From writing briefs to crafting novels Fulfillment: A tTC surprising number of lawyers yearn to write novels. Some of them are doing so -- and being published.

November 06, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

Like many lawyers at the Maryland attorney general's office, Tom Keech spends days cranking out writing assignments, from memos to legal briefs.

Not until the evenings, though, do his creative juices flow.

That's when Keech focuses on his true writing passion: fiction. Last year, Keech notched his first novel, a Baltimore-based political thriller, "The Crawlspace Conspiracy." He's working on two more books.

Keech says a surprising number of lawyers harbor his ambition to write novels.

"A lot of attorneys tell me they're writing one or thinking about writing one," says Keech, who has been in the AG's office almost three years. "What you hear most is, 'I should write one.' "

Keech hardly is alone. Bookstores are stocked with offerings from lawyers-turned-novelists. A talented few even have cashed in with best sellers and movie deals.

John Grisham was a criminal defense attorney in Mississippi before he hit it big with "The Firm." Scott Turow practiced in Chicago before he scored with "Presumed Innocent." The newest star among legal-thriller writers, Lisa Scottoline, has worked as a prosecutor in Philadelphia.

In Maryland, at least five lawyers hope to follow their lead. Two have completed manuscripts. Three have published works on the bookshelves.

Besides Keech, Maryland lawyers who have published novels include A. Gallatin Warfield III, a former Howard County prosecutor, and Ellicott City lawyer Preston Pairo III, author of "One Dead Judge," a mystery set in Ocean City.

Lawyers live in a world of dress codes, rules of procedure and legal precedents, hardly the environment that figures to spawn great works of fiction. But several of the attorneys say their day jobs help spur their writing careers.

"Law is a verbal profession," says Keech, 50. "Your livelihood depends on being able to explain things clearly."

He says he applies the writing principles he's learned as a novelist to his legal writing. His No. 1 aim: simplicity.

"The goal is to write something plain enough to make sense," Keech says. "But a lot of lawyers aren't that motivated, because they have a captive audience. Judges have to read their stuff, no matter how obfuscative it might be."

Pairo says that lawyers, like fiction writers, do their best work when they are thinking creatively, not making predictable points.

"A lot of creativity goes into the practice of law," he says. "It's loosely defined and constantly being redefined. Anything's possible, if you get in front of the right judge or jury and make the right argument."

Pairo may be the most prolific of Maryland's lawyers-turned-novelists.

In 10 years, he has cranked out eight books. Three feature the same oddball protagonist, attorney Dallas Henry. Henry's office is a beachfront motel room in Ocean City. In legal circles, he is known mostly for enjoying volleyball.

Pairo, 38, found a New York publisher, Walker and Co., for his Dallas Henry books. He also has a core readership of several thousand fans. But, despite his wry wit and a wise-cracking narrative style, the lawyer has yet to write a big seller.

He allows that his legal practice, which he operates with his father, might be getting in the way. He takes off little time, choosing to write at night and during short breaks.

"It's only within the last year that I've given thought to what it takes to get a book selling better," he says.

Others, with their eyes on Turow and Grisham, are struggling with the same issues.

Keech says he has toyed with the idea of scaling back his legal career to throw himself into writing.

"I'd like to write more," he says. "I'd love to be in the position of a Turow, working part-time in law and working virtually full-time on writing."

Leo Howard Lubow, a lawyer for 19 years, left his business litigation practice in Baltimore this year and is completing an "existential thriller."

Lubow calls his decision to choose a law career over one as a writer and academic "the biggest mistake in my life."

"Thankfully, at age 46, I'm trying to correct that," he says.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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