I’ve worked in legal support as a clerk, manager, secretary, and/or paralegal since 1989. That time has been spent in a lot of different firms, which means I’ve known a lot of different lawyers (and other legal support personnel). So perhaps it’s not surprising that law-firm life has made an appearance in several of the L.A. Stories.
The very first novella, in fact - Getting Off - is about two women, Vicky and Sharon, who are co-workers in a law firm. Actual lawyers didn’t make an appearance in this story until the recent series rewrite, when I wanted to strengthen the sense of context. People who work in law firms must, quite naturally, interact with lawyers at some point. That little addition also gave me the opportunity to say something topical, which I hadn’t done in the original version.
Familiarity is an advantage to me in writing the law-firm setting. The setting itself is an advantage in that I know law firms are rife with frustrated creatives. These people typically have predictable schedules and relatively high incomes. Those two latter factors open up a realistic way to create characters who can actually afford to pursue creative hobbies.
A number of other L.A. Stories protagonists (including the hero and heroine of my work-in-progress novel) also work in law offices. Kelli, heroine of ‘All the Bars on Sunset,’ works in human resources. Rory, one of the heroines of ‘Stripped,’ at one point works in records. Ray, hero of ‘Mating Dance,’ is a paralegal when he’s not pursuing his acting career.
Not all of the L.A. Stories protagonists are creatives (in the conventional sense). Several are actually lawyers! James and Silvia, hero and heroine of ‘Vintage,’ are respectively a law-firm associate and an independent consultant who’s passed the California bar without attending law school. (This is a real thing people can do, though few manage it.) Stella and Frank, heroine and hero of ‘The Whole Truth,’ are both attorneys.
One of the reasons I have paired these people up is that we do often find (if not deliberately look for) partners or mates in those spaces of life where we spend the most time. Actors marry actors; dancers pair off with other dancers; bankers no doubt fall in love with bankers.
Lawyers as protagonists can be problematic because young lawyers are often broke, overworked, and terminally stressed-out. It’s not a state of mind conducive to forming a successful long-term relationship. James (in ‘Vintage’) is in this category, but is also carrying a torch for his college girlfriend Silvia. When they meet again, it’s the push he needs to seriously examine - and then change - how he approaches his work.
In ‘The Whole Truth,’ Stella has just started a partnership with several other young attorneys when she meets Frank, a top estate attorney nearly twice her age. They are at opposite ends of their careers, but have compatible approaches to their work … and a mutual love for Argentine tango.
Sometimes it’s the thing outside the profession that can draw people together. Vicky and Sharon are already friends at work, but it’s when they start exploring the dating world together - or, more accurately, at the same time - that things begin to evolve. Similarly, weeks of working together establish only that Stella and Frank can work together. It’s not until he takes her to a milonga that things change.
And that’s a thing I believe to be true about romance. We sometimes don’t see what’s in front of us until the background changes. It can happen to anyone … even lawyers.