Law and romance, compatible partners

Julie James clerked for the United States Court of Appeals and had a shot at becoming partner at a Chicago firm before she became a full-time writer.
Julie James clerked for the United States Court of Appeals and had a shot at becoming partner at a Chicago firm before she became a full-time writer.PHOTO: JULIEJAMES/ FACEBOOK

BOSTON • In 2001, HelenKay Dimon had been a lawyer for six years. She worked for a small firm in Maryland, handling divorce cases, adoption suits and custody battles.

One day, a colleague handed a sleep-deprived Dimon three paperback romance novels. "You need a happy ending," she said.

Dimon devoured the books and soon purchased more. Before long, she was writing her own romances - to help her relax after work.

Then she stumbled upon an online contest sponsored by bestselling author Lori Foster. It invited amateur writers to submit a few pages of a recent work and Foster would send the best to her editor.

Dimon entered and won.

Those pages eventually evolved into the start of her first published work, Hard Hats And Silk Stockings, about an architect and a contractor who discover what they think is a panic room while renovating an old house. "It is actually a naughty room," the author said. "And the couple get stuck down there because of course they do."

In 2007, she retired from legal work to write full time. She is not alone. At least four lawyers sit on the board of Romance Writers Of America and several more attend the annual conference.

Heidi Bond, who writes under the pen name Courtney Milan, clerked for Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy before writing her first romance. Like Dimon, she first turned to romance novels as a way to take a break from work.

While taking a year off to apply for jobs as a law professor, she had an idea for a romance. Proof By Seduction, she said, was "a terrible title - I don't know why they let me keep it". It was about a scientist determined to prove that a fortune-teller was a fraud. Spoiler alert: They fall in love.

Bond taught law at Seattle University for three years before quitting to write full time.

"One of the skills that makes you a good lawyer is the ability to take a bunch of disparate facts and weave them together into something that tells a story that pulls on the human imagination," she noted.

Whether you are convincing a judge that your client is innocent or convincing your reader that a couple is meant to be, it is the same skill.

Alesia Holliday, who writes under the pen name Alyssa Day, was working as a trial lawyer in Seattle when she started writing creatively. Writing - which eventually became her full-time profession - gave her a certain advantage in the courtroom.

"This one federal court judge said to me, 'I love when you come before me because your briefs are always so entertaining,'" she recalled.

And just as judges appreciate a brief written like a novel, romance- novel readers love reading about the law.

Julie James clerked for the United States Court of Appeals and had a shot at becoming partner at a large firm in Chicago before she became a full-time writer.

But law never left her writing. The protagonist of one of her novels, Just The Sexiest Man Alive, is an entertainment lawyer who advises a Hollywood heartthrob on his upcoming role in a courtroom drama.

It is certainly not unheard of for lawyers to write creatively.

John Grisham, author of megaselling legal thrillers, practised as a lawyer for about a decade before becoming a full-time novelist.

But he is in a different league of success. Holliday's colleagues referred to her burgeoning career as her "little lunchtime hobby".

After she quit to write full time, one lawyer friend assumed she was struggling financially and made a condescending offer to get her some part-time work.

Dimon's clients had a different request. "The men all tell me that they're romantic heroes and I should base my characters off them," she said.

She and her lawyer-writer friends often joke about these exchanges at Romance Writers meetings. Law and romance, they note, may seem incompatible, but perhaps that is the point.

"Most people become lawyers because they have a strong sense of justice and fairness," Bond said.

But when you work in the legal system, you realise that even the most fair outcomes often leave both sides financially and emotionally hurting.

In romance, on the other hand, the good guys always win.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Law and romance, compatible partners'. Print Edition | Subscribe