Reading Their WritesBy: Margaret Lisi
Emory Law graduates shine as authors and communicators
To the students, Emory Law’s writing courses can be particularly challenging. However, those courses honed the skills not just of exceptional attorneys but several authors as well.
Over the past decade, quite a few graduates have seen books they’ve written crack Amazon’s online bookshelves or achieve national distribution by publishers. The books are as varied as the graduates themselves; one, a slim 52-page guide on services marketing, is as easy-going as its author. Another, at 245 pages, reflects its author in stories of what laughably can go wrong in the courtroom.
“I’VE ALWAYS SEEN LIFE’S EVENTS in terms of the stories I could later tell,” says Rita Lewis 96l of her book Excuse Me Your Honor…The Masturbating Defendant Just Called Me a Bitch. The book is a collection of unbelievable-but true stories Lewis has collected during her 13 years in criminal court.
“Being a prosecuting attorney in rural Butts County, Georgia, you see a little of everything,” Lewis explains. “I just started collecting all these really off-the-wall stories, and many people urged me to write a book.”
The title, which she had to fight for, came from one of these courtroom experiences. She describes herself as a “thoroughly Southern” woman with a taste for pearls.
“I think many defendants say things to me for shock value,” Lewis says. “Early in my career I had to practice some of the more embarrassing words I had to use in court in the mirror first. But it’s not possible to shock me anymore.” Lewis is working on two books—one about a Georgia murder, the other a second collection of courtroom stories.
JIM DURHAM 83L WANTED TO COLLECT more business when he wrote The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering. Written in one sitting, Durham says his Emory Law writing experience taught him the value of brevity and clarity. At 52 pages, the book is nevertheless packed with common-sense truths about what takes a lawyer from good to great. The content was gleaned over years of training lawyers and practices how to develop and keep business.
“In 1991, I went to a law firm as its marketing director,” Durham explains. “There, I started consulting with lawyers on how to build their businesses, and many asked for something that captured the concepts we covered during the training. For example, ‘good lawyers return phone calls promptly; great lawyers initiate phone calls.’ I’ve had several attorneys say ‘I read it on a plane and when I touched down, I made a couple of calls.’”
“It’s common sense ideas, not theory, that every lawyer can apply in their practice,” Durham continues. “It’s not a marketing book, but if you do the things in this book, business will come regardless of whether you’re a lawyer or other service provider.”
JOEY ASHER 94L BEGAN HIS CAREER as a journalist and credits his experience covering politics and crime contributed to his decision to enter law school. Though he has left practicing law to focus solely on his communications coaching business, Speechworks, Asher said his Emory Law experience still informs his writing and business.
“My books grew out of my experience helping people become better communicators,” Asher says. “My experience at Emory Law trained me in rigorous thinking. Law is about understanding issues, sifting through them and finding solutions. So is writing.”
Asher’s book, How to Win a Pitch: How to Create and Deliver Great New Business Presentations, provides readers with the solutions they need to attract and win business, regardless of their industry.
“As a consultant, you write a book to improve your business,” he says. How to Win a Pitch has been successful at delivering that result. Asher expects to complete his latest book on public speaking soon.
ONE OF THE MOST HARD-HITTING AUTHORS from Emory Law is Cynthia Cooper 76L. A former journalist based in New York City, she writes on issues related to women or social justice. Two of Cooper’s most notable works are The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens, which lays thelegal case for impeachment of the 43rd president, and A Mockery of Justice: The True Story of The Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case, a re-examination of one of the 20th century’s most sensational crimes.
Sheppard, convicted of the 1954 murder of his pregnant wife in their Cleveland-area home, served almost a decade in prison for a murder Cooper demonstrated he could not have committed. Her investigation took seven years to write, unearthed suppressed testimony and evidence and resulted in legal proceedings against her by many entities involved in the original trial.
The author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, Cooper agrees Emory Law helped her work.
“My legal training made me a much more rigorous thinker,” she says. “Emory taught me to challenge all assumptions, not skim over something because it’s easier.
To dig into each point and apply wonderful intellect to what, in terms of writing, might be half a sentence. As a journalist, I had the writing skills, but to be able to pierce the law and reflect it back in translation so people can understand it — even lawyers — took the grounding I received at Emory.”
Margaret Lisi is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
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