One of the great things about having this blog is that it has brought me into contact with a wide variety of interesting people, among them other bloggers, journalists, academics and writers. Among the interesting people I have come to know is Susan Beck, who is not only a Senior Writer for The American Lawyer, but also, it turns out, a neighbor of mine here in Northeast Ohio.
Over coffee with Susan recently, I decided it would be interesting to interview her for this blog. The fruits of my interview are reproduced below, with my questions in italics.
By way of further background, Susan has worked at the American Lawyer since 1987. She writes feature articles for the magazine (her most recent feature was about the Bratz doll dispute between Mattel and MGA Entertainment). She also writes items for and edits the Am Law Litigation Daily, and she write the weekly Summary Judgment opinion column for the Litigation Daily.
Here is my interview with Susan:
Q. I know that you went into legal journalism after several years of law practice. How did you get into legal journalism and why?
A. I was feeling dissatisfied and at first thought that I should change firms. But after a few interviews I realized that changing firms wouldn’t make things much better. I knew someone who had left his law firm job for the American Lawyer and talked to him. The job sounded exciting, especially the relative freedom it offered. .I got hired even though I had absolutely no journalism experience. I doubt I’d even get an interview today.
Q. The legal profession and the legal industry have changed quite a bit during the time you have been covering it as a journalist. From your perspective, how has the legal practice and legal industry changed and what do you think of the changes?
A.: To be honest, I’m still amazed at how little the legal profession has changed in the last 30 years. Law firms are still pretty much run the same way they were in the early 1980s, and so are law schools. The biggest change is that there are many more women in the profession, although they still are underrepresented at the top.
Q. I am a big fan of your Summary Judgment column, which you write with a little bit of an attitude. How did the column come about, and are you as cranky as you seem in that column? How do you decide what to write about in the column?
A.: Cranky! Me? Okay, I do have my cranky side, but I like to think of myself as generally a pretty easygoing, pleasant person. But I do have strong opinions, which can sound cranky in print.
The column came about from my work on the Litigation Daily. We all write with a bit of attitude in those items, but I wanted to go further and expound on subjects I care about. I get a lot of my ideas on my morning run. I tend to mull over things while I’m running (some might call it obsessing), and often an idea for a column will pop into my head. By the time I’m finished with my run, I’ll often have the column half written in my head.
I have to give a lot of credit to Alison Frankel, who edits the columns. She helps me identify topics, and does a wonderful job sharpening the pieces. She deserves all the credit for making the Litigation Daily such a great read.
Q. I am always impressed how you and your Am Law Litigation Daily colleagues find a number of interesting things to write about every day. How do you come up with your stories, and what sort of criteria do you use in choosing your stories?
A.: I wish it were more of a science, but we just keep our eyes open throughout the day for interesting litigation news. Some starts with other websites, some items are sent to us directly by lawyers, and some things come from checking court dockets. Our criteria, for the most part, are that is should be business litigation news that’s relevant to litigators at big firms.
Q. The legal journalism arena has changed quite a bit during your years of involvement. What do you think of the changes and where do you think it is heading?
A.: My job has certainly changed a lot. Just a few years ago I mostly wrote in-depth feature articles for The American Lawyer magazine, spending several months working on each article. I still write feature articles, but I spend about half my time on breaking news and commentary that goes right up on the web. Some days I crank out three stories a day, which is pretty grueling. I’m not sure where this is all headed, but obviously the trend is toward more immediate information.
Q.: Is there a story or a case you have always wanted to write about but you have never had the chance?
A.: I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t been able to find a good legal stories arising from the recent financial crisis that would work for our audience of big firm lawyers. I’ve been looking for a story that hasn’t already been covered by the mainstream press, and I’m not getting anywhere. (Any suggestions are welcome.)
Q.: If you could interview one member of the legal profession, who would it be and why?
A.: Marty Lipton on truth serum. He probably knows all the best secrets.
Q.: When you write your book, what is it going to be about?
A. How the Cleveland Indians, with an improbable, but lovable collection of unknown players, win the World Series.
Q.: I know you moved back to Cleveland not too long ago after living in San Francisco and New York for many years. How is it being back in Cleveland after living in those other cities?
A.: I love it. There are a lot of great things about New York and San Francisco, but I feel a level of comfort in Cleveland that I missed in those other cities. It’s a lovely place to live. The cost of living is so much better, the people are so nice and friendly, and I even prefer the weather. Those SF summers were way too cold and foggy, and I like snowy winters. On the down side, all our pro sports teams really suck right now.
I was surprised by Susan’s answer about the book she would write . I had not suspected her of being a writer of fantasy fiction.