Why Lawyers Write Great Fiction

In common narratives, the lives of lawyers and writers are opposite. Lawyers are painted as calculating, silver-tongued firebrands with laser focus on reality, while writers are moody introverts who spend their time in quiet corners of coffee shops, typing and tearing up drafts of stories that only exist in their minds. Given these stark portrayals, it can come as a surprise that many authors have backgrounds as lawyers. Think John Grisham, Marjorie M. Liu, and even Franz Kafka.

Aside from the (accurate) assumption that neither lawyers nor authors sleep much, they share a powerful pair of skills: attention to detail and storytelling. Authors who create extensive universes packed with character background share the obsessions of lawyers who leave no stone unturned in court cases. Both require deep knowledge of events and people, as well as the ability to communicate that knowledge to others in a compelling way. With all of their training in research and careers full of interesting stories, it’s no wonder many lawyers long to write fiction. They have the skills necessary to do so.

Read, Research, Observe

From the time that they enter law school, lawyers are inundated with reading material about previous cases that set precedents. Like good writers read other authors to hone their skills, good lawyers study the work of other lawyers to better understand history and how it could impact modern situations. Depending on the case, they may research and memorize a massive amount of information that needs to be organized and used throughout the trial, and the nuances that differentiate one case from another give lawyers a keen understanding of human behavior and preference in a given situation.

Authors, especially those in the high fantasy and mystery genres, understand the minute details of their universes and how the experiences of each character affect the outcome of the story. Lawyers, used to organizing and memorizing critical information for a judge and jury, can utilize those same skills to write fiction that’s both clear and immersive.

Balance Complexity with Perspective

For all their determination to win a case, lawyers are masters at seeing both sides of an argument. Often hired to defend people whose actions are imperfect, or to try to convict someone in a situation with few witnesses, lawyers have to be able to look at a case from the perspective of their client, as well as the opposing side. The story a lawyer can tell for their client is often only viable if they understand the story that opponents will tell. Therefore, they have to make the two stories correlate to direct the outcome in their client’s favor.

The ability to understand all sides of an argument translates well into fiction writing, where the most lauded authors tell stories about complicated people navigating an unclear reality. If a lawyer can keep track of twists and turns and uncertainty in a court case, those experiences can help them build interesting characters with high-stakes conflicts.

Tell Stories

Facts are the bedrock of any court case, but they aren’t always compelling on their own. It could be clear based on evidence that Mrs. Peacock killed Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick, but it’s a lawyer’s job to communicate that Professor Plum had stolen Mrs. Peacock’s money and blackmailed her, or that Professor Plum was under the impression that he could borrow the money and pay it back, or that the whole mess began at Colonel Mustard’s suggestion and he, too, should be on trial.

Though lawyers can’t (and shouldn’t) try to alter the facts of a situation, the narrative they choose to explain a case can make all the difference to a judge and jury. Likewise, an author cannot subsist on plot alone. Aside from giving the reader the action of the story, a good writer must weave in character background, dialogue, and descriptive detail that leads the reader to the conclusion that they desire, even if that conclusion conflicts with the actions of the characters. Lawyers, like writers, know that getting to the truth often requires looking beyond what’s tangible or quantifiable.

Authors and lawyers share similar skills and motivations, and it can be a delight for the ever-working minds of lawyers turn their experiences into stories. If you’re in the legal profession and dream of publishing a novel, reach out to us at contact@greenleafbookgroup.com. We’d love to hear your case.