True Realty

During a recent dry spell--work, not love--I applied for a couple difference freelance positions on craigslist. The choicest one was writing a real estate blog for The Learning Annex. Me--blog? And get paid? Why, thank you!

Naturally, the longtime blog reader now asks the obvious question--exactly what real estate experience do I have? And of course, I have no professional experience, but I am a New Yorker, and that automatically puts me in the category of semi-obsessed hobbyist.

The two major categories of elevator conversation in Manhattan are weather and real estate. You could be trapped in the elevator with either Justin Timberlake or Justice Scalia and easily slip into the conversation about today's weather, or your apartment or neighborhood. Bear in mind that "real estate" in New York can include everything from rent-per-square-foot to the views from the fourth floor to which building Gwyneth Paltrow now lives in to what's happening with The Rent Control Board is doing. In New York, but especially Manhattan, real estate matters. It counts.

Most people from New York aren't born here (though it seems that most of those who were, never leave). So these shoebox-sized apartments aren't ridiculous to us. Sure, my entire apartment could fit into the biggest room in my parents' old house. But for nesters like me, who hates moving and feels traumatized even thinking about it, these unbelievably tiny apartments are our home. We decorate and paint and care for every teeny-weeny square foot, because this place is going to be our home.

I hadn't actually lived in an apartment before, except when I lived in London as a student. Five girls in two bedrooms at Earl's Court was horrendous, and made worse by the fact that we had no phone. My first New York apartment was a second floor studio provided by NYU Grad. This would have been fine, except I was sharing it, and I never got a night's sleep. (To those who live on the second floor, I salute you). My roommate was J. Big and blond, had the mother of all nasal New Jersey accents--despite having been raised in Weschester--which I found both grating and colorful. She was appalled that I did not know that The Notorious B.I.G and Biggie Smalls where the same person. I was appalled when, I told her my firm thesis was in was about period piece dramas, she asked me what my menstrual cycle had to do with anything.

And surprisingly, we got along, and moved into an apartment two blocks down. Here is where I learned about the mystery of key money (it's illegal) and landlords (ours was the American Legion) and earplugs on weekend nights. My new roommate was V. who was Indian but said her name in tongue-twisting way I'd never heard of. Jobless and supported by her father for over a year, she quickly had a harem of guys (all black) who kept her busy when her boyfriend wasn't around. But yet again, we all got along, and stayed in that apartment until they doubled our rent. (Unless a building is specified as rent stabilized, they can raise it however much they want. This I learned the hard way.

I've been ensconced in my current place for a while now, and over the years, I've acquired a fascination with New York real estate. Do you know I could buy an island in Italy for the price of a two-bedroom in the West Village? This is slightly appalling. But in a town where living rooms are converted into bedrooms by removable walls or curtains, where there's a difference between "light" and "view," where many bedrooms can't fit any more furniture than a queen-size bed, where tipping rates are constantly New York, you have to be addicted to real estate, just to survive.

Now, the Learning Annex blog will be a national one, and I'm sure it has a particular theme and tone that's different than this one. And while there are many New York real estate blogs, there are few national ones. And I welcome the knowledge. One day, when my books have sold a million copies or when I marry rich, I aspire to actually own property rather than temporarily squatted on it. Where, I don't know. I may not be in New York, so writing about national real estate sounds pretty helpful in the long run. And there's lots I want to learn. I hope to unravel the mystery that is a co-op board, the difference between assumed and balloon mortgages, how to deal with surveyors, where the good realtors go. I'll probably try to look everything up online, but I don't mind taking buying some books or even take a course or two. To be honest, I think I'll pick it up quickly, and have fun writing about it, getting wise about it.

The best part? Getting paid to browse listings. Before, I only did this during the Lottery Fantasy. Actually, the lottery fantasy consists almost entirely of real estate and vintage clothing. So if anyone needs a vintage clothing blog out there, just let me know).

And if the Learning Annex doesn't pick me for the gig--well, I'll still have this blog. A blog in a hand is worth two in the bush.

Hmmm...that always sounds so dirty...

Fame and Fortune

Hi, remember me? I used to blog here. lawyerwriter is the name. I have been dogsitting with a very weak internet connection, which meant the dog got a lot of attention but the blog did not. Now, like Lady Lazarus, Ophelia and Sleeping Beauty rolled into one, I have returned to let you know that I have been Discovered.

This is very exciting for me. The closest I have been to being Discovered up until now was when some Indian lady (officially known as an "Auntie") stopped me in the park while I was walking a dog to ask for my name and biodata. That is, she did not actually ask for my biodata, but she was particularly interested to know if I walked the dog at the same time every day, presumably so she could drive by with her eligible nephew to point me out to him. She was very disappointed that I gave her the generic dogwalking business card rather than my home phone number, particularly because I do not think she owns a dog.

That said, I am now playing Kentucky Fried Chicken Girl in Bath Party, which is a multimedia play that is going to go on for four weeks at the Howl Festival, which is a pretty cool festival in the East Village. This is an original one-person show starring the very beautiful and talented Meital Dohan, and it covers issues about the American Dream and globalization, but in a very funny way. My blog audience (and audiences in general) will be relieved to know that I do not actually have to act on stage, but that my part will be filmed and then shown on a screen behind Meital.

One of the great disappointments of my life is my utter lack of acting ability, which I try to hide by being as dramatic and often drunken as possible. The last time I acted was as Goody Crazy Woman in my college's three-and-a-half hour production of The Crucible, where my hair was spraypainted silver (I will do hairpainting if it is integral to the part). Anyway, it was my job to rant in a Puritan kind of way until I was burnt at the stake. I thought I did a fine job, but the rest of the cast seemed a little to eager to use real fire on me.

This did not seem to dissuade Meital or her director, Karen Shefler, at all. I have less chance of screwing up on film rather than theater, so I am grateful not to appear on stage for four weeks in a row. And I hope it will not cause stampedes of people to run when I say that I have to sport an Indian accent. I accept that an Indian accent is intrinsically funny, and I also accept that I cannot do one very well (I look to Apu on The Simpsons as my muse). Again, this did not seem to dissuade Karen or Meital, who rather touchingly believe I am perfect for the part. If only everyone had such faith me!

But this is what I anticipate: a Hollywood Bigshot will be in the audience. My face appears on the screen--just for a minute--but he stands up and says "Who is that girl?" His assistant tries to argue with him: "But sir, she's a nobody." "I don't care," Hollywood Bigshot says. "Get me that girl! I want to make her a Star!" And the rest is Hollywood history.

If anyone can name the show where I ripped off that whole scenario from, I will give them a cookie. It will probably be a dog cookie, but a cookie is a cookie.


I very rarely have Friendly Professional Relations with Real Lawyers. I will explain the terms thusly: "Friendly Professional Relations" are relations that I have with people who I deal with mostly for work, rather than social, reasons. "Real Lawyers" are lawyers who are not lawyers by trade or vocation, but people who have lawyering in their blood. (Notice I did not say "law in their blood"). Allow me to illustrate with the following story, which I will call "Outlawyered!"

I recently got an offer for The Project from Company B. Wanting to make sure that I did not violate the Confidentiality Agreement I had with Company A, I contacted my supervisor at Company A and suggested a workable compromise. I was surprised to receive a warning to immediately abandon The Project and warnings that Company A would vigorously litigate any breach of the Confidentiality Agreement. I was surprised mostly because Project B was pretty innocuous and could easily be done exclusively through common and public information, and because my supervisor and I have Friendly Professional Relations (supervisor is not a lawyer). This made threats of litigation in response to a friendly email a little...well, surprising. Especially since Company A and Company B are not competitors. A call between me and supervisor quickly ironed things out, (FPR were restored) and it became clear that The Project might be more trouble than it was worth. My supervisor suggested I talk to Company A's legal Counsel for better guidelines so that I would not have to clear every project with Company A.

Now, the phone call between me and Counsel went somewhat disastrously. Bear in mind that I had already decided to give up the Project, but I decided to find out exactly what Counsel felt the Confidentiality Agreement covered, and what it didn't. I sugfested my plan of doing the Project with completely public information, and perhaps not even mentioning Company A.

Unsurprisingly, Counsel felt that the Confidentiality Agreement covered a broad range of projects, not just this project. And this is where Real Lawyering comes in. Counsel was cool, collected and calm as he completely outlawyered me. Before we could even talk about a compromise, words such as "unethical" and "misrepresentation"(not to mention phrases such as "blinded for money" and "trading on Company A's name for personal gain") were thrown at me. I, of course, began to get very angry. This is what humans do when they are accused of being sneaky when in fact they have gone out of their way to be honest. This is not, however, what lawyers are supposed to do.

Counsel and I continued on the phone for some time, one of us calm and the other one angry. Now, this is not a "take my side" story, because even I, knowing the extraneous details, would take Counsel's side. Not because he was right--far from it. It's virtually impossible, even accidentally, to disclose confidential information when all the information in your work product is already accessible to the public at large. And frankly, I'm not even sure I have the information he thinks I'm going to use.

But what's interesting is that I only realized it after I got off the phone, after I called a couple litigators I knew back from the firm days. What's interesting is that I didn't figure it out for myself. Counsel outlawyered me not because he had better facts and better logic, but because he knew how to keep me off balance and he knew how to spin as many arguments as he needed to back his version of the facts. As I got more and more aggravated, I couldn't even figure out why I was still on the phone with this guy. After all, I'd already decided to forego the project, (though not Company B altogether). And yet, there I was, arguing philosophy, ignoring my instincts that Counsel was just wrong. I think he could have gone on for hours. But I couldn't. I gave in.

The question is why? And the answer is this: for me, lawyering is a job. It's a suit I put on and take off. I generally enter relationships--professional, social, romantic--with my lawyer suit off. (You could say I enter into them in my birthday suit, actually). For others, lawyering is second nature. They will lawyer over a friend's excessive tip or how fast their taxi is going or whether their table in the restaurant should have multiple candles. It's in their blood, an instinct, and they're always ready to go. And boy, have they practiced.

As for strained relations with these types makes it clear I made the right choice in choosing not to practice. Counsel and his ilk are made for the profession; they're who you want in the courtroom, representing you in tough, hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners litigations. As for me and the other lawyer hybrids out there (lawyerwriter, lawyerbanker, lawyeractivist)--we're here for other reasons. I may not know them yet, but I suspect they're more...human.

Writing Jobs for Ex-Lawyers

Sorry about the false promise of the title--I'm looking for them myself. But I can offer some general advice if you're a lawyer, and you want to be a writer:

1. Have money saved. Period

2. Learn about the trade. Talk to a career counselor or coach and see what kind of writing you want to do. There's consumer and trade magazine journalism, copyediting, advertising and public relations copywriting, marketing, work-for-hire, ghostwriting, legal-test-related writing, career-related writing, consumer and trade book publishing, internal corporate writing, lawfirm writing...and I have done all of these. That might be the only way that you will figure out what kind of writer you will be. If you want to be all of the above, go for it. Just know what you're getting into.

3. Use the Law Degree. The newly learned lesson: do not try to run from being identified as a lawyer. It won't work. If you want to get away from your law degree, you are going to have to do it in stages. So, while you get your writing career going, stay as close to the law as you can stand. If this means practice, practice. If this means temping, fine. A year ago, I was determined to never write about law again. Now I'm almost looking forward to it. The time I spent as an agent's assistant or ghostwriter for cookbooks or doing study guides was fine, but I wasn't making as much money as my law degree could get me. And I have never gone through the phase of wanting to be starving writer living in a garret. I have cats to feed.

4. Network. This is something that you'll have to do the rest of your writing life. Allot some time and money to get to know people in the writing world, mostly for information rather than jobs. The simplest way to get started is this: make a list of everyone you know, everywhere. Go through the list and see who you can contact about your new career goal. Ask everyone if they know anyone who may work in writing/editing/publishing, and if you can use their name to make a connection to go for an informational interview. Do it in person; failing that, choose the phone, then email. You will meet some people who are not useful, but you will eventually meet people who will help you or at least remember your name when they do have work. Ask lots of questions, and at the end, ask if they can recommend more people for you to talk to.

5. Lose the Resume. Rework your resume to highlight any writing experience you have. Nonetheless, show your resume only as a last resort. Once people see the law degree, they won't see anything else. The resume actually limits you.

6. Give it time. I mean years. You will fail at least once. The important thing is to be persistent and pick yourself back up and plan for the long run.

7. Get used to explaining yourself. Everyone will want to know why you are not a lawyer. Many will be complimentary, but more will be incredulous. Don't take it personally. They just won't get it.

8. Downsize your life. You will have less money than you will budget for. People will not pay you on time. Sometimes not at all. Be prepared to go without on specific things.

9. Write and read frequently. Write about what you'd ideally like to write about. Read any publication you'd like to write for. Read books that will inspire your writing. Think about your writing ability like a muscle--it must be exercised regularly.

10. Don't burn any bridges. You may want to run from your fellow colleagues, your firm, your cases, etc. Don't. You may want to go back one day. Or, ask them for work. If you leave, leave on good terms, whenever possible.

So...this is just a preliminary list, based on my experience in the last three years. Any other lawyer-writers out there, feel free to add your thoughts...

The Lawyerwriter

This blog is called the lawyer writer. I'm not quite sure why I chose the name, because I rarely talk about law and only sometimes about being a lawyer.

I came upon the interesting realization that I've spent the last three trying to have as little to do with law as possible. If had my way, I would have left the firm, started writing novels, and never looked back. Instead, it's been a slow hard progression away from law, towards writing, but, in a Godfather-like way, law keeps pulling me back in.

Okay, so maybe the mob analogy is a little melodramatic. But I remember feeling like law was the wrong idea for me about three years before I actually left. And when I left, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. This elicits many responses from inside and outside my head:

The Mob: "You can't really leave the law, can you? After you put so much in?"

The Army: "You just couldn't hack it, could you? Weren't tough enough."

The Cult: "But everyone wants you to be a lawyer."

The Parents: "You'll go back. You will. Really."

Now, the most obvious question is--why? What exactly am I running from? I spent three years studying, two years practicing and I wrote a book about it. I did okay. I didn't hate all of it. So why am I hell-bent on carving on being writer rather than lawyerwriter?

I don't want to write a courtroom drama or expose of law firms. I looked into true crime. They specifically asked for "stories of middle class men with double lives that explode in murder." I am not making this up. But I don't read about the law. I can't stand Grisham, and I really dislike Linda Fairstein. Intensely. Basically, television does this much better now, if you like the courtroom stuff. Most episodes of Law and Order (the original, and Criminal Intent) are much better than anything I've found in the bookstore. They have finer legal points, more newsworthy scenarios, and better courtroom surprises. There are some great legal movies, but Law and Order really broke the mold. So I could go work in television, writing Law and Order shows, which might be fun.

I could be a paralegal just to earn some cash, instead of writing full time. Or, preferably, I could set my hair on fire.

I did write The Street Law Handbook. I hadn't planned on it. I'd planned on agenting it, but I didn't know if I had enough of a background in criminal law to write it. But then I started getting so many ideas of how I wanted it to be, and what I wanted it to cover, that I starting outlining it. And, except for a very brief, extraordinarily unfortunate few months where I had a partner (a real criminal lawyer long on ego but very short on ability), I enjoyed writing it very much. I learned more about criminal law than I'd known as a lawyer.

And that, actually, was all I planned on doing in terms of legal writing. No blog, no sequel, no legal writing to pay the bills, or anything like that. I figured that once you get published, you'd sort of entered the elite club of authors, and that was that. And I would go as far as my talent would take me. And then I would quit and write my memoirs. Preferably in my eighties, in Paris with a 20-year old lover. Who cooks.

Anyway, back to the point. Why did I want to ditch the law thing entirely, without making use of it to pay the bills?

There's the faux-rebellious reason: I rejdct law and the corporate world. I want no part of office life. I hate suits, and really hate pantyhose.

There's the logical reason: I'm a writer. I was only a lawyer for five years, but I've been writing since I was ten. All I studied, besides law, was literature. But the law degree seems to what I'm defined by--branded by, in a way--because it's a profession.

There's the insecurity reason: I'm not sure exactly what having a law degree has taught me. I liked studying it, but the practice is just awful. And I don't even know if I'm any good at it.

There's the honest reason: The law degree, and everything that went along with it, isn't nearly as interesting as writing and publishing.

There's the defensive reason: I'm afraid that if I'm lawyerwriter today, that's all I'll be writing tomorrow. Courtrooms and corporate boardrooms--that's all they'll want from me.

But lately I've started to think--what if I really could find a way to use the law degree without practicing, and without having all my books be about law? Someone suggested legal marketing, or writing for public relation firms that specialize in law firms and legal entities. Of course, I haven't done much public relations writing, but it might be fun. It might even pay the bills.

So I'm doing some investigation into this. If anyone knows anything--or has any thoughts on why some ex-lawyers run screaming from their law degrees, instead of using them, I'd like to hear them.