Tags: Aidan Donnelley Rowley, BigLaw, Life After Yes
Like any good junior associate, I find it impossible not to check Above the Law. It’s the legal equivalent of the clichéd train wreck… can’t. look. away. One day while trolling through the most recent associate layoff statistics, I found a link to a blog called Ivy League Insecurities and was of course intrigued because, hey, I have a few Ivy League degrees and — as demonstrated, for example, by my need to mention them — I’m insecure.
What I found behind this website, however, was a wonderful surprise (one that suggests that perhaps all that ATL trolling can amount to something good?). Aidan Donnelley Rowley graduated from Columbia Law School in 2003 and worked for a stint as a litigation associate at a big New York firm before leaving her high-rise office to write a novel and start a family. I was attracted initially to her blog as a fellow attorney and mother, but as I got to know Aidan through her writing, the dormant writer in me was both inspired by and ticked by her tangible enthusiasm — her admittedly rookie glee — during the months and weeks leading up to the publication of her first novel, Life After Yes. Her anticipation was infectious, and Life After Yes finally debuted last month.
Life After Yes stars Quinn, an Ivy League, Big Law attorney who is, on the outside, living a “successful” life. As Quinn begins to encounter the realities of adult life, however — her engagement and the repercussions of her father’s death — she questions (in sometimes inappropriate ways) not only those relationships but the definition of success itself. What’s next? Quinn asks. And who am I? While the story may be somewhat archetypal, Quinn’s humor and cynicism and wit and real emotion are unique to her.
Aidan will be the first to tell you that her heroine, Quinn, is not autobiographical, but clearly Aidan’s experience as a lawyer is infused throughout Life After Yes. I thought it would be fun to ask her about writing about the law and about being a laywer and about being a lawyer-writer-mom, and she graciously indulged me.
When the time came to think about life after college, my mind immediately went to more school. I have always loved school – the classroom culture, the debate, even the papers and deadlines. And then I thought a bit about it and decided that it would be law school since it would “open so many doors.” (At the time, I didn’t think about how many it would close.) My favorite classes at law school were the theory-based. (These were essentially thinly-disguised philosophy courses.)
What type of law did you practice? Do you miss it?
I was a litigation associate during the short time I practiced. I have never once regretted my decision to walk away and focus on my writing and family, but I am nostalgic for the BigLaw world sometimes. There are odd moments when I am immersed in my current reality of baby tears and torn jeans when I miss the power, the pulse, even the pinstripes.
Do you still consider yourself a lawyer?
This is a hard one. I’m not sure I ever considered myself a lawyer. I am not sure whether that was because I didn’t practice for long or because being a lawyer was never going to be me. What’s interesting is that very often, when asked what I do, I say, “I’m a lawyer who writes.” I think I throw that out there because of insecurity, because I know that being a lawyer is seen as quintessentially impressive. Only recently have I begun saying what I should say, what I am proud to say: “I am a writer.”
Was it fun writing about a fictional attorney at a fictional BigLaw firm? Are your former colleagues going to see themselves or their firm in the book?
It was fun and freeing to write about the BigLaw world, particularly because Life After Yes is pure fiction. I was able to cobble together stories I had collected from friends and colleagues. I was able to dream up characters and scenarios and knit them together into a story. If my former colleagues see themselves or the firm in my book, I have succeeded. Because that means I have captured something of the universal ethos of this world. What surprises many is that I did not have a miserable time at my law firm. To the contrary, life was quite pleasant and peaceful. I left because I started to dream of doing other things. As such, when I sat down to write Life After Yes, I had zero intention of penning a scandalous portrait of law firm life. I just wanted to use that life, that world, as a backdrop to make a bigger existential point.
How has being an attorney influenced you as a writer? As a mother?
I am sure that being an attorney has affected me as a writer and as a mother, but it is hard to articulate how. One thing that the law has taught me is the importance of verbal economy and efficiency. It is critical to say what we mean and mean what we say. This lesson, this profound lesson, has great currency in both creative writing and parenting, I think.
You’ve created a career of which many disgruntled attorneys probably dream. What’s the best/worst part of that?
The best part is that I am prime evidence that there is life after law if you want there to be. That if you allow yourself to dream, if you acknowledge your aspirations, however imprudent or intangible, they can in fact lead somewhere. Many would say that the worst part is that I am in so many ways a cliché. There are countless lawyers who want to write and who do write. I don’t really care about this. Lump me with them. I am now doing what I love.