We all need to exercise, according to Dr. Oz and other doctors. Your sport of choice can send a message about who you are to the higher ups. What is that message? Listen carefully to your boss’s response:
QI’m a fourth year associate and I’ve been busted for steroids. Let me explain. I’m a former Division II college baseball player and did well in sports and school. After graduating from law school and joining my current firm, I ended up in an interfirm softball league. I think my baseball background may have made the difference in my getting hired, as the league is pretty serious and the firm partners and more senior associates take the games seriously. Very seriously, with each team having to assign a “stats rep” to track stats and report those stats to the “commissioner,” who then records the stats each year. Going back to 1984.
As it turns out, I set the single season home run record in 2010 when I was a second year associate. During that winter, though, I was into weightlifting and dabbled (I know, bad decision) with steroids. I saw short-term fantastic results in weightlifting. And I also smashed the softball league home run record by 9, which seemed incidental to what I was trying to do personally. In other words, I didn’t mess with steroids to hit home runs in a law firm softball league. I was just trying to stay buff.
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Bitter Lawyer has its list of the top five sports agents who have law degrees. In the spirit of college basketball season, we got to thinking about players who ruled the hardwood before taking a charge by enrolling in three hard years of law school. It only makes sense that a JD can prove helpful when spending your days representing the world’s best athletes, but we couldn’t help but wonder which athletes translated their blood, sweat, and tears shooting college hoops into successful legal careers.
So we started digging. While there are plenty of players who moved on to law school following their b-ball glory days, only a few were exceptionally great, which means we had to boil it down. Give it up for these five legendary lawyers—along with five impressive honorable mentions—who first had shining moments as college basketball players.
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[Ed. Note: The one book that always gets judged by its cover is a romance novel. Chick lit, usually in the form of grocery store guilty pleasures, is a major industry. And behind each titillating title is an author. One of the most prolific in the field is former lawyer Niki Burnham. Over the years, Burnham has published a dozen books and picked up numerous awards, among them: The 2005 Romance Writers Of America RITA Finalist—Best Traditional Series for The Bowen Bride; and Teen People Pick for Royally Jacked. She's even a former Jeopardy! loser.
We recently caught up with Burnham to find out what happened with Alex Trebek, how lawyers can get more love out of the romance genre, and to talk some Rockies and Red Sox baseball.]
Where did you go to law school?
University of Michigan, JD/MA Political Science, 1994.
Did you practice? What was your practice area?
After law school, I joined a midsize firm in St. Louis and worked in their Illinois litigation group. I left after a whopping four months to accept a clerkship with a federal magistrate (Judge Donald Abram) in Denver when he needed a midyear replacement.
What was your best moment as a lawyer?
I only practiced for a moment, and even then, I mentally had one foot out the door. So a “best moment” is tough to define.
However, I really liked the judge for whom I worked in Denver. He’s an intelligent, stand-up guy with a wicked sense of humor. Exactly the type of person you’d want as a next-door neighbor. Or a boss.
What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
While working in Denver, a complaint came across my desk arguing that the use of one-ply toilet paper in prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment. My first thought: Mile High Stadium is a hotspot of cruel and unusual punishment. Who knew? My second thought: Is this really what I’m doing with my life?
What was the moment when you said, “I’ve got to get the f*** out of law?”
There wasn’t a single light-bulb moment. My favorite classes in law school were both electives, Roman Law and English Legal History, which was a tip-off that the profession wasn’t for me. At graduation, I wasn’t excited about practicing the same way my classmates were. I was just relieved to have a means to pay off law school debt in the midst of a recession. I knew by the time I started in St. Louis that the law would be a short-term gig and I was already looking for an exit.
Do you think your legal background has made you a better writer? If so, how?
No. If time management and linear thinking don’t come naturally, law school can teach you those skills. However, as a writer you also must work well on your own for weeks or months at a time. You need an innate sense of story and an ability to create characters with whom your readers can identify.
However, I do understand my contracts better than most writers, which has proven useful, and my agent search was made easier because I eliminated every agent I felt knew less about contracts than I did.
What’s a typical day like for you a writer? It’s way better than being a lawyer, right?
Obviously I think it’s better. As a writer, I control the world (an imaginary world, but still). I can wear whatever I want. I work my own hours—sometimes only a few hours in the morning, other times all night—and drink my own brand of coffee. If I procrastinate by reading Go Fug Yourself or changing my fantasy baseball team in the middle of the day, no one cares. My office is mine alone, designed the way I want it, and I have a killer view. Best of all, there’s no feeling in the world like holding your own book in your hands, whether it’s your first or your tenth.
On the other hand, I work without a safety net. If I’m sick or take a vacation, no one picks up the slack. There’s no health care plan, retirement plan, etc., unless I create it. I don’t get regular paychecks. While I can budget based on book advances, royalties are a great mystery. I have no idea what they’ll be until they arrive on my doorstep. And then there’s rejection. It still happens, even after you’re published. It’s not a career for everyone. You need an iron core.
How did you become a romance writer? Were you always a fan of the romance genre?
After my clerkship, I moved to Boston, where my husband-to-be was working. I interviewed at two different firms, but as they walked me around and explained how wonderful their firms were for associates, all I could think was, “I hope they don’t give me an offer.” I stopped interviewing after those two, went to New York for a few weeks to take a publishing course at NYU, then took an unpaid internship with Boston Magazine to figure out how the magazine world worked. Pretty soon I moved to a six-month freelance position at Inc. magazine, and while I was there, I sold articles to a number of other magazines and started working on a novel. I had no specific plans to write a romance—I read across the board—but the story ideas I had fit best in that genre, so I joined the Romance Writers of America and worked to learn the craft.
Was it difficult to break in?
Breaking in is not easy. At the first writers’ conference I attended, an editor with a major house noted that she receives over 2,000 manuscripts a year—that’s full manuscripts, not proposals—from new-to-her authors. On average, she acquires two new authors a year. Other editors on the panel cited similar stats. To overcome those odds, you have to be able to tell a great story, work hard to improve your craft, and have a little bit of luck. It also helps to assume that a lot of what editors receive is utter crap, therefore making the odds better for you.
Romance novels seem to have really over-the-top cover art. As a writer, do you have a hand in crafting the cover art? Does cover art really matter once you’re an established writer?
There’s quite a range in covers. Some have what’s called the “clinch,” where you see a couple embracing while half-dressed, windblown hair that’s unrealistically flattering. There are also a lot of scenic covers—the gazebo surrounded by flowers, the porch swing—and what I think of as “feet” covers, where you see a shoe, the back of a dress, a hat, or some other article of clothing (but usually shoes, for whatever reason). I’ve had all three.
Authors almost never get a say in this, despite continuous pleas to the cover gods. It’s all up to art departments and marketing departments. That’s because the covers do matter. The effort put into covers is no different than what goes into movie posters or fashion ads. It’s all about what packaging gets the product into the hands of the right consumer.
Titles are the same way. I’m batting just over .500 on having my original title appear on the final book, which I’ve been told is typical.
We’ve read a few romance novels (the women in our lives have read a few more) and one thing is clear—lawyers are seldom the male hero. Are lawyers fundamentally unromantic?
You’re reading the wrong books! There are romances with lawyers, though few romances are set inside a law firm. (That’s true of mysteries and thrillers, too, unless the law firm is the story, as in some of Grisham’s work.)
In any story, the characters need to be doing something that engages the attention of readers. Generally speaking, the day-to-day goings-on inside a firm aren’t interesting to the average person. (Anyone up for reading fifty pages of dialogue on an SEC filing just before bedtime?) However, if you get those characters in high-stakes trouble, which often happens outside a firm, that’s worth a read.
We heard that, back in 2000, you appeared on Jeopardy! Did you win a few games? What eventually did you in? Feel free to phrase your answer in the form of a question.
What is “the buzzer?” Seriously. I couldn’t get in on the buzzer until halfway through the game, and then it was on a ballet question that the other two contestants didn’t even attempt to answer. (Who is Vaslav Nijinsky?) So yes, I lost on Jeopardy!
That being said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I had a blast at both the audition and the taping. And the guy who beat me went on to become the runner-up in the Tournament of Champions.
You blog about “writing, baseball and other random topics” at The Go-Ahead. Let’s talk baseball. Your two favorite teams are the Rockies and the Red Sox. The Rockies really turned things around this year when they fired Clint Hurdle and brought in Jim Tracy. Obviously that’s worked, but do you think the manager really makes a difference at the major league level?
See, I think Hurdle was great. The guy led the Rockies to the Series in 2007, and the team had to win 21 out of 22 games to do it. The last team to win even 19 out of 20? The 1977 Royals, who had Hurdle as a player.
How can the same person be a great manager in 2007, but be considered a detriment only two years later? Mystery to me. (And one reason—among many, I’m sure—no one’s ever offered me a job in baseball.) But I do like Jim Tracy. And Terry Francona walks on water. Not that you asked.
Let’s talk Red Sox. Is it just us, or have they become totally boring since they broke the curse? Seriously. They were such a great story, but when they finally won a World Series in 2004, didn’t they lose that thing that made them so special and fun to watch—namely that underdog spirit?
You obviously haven’t been to Fenway in the last few years. When you’re in the stands, there’s no difference whatsoever between now and then, other than the ticket prices. Everyone’s just as convinced as ever that the Sox will find a way to lose. It’s ingrained in the New England psyche.
Do you use a Kindle? As someone who makes her living as a writer, do you worry about electronic readers replacing books, or are you one of those writers who can’t wait to go 100% digital?
I don’t own a Kindle, but only because I spend my whole day on a computer, so I prefer to read a printed page when I can to give my eyes variety. However, Kindles are incredible for travel, so I imagine I’ll succumb soon.
I don’t worry about electronic readers replacing books. A good story is a good story. Kindles (and similar devices) are so well designed that the experience is virtually the same as reading a paper book.
What does worry me is electronic theft. Don’t get me started on Google and their so-called “book program.” Labeling their scanning as a “book program” and claiming it benefits authors is like having an arsonist tell you he has a home heating plan as he ignites a gasoline-soaked rag at your back door. I feel the same way about pirates who scan copyrighted works, then post them for download. Lack of copyright enforcement is what will put authors out of business. It’s wreaked havoc on the music i
[Ed. Note: Texas Tech Red Raiders head football coach Mike Leach is unique for a lot of reasons. Only one of which is that Leach is a 1986 graduate of Pepperdine Law School. But instead of beginning a career as a lawyer, Leach put his passion for football ahead of the law. Starting as an assistant coach at Cal Poly and working his way through a series of low-paying, but increasingly more high-profile coaching positions, Leach eventually landed at Texas Tech in 2000. Known as an “offensive genius,” Leach has molded the Red Raiders into a college football powerhouse. Last year, The Associated Press named him the Big 12 Coach of the Year, and Leach holds the distinction of being one of only sixteen active college football coaches who have never had a losing season. Earlier this year, Leach signed a new five-year contract that will keep him in Lubbock through 2013 for a cool $12.7 million. We recently talked with the plainspoken Coach Leach about his unusual and enviable career.]
What made you decide to go to law school?
I always thought I would be lawyer. But I don’t know if there was a good reason for why I thought that. I just got it in my head when I was in seventh grade. But I guess you could say that was a little illogical because no body in my family was a lawyer. In fact, my dad hated lawyers, so it’s not like I was raised to be one.
What kind of lawyer did you think you wanted to be?
I wanted to be like a Gerry Spence. I thought I would stick up for the little guy, you know. I thought maybe I’d do some product liability work and that kind of thing—keep corporations honest. That was what I wanted to do.
What was law school like for you?
It was interesting. Law school was different than undergrad, where you have a lot of fun because there are gorgeous girls running around and you can take all kinds of courses. In undergrad, if I didn’t like a particular course, I’d just find something else. But law school was all law, all the time, and everyone there was pretty competitive.
I was pretty young when I started at twenty-two. Most of the students were much older, and they had a lot of experience. They had been in business and had actually negotiated contracts before. For me, a contract was kind of like a Leprechaun. I had heard of them, but I hadn’t actually seen one. But despite that, I did well for myself. Not Law Review, but I did pretty well.
But you decided not to practice?
Not exactly. I wasn’t against practicing law. In fact, I always figured that I would [eventually practice]. But it was midway through law school when I thought I wanted to do something different before practicing. I wanted to try something new because I didn’t want to have any regrets. And I know this sounds lame, but I really didn’t want to wear a suit every day. I’m a casual guy, you know.
So, how did you get into coaching?
Well, at the time I graduated, I was broke and I had a wife, a child and about $40,000 in [law school] loans. So, I thought I would just give coaching a try, and the way that I would do that was get my masters degree and work as an assistant coach. I started at Cal Poly as an assistant offensive line coach.
And just like that you were on your way?
Sort of. One year just led to the next, and I kept moving up in terms of responsibility, and I kept getting jobs at better programs.
I still wasn’t making a lot of money, but I would go to school in the offseason to defer my loans, and that let me keep coaching. There was a point [during that period] when I was teaching, taking classes, and coaching.
How did you get that first break at Cal Poly? Did you know someone?
Not really. I started coaching at the worst possible time because the NCAA had decided to limit the number of assistants a D1 school could have. I had talked to a lot of top coaches and a lot of them said they’d be happy to have me, but that limit really made it tough. So, I started at Cal Poly because they were D2 at the time. They were a good program that had room for me to move up.
You didn’t play football at the college level, but that hasn’t stopped you from becoming one of the most successful coaches around. Is playing experience overrated for coaches?
I think it’s both valuable and overrated at the same time. I played in high school and I broke my ankle senior year, so that ended my playing career. I played rugby at BYU and we were really good, but I always kept an eye on football.
Football is like anything else. You learn the skill and trade. There are lots of ways to learn. But a great player doesn’t always make a great coach, and someone who didn’t play can be a great coach, if they learn the game in other ways.
Every year we hear a lot of talk about how the BCS is lousy. And last month, some members of Congress suggested that the government ought to get involved and look into whether a playoff system wouldn’t be better. [HERE] What’s your take on all that?
I like a playoff system. But as for Congress, I think it’s really irresponsible for the government to waste taxpayer dollars on something like this, especially when there’s so much else going on. That takes a lot of audacity, and I think there are other things Congress should concern itself with.
Do you have an alternative to the BCS?
Yeah, but it’s not one anyone would probably go for. This business of a four-team playoff or an eight-team playoff is just stupid. I think you have to cut the regular season to 10 games. Then I think you need to invite a lot of teams (maybe 64) into a playoff, but you’d let the rest of the teams continue in an NIT-type deal so that they could play another six games or so, which they need to fund their programs.
The simple fact is that we act like a playoff system in college football is a unique idea. It’s not. Bowls are unique. All levels of college football except for Division have a playoff, and other sports do it too.
Aside from the playoffs, would you change any rules about how the game is played? Either college or pro?
If I were to change the pro game, I’d say they need wider hash marks. As for the college game, I’d like to see a speaker in the quarterback’s helmet, just like the pros have.
Do you think college QBs could handle that?
Yeah, they could. I’m just not sure all the coaches could handle that… having to give instructions to their QB right at the last minute before the ball is snapped. That’s a challenge for the coach.
Which coaches do you think would have a tough time?
Well, there are a lot of high-strung guys coaching in college, and I think they’d have a tough time because they’d always be shouting at their QB, which would likely make it harder for him to do what he has to do. I’d like to play against those guys if they put a speaker in the QB’s helmet.
You’ve argued with an official or two in your day. Does having a law degree help you make a persuasive case?
Maybe a tiny bit. It just keeps you calm when you’re arguing because you’ve done stuff like that before. You’re accustomed to it. I think that’s how it helps.
Does your law degree help in other ways?
Someone once put it to me like this, and I agree with this take. A law degree—and really any form of higher education, but especially a law degree—is all about problem solving. I use it everyday in that sense. Because you don’t always know the answer to something, but the great thing about legal training is that it teaches you how to solve the problem when you don’t know the answer.
Also, I think the law school experience was good in that it taught me how to do a lot under very tight deadlines. That’s really helpful.
Do your players know you’re a lawyer?
Does it give you more street cred with them?
I think they respect it. But I don’t know if it means all that much to them.
Do your players ever ask you if they should go to law school?
Yeah, they do. And I tell them this: If you want to be a lawyer, go. But if you know that you don’t want to be a lawyer, get another type of graduate degree. I don’t regret getting the law degree because I think education is really important, but for those who know they don’t want to be lawyers, they should study something else.
What’s the best part about your job? Admit it, the worst day as a D1 coach is probably better than the best day as a lawyer?
[Laughing] Well, I don’t know about that. It’s a really rewarding job for me. I like working with young people, and I love game day. That’s probably the most fun. But let’s put it this way: I wrote a letter to Gerry Spence once and I asked him if he loved law or hated it, and if he’d do it again. He said he loved and hated law and that he would do it again. Bottom line, if you are consumed by something and passionate, go ahead and do it.
Any advice for law school grads or Bitter Lawyers looking to do something non-traditional?
It’s really hard to do something and then to change paths. I struggled for a long time to sort out what I wanted to do. The wondering is the hardest part. I really struggled there. There was a quote I found on a Starbucks cup that said something like, “Do something you love.” I don’t know exactly how the quote went, but the idea was that you need to do the thing you love over and over again, and eventually you figure out a way to get paid for it. My advice is to find that passion and do it. But I know that can be such a struggle.
How’s the team looking for next season?
Really good. We had a great spring and we’ve got a lot of young guys stepping up, so I’m excited.
Why is it that female lawyers feel the need to dress like asexual, feminist monks? Seriously, what are we so afraid of, ladies? Having men think we’re actually women?
Erin Andrews (and the masturbatory outbursts she provokes in 8.5 out of 10 heterosexual male sports fans) is perhaps the best example of the unique power a (reasonably) stylish, non-overweight, attractive woman wields in a male-dominated business. Men love her and, surprisingly, even respect her. More importantly, her career is blowing up. If you ask me, ol’ Erin should be required viewing for female lawyers. In fact, she should be our patron saint.
I suppose any of my naïve, Miranda Hobbes-ian illusions should have been eviscerated my first day of law school when I was introduced to my disheveled, frizzy-haired, makeup-less Contracts Professor. But she was a high-brow, serious-minded Harvard academic. Women like her aren’t supposed to look sexy. Just smart. Big Firm associates and partners, on the other had, are a different story. Part of their job is to be stylish and au courant. And they rake in enough money to stock their closets with Theory. Maybe even Jil Sander. Or so I thought.
After three years at Big Chicago Firm, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that most female lawyers are horrible dressers. Worse yet, they don’t care. They almost take some sort of absurd, post-feminist pride in looking ugly. The uglier you are, the smarter you are, which means the more successful you’ll be. Right?
Wrong. Not caring about your appearance is career-suicide. Or at least career-idiocy. Especially for young associates. Looking good helps women advance. In my experience anyway. I’m no Gisele, but I definitely look good in clothes—and like it or not, I’m not afraid to wear suits that accentuate my long-legged, genetic good fortune. Ask me, it’s no coincidence that I’m one of the only female associates whose name comes easily to the managing partner and is often invited to client dinners. I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m a better researcher or writer than the other 50 women lawyers at my firm. I just dress better.
You might say I’m the Big Firm Erin Andrews.