AVOIDING LAWYER BURNOUT: OR,
DONíT JUST PLAY A LAWYER IN REAL LIFE, TRY PLAYING ONE ON TV
Associate Professor of Law
LSU Law Center
You are Visitor
To This Page
According to Michael Simmons, "Lawyer burnout is a dramatic phrase, but it describes a situation in which an increasingly large number of our best lawyers find themselves. I have talked to people who find it ever harder to put in an appearance at the office. On the outside, they continue to go through the motions; on the inside, they desperately seek an escape route. If we are not careful, a large number of this generation will be totally lost to the profession. Correspondingly, the ranks of missionaries in China will swell with more than a trickle of former top lawyers."
Indeed, how long can many of us continue to practice law until we get it right? When will the lawyer jokes finally get on the one last nerve we've got? Some of our colleagues past and present took the law into their own hands, and came up with alternatives to a dismal daily grind of forty, fifty or sixty years of unrelenting opinion reading, client interviewing, and three Martini lunch downing.
The secret, apparently, is exploiting oneís own interests and talents, and when necessary, acquiring additional skills to enhance them, or inventing an entirely new discipline to take advantage of them.
Most lawyers are, letís face it, hams born and bred, so acting is a natural outlet. Consider
Less well known lawyer-actors include Edwin Adams, (JD University of Illinois), daytime drama actor Tom Schmidt, Irvine, California attorney Thom Gilbert, James Brincefield ("Beau James"), and Charlie Rossman. We can't overlook Melvin Belli, who appeared as "Gorgan the Friendly Angel" on an episode of Star Trek called "And the Children Shall Lead."
Sheila James, the eternally unsuccessful Zelda in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963), graduated first in her class at Harvard Law School and now practices and teaches in Los Angeles.
The similarities between acting and lawyering are not lost on commentators. See the discussion by Rob Waring on the Picturing Justice website, Bernard Hibbitts' The Senses in Law and my Law and Drama page. Read suggestions on how to turn an actor into a lawyer in "From a Distance", by James C. Freund.
Prefer being behind the camera to being in front of it? The exotically named Apollonia van Ravenstein is a Dutch lawyer who also directs commercials. Otto Preminger, whose films include Anatomy of a Murder, Laura, and the controversial The Moon is Blue, was trained as an attorney in his native Austria. His knowledge of the law and fearlessness led him to court to protect the integrity of his film, under fire for the use of the word "virgin", a no-no in Eisenhowerian 1952. Lovers of TV's Batman series may also remember him as the villainous "Mr. Freeze." After the premiere of his four hour film Exodus, comedian Mort Sahl (not a lawyer) is reported to have said, "Otto! Let my people go!" Hal Schaffel (died 1993) started out as an attorney but soon went into show business production. He was the producer of The Patti Page Show and Howdy Doody and also worked on such series as The Nurses, Naked City and The Defenders. Among the movies he helped produce were Midnight Cowboy, Silence of the Lambs and Dances With Wolves. Pamela Wisne, a University of Detroit Law School trained attorney, produces many of the Ally McBeal episodes. She works with David E. Kelley, lawyer, writer, producer, and phenomenon of current TV.
Attorney singers are fewer on the ground than attorney actors, but among them we can count
Note: the tv series Ed, about a big city lawyer who returns to his home town to practice and to run a bowling alley, has a real life counterpart in Mel Evans. Do your talents run to the two-step? Simon el Rubio was a lawyer before turning to the flamenco. Amianna Stovall turned from ballet to law.
If you'd rather eat ham than watch it on TV, consider the career change of Nina and Tim Zagat, former lawyers who now publish the Zagat Restaurant Survey.
Equally light on your feet outside? Tim Green got his JD from Ohio Northern University Law School in 1992 and is a coach in Hawaii. But another Tim Green (Syracuse University Law School) is an author and commentator for National Public Radio and the Fox Sports Network, jobs he took after playing 8 years for the Atlanta Falcons football team. He's also a mystery writer. Paul Robeson was a noted football player. Steve Young, the recently retired quarterback, holds a law degree from Brigham Young University Law School. Alan Page played with the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, obtaining a law degree while playing with the Vikings. He later became an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Byron "Whizzer" White was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1937, got his law degree from Yale and ended up on the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first U.S. Commissioner of Baseball, serving from 1920 to 1944. He set many of the ethical rules and policies that are still in place in the sport. (Read more about Judge Landis).
Composing is a more promising field. Consider
Arthur Schwartz (Columbia Law School, 1920, admitted NY Bar 1924) who teamed with Howard Dietz to write many hit songs, including "I've Made a Habit of You" and the score to Louisiana Hayride, later made into a film starring Bob Hope (Columbia Pictures, 1944).
Hoagy Carmichael received a law degree from Indiana University, but turned to songwriting after his composition Stardust became popular.
Charles Gates Dawes (1865-1951), composed the tune that gave rise to "It's All in the Game"; he was also a Vice President of the United States (1925-1929). He also won the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.
And composers need lyricists and librettists...
Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) turned from law to drama, including eighty opera libretti. (There's a lot of law in opera, by the way. Check out the Brooklyn, NY based Regina Opera Company's Opera Quizzes for more on the topic.)
Some of whom are poets....
like University of Georgia Law School professor Alex Scherr who started out as a poet, then went to law school, and now combines his love of words and his love of the law as director of the civil clinic program at U Georgia. My friend and law school classmate Laura Ymayo Tartakoff, writes sad but beautiful poems in her native Spanish (Mujer Martes (1976) and Entero Lugar (1994)).
Archibald MacLeish. Like several other scholars, MacLeish was also Librarian of Congress (1939-1944).
And, as many lawyers have shown us, writing, both fiction and non-fiction, can be a satisfying as well as lucrative career for the law-trained mind.
John William Corrington, a Tulane Law School graduate, was both a legal scholar, having worked with our own Robert Pascal, but also a mystery writer, science fiction writer (Battle for the Planet of the Apes) and writer of daytime dramas. For a film based on his work see Decoration Day (starring James Garner) Tony (Anthony) Dunbar is a New Orleans attorney who writes the popular Tubby Dubonnet mysteries. The pseudonymous Robert Traver (Anatomy of a Murder, Laughing Whitefish) was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice. A new recruit is Alan Richard Gordon, whose first mystery is set in medieval Europe.
Lew Wallace was both a noted lawyer and diplomat and a successful military officer, reaching the rank of Major General. His most famous work is Ben-Hur (filmed in 1959 and starring Charlton Heston). The French writer Tristan Bernard studied law before turning to write for the stage. English novelist John Galsworthy studied law, was admitted to the bar, and actually intended to practice admiralty law before he turned to writing. The leading French playwright of the eighteenth century, Pierre Marivaux, honed his observations of human nature through law study as did Pierre Corneille (1606-1684). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the son of a lawyer, also studied law. The radical poet Ernest Charles Jones also practiced law. Edward Bellamy, better known as the author of the science fiction classic Looking Backward: 1887-2000, was admitted to the bar but abandoned law for journalism. Royall Tyler (1757-1826), was one of the first American-born dramatists as well as a lawyer. Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816) and Philadelphian Richard Penn Smith also contributed to the early American stage. William Schwenck Gilbert was law trained; it helped flavor many of the works he wrote with composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. Abraham Polonsky is another lawyer who became a writer and political activist. His work The Enemy Sea (1943) was dedicated to the National Maritime Union. He also wrote screenplays for the John Garfield film Body and Soul and directed Force of Evil (starring Charlton Heston).
David E. Kelley turned from a Boston law practice to a phenomenally successful career as a producer, director and writer of hit television shows like Ally McBeal, Picket Fences, and The Practice after writing the screenplay for the film From the Hip. One of his writers on The Practice is Ed Redlich, a Yale Law School graduate.
Several Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts profited from the writing of Melinda Snodgrass, a lawyer turned science fiction author. The playwright Elmer Rice quit the practice of law early to write and direct several well known dramas. The influence on law on his writing is notable.
Attorneys Steve Martini, Scott Turow, John Grisham, Richard North Patterson, Maynard Thomson, Lia Matera, Louis Begley, Mark Lindquist, John Oliver Killens, Christian Nestell Bozee, Charles W. Chestnutt all put their legal training to good use in crime thrillers and novels, of very different styles and periods. Other lawyer-writers include Jim Fraiser (author of Shadow Seed and M is For Mississippi; he's also been an actor in New Orleans). Jay Brandon, author of Fade the Heat, is a practicing lawyer. Richard Dooling, a Saint Louis University law school grad, wrote the novels White Man's Burden, which became a movie starring John Travolta, and Brainstorm. Canadian lawyer Peter Hogg spent years tracking down Nazi war criminals before writing Crimes of War, a fictionalized account based on some of his adventures. Practicing attorney and child rights advocate Andrew Vachss is another lawyer/novelist. The noted poet Pauli Murray (1910-1985) also practiced law for many years. David J. Walker was a priest and a police investigator before turning to law, and then to mystery writing. Other lawyer-novelists include Alan Richard Gordon, Sheldon Siegel, Peter Lance and Loyola (LA) Law prof Yxta Maya Murray.
James Weldon Johnson had many talents, including songwriting (he composed "Lift Every Voice and Sing") but he was also the first African-American admitted to the Florida Bar.
Federico Garcia Lorca studied law before becoming famous as a writer of dramas and poetry. He was a noted anti-Fascist who was murdered by Francoist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). (Other Spanish Civil War sites are available at http://www.docuweb.ca/SiSpain/english/history/civil.html and http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/History/War/Regional/Spain/Spanish_Civil_War/.) The French language writer Marguerite Duras (1914-1996), born in what is now Vietnam, studied law at the Sorbonne.
E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) wrote many plays satirizing and criticizing the German states of his day. The English novelist Henry Fielding and the biographer James Boswell both had successful legal careers although they are better remembered today for their contributions to world literature. If you want to read some fictionalized work about Fielding's brother, also a lawyer and judge and Boswell's famous biographee Samuel Johnson, try the works of Bruce Alexander (Fielding) and Lillian de la Torre (Johnson). Wilkie Collins, author of the classic chillers The Moonstone and The Woman in White, was also an attorney. Victorian lawyer Henry Newbolt was also a writer.
Harvard Law School-educated Richard Henry Dana (1787-1879), an expert in maritime law, wrote the classic Two Years Before the Mast. Other lawyers better remembered for their writing include John Buchan, Sir Walter Scott, and Albion W. Tourgee. Rafael Sabatini, who wrote the popular Flashman novels, was also a lawyer. The seventeenth century legal scholar Sir John Davies also achieved fame as a poet. Britisher John Gibson Lockhart, son in law of Sir Walter Scott, was also a lawyer-novelist, as was Vermonter Daniel P. Thompson. Trinidad and Tobago native Maxwell Philip was both a writer and Attorney General of his country.
Louis Auchincloss (University of Virginia Law School JD 1941) has continued to practice law while writing many novels, including The Rector of Justin. Demonstrating that law and life are seamless webs, Auchincloss is also related by marriage to the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (as is the novelist Gore Vidal who is also related to former Vice President Al Gore). New York attorney Marissa Piesman (Assistant New York State Attorney General) writes the popular Nina Fischman series and is also co-author of The Yuppie Handbook (1984). Studs Turkel (Working) is another successful writer/lawyer. The multitalented Ruben Blades is a lawyer/actor/musician. After working for a number of years as a legal aid attorney, Martin Espada turned to teaching college English. Arizona attorney Richard Parrish is also a published novelist (Defending the Truth (1998); Nothing But the Truth (1996)). Of course, one of the most famous lawyer-novelists was Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason. Gardner wrote other mystery and courtroom novels as well, including several "D.A" novels and the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series (under the name A. A. Fair). Other lawyer novelists include Jeremiah Healy (his sleuth is John Francis Cuddy) and Lisa Scottoline. Louis Begley has won awards for his writing. Eleazar Lipsky was a novelist and director as well as a lawyer. London born Louis Nizer wrote extensively about his career in such books as The Implosion Conspiracy and The Jury Returns. Among his clients were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and John Henry Faulk.
Children's lit is not off-limits, either, as Cynthia Leitich Smith and Doreen Cronin show.
Want to find more novels with lawyers as protagonists (or authors) ? Try Mystery-B Discusses: Mysteries in Which a Lawyer is a Main Character and check out the Lawyer Briefs website and Findlaw's Infirmation.com on lawyers. Lia Matera offers her thoughts as well.
None of these choices appeal to you? What about journalism? Or other media careers?
Carl Stern, Bill Kurtis, and Fred Graham are all law school grads who turned to journalism. Catherine Crier was a practicing attorney before moving into television commentary. Geraldo Rivera earned a law degree at Brooklyn Law School. Philip Graham went to Harvard Law School and clerked for Felix Frankfurter before founding the Washington Post. Gerald Posner, author of the best seller Case Closed (about the JFK assassination) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley law school and worked at Cravath, Swaine and Moore before turning to investigative journalism. While you might recognize Ben Stein from his game show "Win Ben Stein's Money", he has also appeared in films, and before that was a trial lawyer. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1970 and while there helped found the Journal of Law and Social Policy. Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, has also taken to the (radio) airwaves. Howard Cosell was a labor lawyer before finding his true niche as the enthusiastic sportscaster for ABC Sports.
While it's too late for most of us, it's good to remember that being a beauty queen doesn't hurt your chances for success at the bar. Veronica Clark (Miss Maryland 1975) became an attorney, as did Zoe Ann Warburg (Miss Idaho 1952), Pamela Pope Webster (Miss New York 1978), and Rebecca Ann King (Miss America 1974). Leonard Horn appreciated that: he went to work at the Miss America pageant as the Chief Executive Officer; the pageant now gives scholarships in his name.
Still not inspired? Roland Berrill and Lance Ware, two English lawyers, founded MENSA, the international society for individuals with high intelligence. Paolo Venini practiced law for a few years before turning to his true love, glassmaking. Almost singlehandedly, he revitalized the tradition of Italian art glass by founding the Venini glass factory, world renowned for its beautiful objects. Alan Gerson, a gifted painter and cartoonist, earned a law degree from Tulane and now entertains us art collectors with his punningly named creations. Charlie Fincher shares his unique view of the world with us on his LawComix website. Sally Forth is the creation of a lawyer-cartoonist, Greg Howard. (Trivial Pursuit fans take note: Calvin's father (Calvin and Hobbes) is a patent lawyer). Australian lawyer John Spooner turned to cartooning as well.
American psychologist Joseph Buchanan (1785-1829), who wrote the pioneering work The Philosophy of Human Nature, was also an attorney and physician, despite less than 2 1/2 years of formal education. Charles Dawson, a British lawyer, discovered Piltdown Man, later determined to be a hoax. If Dawson was the hoaxer, perhaps he's not a lawyer you should emulate! Many people would consider that Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) is not a scientist as we conventionally understand the term, but he certainly has had an impact on science: he is credited with the creation of the modern myth of Atlantis. Lawyer-scientist James Hamilton was the first person (other than James Smithson) to bequeath money to the Smithsonian. The doctor/scientist/lawyer Thomas Phaer (1510?-1560) popularized all the disciplines in which he was proficient, and wrote the influential Boke of Children and A New Boke of Presidents. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was also known as both a lawyer and scientist as well as as a philosopher and writer. Many people have combined science and law into rewarding careers: note Richard Peet and Jayme Huleatt of the law firm of Foley and Lardner, and MIT corporation member Alfred Loomis. After getting his law degree Gary Culliss started an Internet company, Direct Hit Technologies. And Barry Levensen, a Wisconsin lawyer who once pled a case before the U. S. Supreme Court with a jar of mustard in his pocket, quit law to add some spice to his life and establish the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, an edifice worthy of a favorite condiment.
A number of lawyers abandoned the courtroom for greener pastures, specifically gardening and botanical studies. Charles H. Perkins of the Jackson and Perkins Company, and Edwin De Turck Bechtel (see below under "Other Contributions by Lawyers") helped develop new species of roses. George Harison, a lawyer and rose lover, discovered "Harison's Yellow", later imported into Texas, where it became known as the Yellow Rose of Texas. That roses are consequently popular in that state is no surprise; Houston attorney Donald Ray Burger maintains a webpage devoted to roses. Check out Gary O'Neil's work as well; he's a master gardener as well as a practicing attorney in Bakersfield, California. Samuel Ruggles, lawyer and real estate mogul, developed Gramercy Park, the only remaining private park in New York City. Park Trammell, Senator and Governor of Florida, was also a fruit grower.
Finally, if you'd like to read about lawyers who turn to other careers before you try it yourself, check out novels about hyphenated lawyers, including mystery about criminal attorney turned herbalist China Bayles , or J. Michael Veron's The Greatest Player Who Never Lived, a golf novel about a young lawyer who has doubts about his career. Veron is a practicing attorney himself. Or watch the drama series Boston Public, on which Jeri Ryan plays a former corporate lawyer turned teacher.
Seriously, if you want to read more about lawyer burnout, and how to prevent or minimize it, try the following publications.
Nicole Bowman, Jumping Ship
Ian M. Chung, Burnout in Lawyers
Have Law Degree, Will Travel
Keman Manion, Lawyer Burnout
Dianne Molvig, WisLAP Combats Career Killers
Nusbaum, Marci Alboher, Executive Life: From the Law Office to the Boardroom