometimes a very good one. Our culture values those things more than personal or creative fulfillment, so I’m doubly impressed when a lawyer recognizes a greater call and pursues it.