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Law as Writer’s Fodder


Vol. 40 No. 2
ByLeslie A. Gordon

Leslie A. Gordon is a secret lawyer who has been working as a freelance legal affairs journalist for more than 10 years.
Even though she only practiced law for three years, science fiction writer Melinda Snodgrass says she has never regretted going to law school.

After graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Law, where she focused on constitutional law and legal history, Snodgrass spent three years practicing law––first at Sandia National Laboratories (“dull,” she says) and then at a corporate law firm (“hated it”). “I adored the study of law,” she recalls, “but I found the practice unsatisfying.”

Snodgrass had spent her early years studying ballet and opera, and her best friend, an author who knew about Snodgrass’s artistic past, suggested that she try her hand at writing. “He took me to a party with writers. They were smart, funny, and interesting. I decided to quit the law one afternoon––I typed up a resignation and walked out.”

While writing her first science fiction book, The Circuit Trilogy, about a federal court judge riding circuit in the solar system, Snodgrass published six romance novels under a pseudonym. She also co-created and edited the Wild Cards Series, an anthology.

After success with novel writing and on the suggestion of another friend, Snodgrass branched out into scriptwriting. She wrote a spec script for Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “The Measure of a Man,” a courtroom drama based on the Dred Scott decision that examined whether Data was a person or property. She not only sold the script but was later nominated for a Writers Guild Award. She went on to write for other TV shows, including Reasonable Doubts.

Lately, she’s been back at novel writing, working on The Edge series, a contemporary urban fantasy about a young human lawyer practicing at a vampire “white fang” law firm. The first in this series, titled This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, will be published next year.

Snodgrass had no difficulty transitioning from law to writing, she says. “Law teaches you to write and to meet deadlines. At first, I wasn’t good at writing, but I got better and I worked hard to get better. The grounding of being a good writer came from my legal education.”

Similarly, she regularly draws on her law school–learned ability to analyze and to break down a situation into its component parts, which “is important to plotting novels and is essential to writing scripts,” she says. “Plus, lawyers are taught to look at things from both sides, if not four or five sides. That helps with novel writing. For example, it’s easier to step into the point of view of both my villain and my hero.”

Even though Snodgrass only practiced law for three years, she says she’s never regretted going to law school. “It fueled a number of my books and started my career.”

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