Barry Eisler entered Cornell Law School as part of what he jokingly calls the YEP—the Youth Extension Program.
“My parents thought, rightly so, that I lacked direction,” Eisler recalls. “My choice was not sufficiently bold or imaginative. My passions hadn’t emerged yet, so I took the path of least resistance.” He planned to become a corporate lawyer “just to be making a living.”
But a previous interest in diplomacy, foreign policy, and forbidden knowledge coalesced when he stumbled upon a CIA brochure at Cornell’s career center. After graduating in 1989, he landed a covert position at the agency. After three years there, Eisler joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Washington, D.C., working on countervailing duties and antidumping matters.
But he soon worried that he was becoming too specialized and getting caught in a rut. He’d always been interested in judo and the martial arts and wanted to train in Tokyo. So he took a leave of absence from the firm to handle contract law at a Japanese law firm and also to study judo.
“It was a good way to open myself up, to get a different kind of experience, including international law,” he recalls. After a year, he returned to Weil Gotshal, handling technology licensing from the Silicon Valley office. “That was a better fit. It was more interesting and satisfying than antidumping cases.”
After five months there, he returned to Japan when he was temporarily assigned to a Weil client for two years. When that assignment ended, he was soon hired as general counsel of a technology start-up in Silicon Valley.
Meanwhile, during all that time, at night and on planes, Eisler had been plugging away on a manuscript for what would become his novel Rain Fall. In 2002, he sold the rights in a two-book deal that was large “enough to quit my day job,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is what I really want to do.’”
Today, Eisler writes novels, short stories, and screenplays full time. He’s also become an evangelist for the indie publishing revolution. “The whole industry is in turmoil––it’s exciting and thrilling,” he explains. “Because of the ease of self-publishing, I can keep more of the proceeds from my writing.” For example, two short stories that he published a year and a half ago still earn him about $1,000 a month––each.
Eisler has been able to use his legal background to finesse licensing agreements. And he insists that the law is great training “for people who like stories. Many lawyers become writers because they like storytelling. In law, you’re using your imagination regarding relationships: with contracts, you’re addressing a relationship that hasn’t happened yet; with litigation, you’re crafting a story about what has happened.”
Vol. 41 No. 6