Author Scott Turow talks about legal fiction, his career as a writer and lawyer, and the nature of legal education.
|Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast|
Scott Turow is the author of ten bestselling works of fiction, including Identical, Innocent Presumed Innocent, and The Burden...
Daniel B. Rodriguez was appointed Dean and Harold Washington Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in January 2012. Before...
Bestselling author and lawyer Scott Turow has written 13 books, including the law school must-read One L, and Presumed Innocent, the novel credited with creating the legal fiction genre. In this episode of Planet Lex, host Daniel Rodriguez talks to Scott about legal fiction, his career as a writer and lawyer, and the nature of legal education. They also touch on Scott’s work to reform capital punishment and the legal complexities of being an author in the age of technology.
Scott Turow is the author of 11 bestselling novels and two nonfiction books, including One L, about his experience as a law student.
Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast
Scott Turow on Where Law and Literature Collide
Intro: Welcome to Planet Lex: The Podcast of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, with your host Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez, bringing it to you from Chicago, Illinois. Take it away Dan.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Hello and welcome to Northwestern Law’s Planet Lex, podcasting from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, Illinois. My name is Dan Rodriguez, your host. It’s a special treat today and joining me to talk about legal fiction and his illustrious career as a writer and lawyer is the great Scott Turow.
With his novel Presumed Innocent, which was published as long ago as 1987, Scott is credited with having invented a new genre, the modern legal thriller. He has written a total of 11 bestselling novels, including Testimony, which came out in May. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages, sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and have been adapted into movies and television projects.
His very first book published in 1977 was One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School, which is still considered the quintessential book about the law school experience. After graduating from Harvard Law, he worked at the US Attorney’s Office here in Chicago, largely focusing on cases that had centered on corruption in the legal profession.
Today, in his spare time, as it were, he is a part-time partner at Dentons, where he handles white-collar criminal litigation and takes on a number of pro bono cases. Scott grew up in Chicago and currently lives in Evanston. I want to thank you for joining me on the theme of you can’t take the boy out of Chicago, et cetera. I was in the Farmers Market on Saturday and I had my copy of Testimony under my arm and someone said, oh, is that Scott’s latest book? I said, yeah. He says what’s he working on these days? Say hi to him for me.
So you have a big global footprint and a big footprint here in Chicago.
Scott Turow: Yeah. Well, I have been — Chicagoans are remarkably loyal to anybody whose aura extends a little bit beyond the city. So they have been very kind and sometimes proud of me.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, this year marks the 40th anniversary of One L, your firsthand account of the first year at Harvard Law School and my team asked me in doing preparation for this to take a look at One L. I said read it, I lived it, but a few years after you graduated from Harvard and wrote this book. It’s never been out of print. Why do you think that One L has stood the test of time?
Scott Turow: As you would probably be the first to tell me Dan, legal education is not exactly the same, so it’s got to be something in the core law school experience as opposed to the actual mechanics, because even Harvard Law School is a kinder, gentler place than it was in those days. And I think there’s something about legal education more so than other professional educations that induces in law students in particular a sort of crisis of identity, because they are expected to speak the language of the law from the day they come through the doors even though they don’t really know the first thing about it.
In the nature of legal education kinder and gentler or not is always one about testing unverified assumptions that students bring into the classroom, which also can leave people with a sense that their core identity is under assault. And I think to the extent that One L weirdly like my novels focuses on issues of identity, I think that has really kept it current.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s interesting you use the phrase the nature of legal education, you don’t hear around the university setting as much; folks talk about the nature of business education and the nature of journalism education. There’s something as you describe it and certainly as you map out in One L almost intrinsic in the history and the approach to legal education.
Let me ask you a question about self-selection. I mean the anxiety that is so deeply embedded in the characters that you describe from your own experience in One L, how much of that is the nature, as it were, of folks who are drawn to go to law school and the personality types they have going in versus, as you just put it, sort of what happens to them once they enter those hallowed doors?
Scott Turow: Well, these days only the very, very best students go to law schools like this one or our mutual legal alma mater and many others, and so they are people who are very accustomed to success in the classroom. And because legal education, whether willfully or not, puts people on such an uncertain footing, having both the assumptions and language turned upside down on students, it is natural that they are going to feel anxious because this is the domain, the classroom where they have always succeeded.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Your daughter went to law school at Michigan in the early 2000s.
Scott Turow: She did.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: So you have some knowledge of what other schools are like and you have some knowledge of how law schools have evolved and changed. You wrote in the new Afterword to One L that when people ask how law schools have changed over the years, you say, “a great deal and not enough.” Can you expand on that a bit?
Scott Turow: Well, it is certainly true that there is more recognition that students need smaller classroom settings, in part. There is an emphasis, I am sure here, certainly at Harvard, in admitting that there are other career alternatives besides working in a big law firm, a lot more emphasis on public interest and government work. And it is no longer, I think, in most enlightened institutions, certainly this one, or a place like Harvard, it is no longer regarded as an achievement and macho to dominate and even humiliate your students. Those are good things, those are all good things, and I salute the legal educators who have captained these changes.
The problem, as I see it however, remains that legal education is still based on a model that makes it economically viable, because you have a large number of students being taught by a relatively small faculty. And that by itself produces certain dynamics that aren’t necessarily good. It’s still the norm at most law schools and I really don’t know what your practice is here, but in most classes you are graded on one exam offered at the end of the term, which is naturally going to cause anxieties to reach fever level at certain times of the year.
And there is really no way given the economic structure of law schools to change that. You would have to quadruple the faculty which, it’s very expensive, particularly in law schools, because you are trying to attract people who have the alternative of practicing law and making frankly buckets of money since they are really good lawyers to start with.
So the alternative of saying, oh, well, we are going to have a lot more professors, that’s not really at hand, and that’s a problem because, like it or not, it’s still kind of a assembly line education. People are being marched through in large numbers with one person sort of in charge of stamping the impression on them.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: I just was thumbing through One L and in the Afterword, which for whatever it’s worth, as someone who spent my entire career in legal education, it is a remarkably shrewd depiction of law school life nowadays, and I think fairly captured. You note and you have noted in your comments here acknowledged progress that’s been made, even at our alma mater Harvard.
I have to tell a very quick anecdote. My law school classmate Elena Kagan, who went on to serve as Dean, her first bold move as Dean sort of happened simultaneously, put in an ice rink out in the middle of the square, as you heard, and improving the student gym. That seemed so peculiar except that that contribution of well-being would have been unknown at the time that we were there.
Scott Turow: Right, just to interrupt for a second. Elena, who is also an acquaintance of mine, enough that I can refer to her by her first name, gets in my view tremendous responsibility for turning the battleship of Harvard Law School around, and the message she delivered sub silentio to the faculty was, this place is not just about you, our students also matter, and that’s our real outcome.
And it’s not really law review articles or even this day the weird metric of television appearances, it’s our students that really leave our footprint in our profession and she emphasized that.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Absolutely. So let me sort of test in some sense your description of what’s grim about law school and legal education, notwithstanding the improvements. So I mean as a very important lawyer and a novelist, I am sure you get questions about going to law school, should I go to law school, where should I go to law school. We are in a world now where folks publish books whose titles are don’t go to law school and the last failing law schools and all of that. What advice do you give them?
Scott Turow: Again, somebody who has taught at Northwestern Law School, my friend Steve Harper, who published a book about the law called The Unhappiest Profession. My advice almost always is to go to law school, and I say it for a couple of reasons. Now, if somebody said should I go to law school or should I go to business school, I am a little more up in the air, just because I think the economic prospects today may be better for people who go to business school, but I think that the legal education is still a really probing, incisive education, especially if you go with a willingness to be critical about what that education is asking you to adopt.
So I may just be being egocentric in saying go to law school, the way people always tend to justify their own lives and see their own lives as a model. What I do caution people about is that there is a distinction between going to law school and practicing law, and while I have loved the part of my life as a practicing lawyer, you can’t practice law unless you are willing to accept the assumptions of law practice. For many of us that’s a good thing and it can be a fruitful thing, but it’s a very, very, very hard job. But law school equips you to do many different things. You can work in policy. Every agent who represents me in Hollywood is a law school graduate.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Some even admit that.
Scott Turow: Yeah, yeah, you have to press them for a while. And you meet people in the business world who are all law school graduates. So it can prepare you for a lot of different paths.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Again, to hearken back to One L, you wrote very much of course a product of its times in an important sense and you talk in the book about how greater interest in law schools was correlated to a large degree in post-Watergate era and American interests due to Watergate and all of that.
We are sort of in an unusual time of course now, where there is, not my phrase, but someone coined this phrase, the Trump bump. Even in the last year a slight uptick in the number of applicants to law school who want to use their law degrees to fight against President Trump’s policies or fight for the folks they feel Trump is endangering. Do you see a connection there?
Scott Turow: Yeah, I do see a connection, and I am sorry to interrupt. Times like this where whether you like President Trump or don’t like President Trump, I think virtually everyone admits that he is a somewhat erratic personality, and that leaves people with questions about, well, how do you stabilize government, and the answer always is law. And the mantra that was part of Watergate that in today’s parlance no person is above the law is a really important one and people are, I think, probably going to discover before the end of this presidency the salience of that observation.
And that again will direct people back toward the law, because the law frankly, I think, is what’s going to, if not save us, if that’s not too strong a term, and may prove to be, but it’s certainly going to strengthen us in confronting government by Twitter.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: So I want to ask you about your incredibly important work beginning in 2000 on capital punishment. If I may give a short shout out to my law school, it was Governor Ryan who announced here at the law school a number of years ago the moratorium on the death penalty and then of course Governor Pat Quinn soon thereafter announced the abolition of capital punishment in Illinois. So I would like you to reflect a little bit on your own work and the evolution of that development here in the state.
Scott Turow: Sure. And you are not giving this institution enough credit, so let me swing incense for you.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Please.
Scott Turow: And my involvement in the representation of Alex Hernandez was in tandem with the Center on Wrongful Convictions here at Northwestern and in particular a Northwestern Law School faculty member Lawrence Marshall, who certainly did more, in my opinion, than any one person in Illinois to lead to the abolition of the death penalty.
And Larry and I had a discussion. He was representing Rolando Cruz, who was the lead defendant and I was representing Alex Hernandez, and he called me up and he said I want to start this Center on Wrongful Convictions here at Northwestern. And I said, oh Larry, you and I both know that that’s not what’s wrong with the death penalty and that what really is wrong with the death penalty is its shockingly unequal application and essential randomness.
He said, yeah, that’s right, he says, but I don’t think Americans are willing to accept the idea of executing innocent people, and he was a 1,000% right and the massive moving, horrifying injustice of seeing innocent people sentenced to death has done more I think than anything else to erode support for capital punishment here in Illinois.
It deeply troubled George Ryan, who was a man of many strengths and many, many weaknesses, but he was our Governor, and he experienced signing death warrants, which he had to do once while he was Governor, as being almost incomprehensible and inconsistent with the way he viewed government. And he announced a moratorium on executions because of my representation principally of Alex, although I had done other pro bono work in the capital area.
I was appointed to the Commission that Governor Ryan appointed to study capital punishment and he asked us the question, he basically put to the Commission was, what changes, if any, would make the application of the death penalty in Illinois fair, just and acceptable? And I came in with an open mind about that question. This certainly was the best exercise in public service that I have been through because of the high mindedness of all 14 people on the Commission.
And we had very different points of view, very different experiences. We ranged from a man Roberto Ramirez, whose father had been murdered in Mexico and whose grandfather had then gone out to avenge that murder, murdered another man, murdered the killer and then was a fugitive; that’s how Roberto got to Chicago, and prosecutors, some who believed passionately in the death penalty, people with defense experience who were opposed and people like me who were just completely in the middle.
But everybody put their shoulder to the wheel and we had two years of great work and wonderful deliberation. And at the end of that period there was a significant switch on the Commission about whether the death penalty was ever going to be acceptable and we all came at it from a lawyer’s point of view, for the most part, and the conclusion in just a few words is this thing is never going to work. It’s never going to give you what you think you want.
If you want a higher moral justice for the worst crimes that human beings can commit, that’s understandable and perhaps even consistent with Western moral traditions. But then the application of the death penalty has to be rigorous and one that sends the kind of clear moral message that you want, if that’s what it’s for. Well, you look at the way it’s applied and it has never been applied in a way that sends a clear moral message in the sense that the worst people get the worst punishment.
And it’s haphazard in so many different ways that have been discussed and documented and I am happy to go into detail, but the bottom line is, it just doesn’t work.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Let me ask you this, I assume, and tell me whether this assumption is incorrect, that you were finding that bad process not unique to Illinois but intrinsic in how capital punishment was being administered. To the extent that’s true, did you expect that this would have an impact on the application of capital punishment in other states, even though you were obviously charged and tasked with focusing on Illinois?
Scott Turow: Illinois certainly was a significant moment in the evolution of opposition to the death penalty. And the political courage that was involved first in appointing this Commission and then publishing its findings and then pursuing reform and ultimately abolition involves a number of people, but that process attracted attention all over the country. And so states like New Jersey and Maryland followed us in abolishing the death penalty, and then more surprisingly, states like Nebraska, and that is a slow march, but it is still an inexorable one. And I do think that we are looking to a place and time when the death penalty is going to be gone in the United States.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Let me shift our focus to your career, your ongoing career in writing legal fiction, as I noted in the introduction, Presumed Innocent, your first novel is said to have launched the genre of legal theories, sorry, legal thrillers, maybe legal theories as well, published 30 years ago.
How do you come up with your ideas? Do they come directly from your experience in law practice? How do you develop the ideas that result in the novels that you have written and write?
Scott Turow: I am really no different than any other novelist in that regard and writing a novel, whether you are me or anybody else, is going to take a lot of concentration and a period of time; in my case usually about three years. Well, that means it’s got to be an idea that’s going to continue to be exciting to me. And so I just ask myself if this particular setting or this particular subject is likely to reverberate for me over a long period of time.
And the test of that is that, I have thought of this idea a long time before and I continue to feel over a process of years, oh, that’s going to be interesting to write about so that just to take the last novel I published, Testimony, I had been thinking about writing about the International Criminal Court or actually International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague for probably — well, certainly more than a decade.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Can I jump in on that?
Scott Turow: Sure.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Not from your resume, from your experience, you could attribute much of at least the scenarios for the criminal justice system and of many of your novels to some aspects of your career, not so in the International Criminal Court.
Scott Turow: Sure.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s not obvious. So where was the draw to that as a topic of interest?
Scott Turow: Well, I was in The Hague in the year 2000, very ironically, to tie our conversation together, same day that Matt Bettenhausen, the Deputy Governor called me and said, do you want to serve on this Capital Punishment Commission, but I was in The Hague and I went to this reception at the American Ambassador’s house; The Hague being the sort of second capital of the Netherlands and very much the diplomatic one.
And I found myself surrounded by a group of American lawyers, who were insisting you have got to write a book about this place, you have got to write a book about this place. And usually when people tell me you have got to write a book about this.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: That’s the last book you want to write.
Scott Turow: Well, yeah, it’s usually about their divorce and —
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Get the story out.
Scott Turow: Yeah. But the reasons that people had, everything from the nature of the cases, the problems of proof, the diplomatic and political back channels that exist in these courts, and even the personal lives that get a little twisted in a locale where most people are working for extended periods of time away from home, it all sounded pretty inviting.
And I didn’t approach this as a subject that I couldn’t learn. Most litigators go through the experience of having to master subject areas, at least well enough to fool the jury, and the same thing with a popular audience in writing fiction. And I had a lot of help. It was extraordinarily interesting research. And so everything that that group of lawyers said to me, those men and women, proved to me to be true.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s a wonderful novel. Also, I was intrigued, maybe only as a law nerd could be, with the acknowledgments page, because you were very, very generous with noting folks who had helped on your research. So you talk about 2000, many years ago, it seems like that was while you were also writing other novels, an idea that took — and research that took a fair amount of time to percolate.
Scott Turow: Right, it did, although I got serious about it probably around 2011 and I did have a lot of help. People were wonderful to me, both at the court, where as the novel explains, there’s considerable hostility to the United States, because the United States has exhibited considerable hostility toward the International Criminal Court, but everybody set that aside and they were — there are still a number of Americans working there, and they, and Brits and Germans and everybody else was very open with me, including some of the judges. So they were very helpful and I acknowledge their assistance with heartfelt thanks.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Over the course of the 11 novels that you have written, again beginning in 1987 and coming to the present, are there any that you would go back and change and write differently if you were writing them today or writing them over?
Scott Turow: Well, first of all, that’s a great question and it’s an astute one. And the reality is there is no novel I wrote, everything from Presumed Innocent forward that with the advantage of hindsight I wouldn’t change in some ways. And sometimes there are episodes that I kind of cringe at, oh, why did you do that and sentences that seem infelicitous or plot turns that I would love to have back, but the answer to that is write another book. And that’s the one that every novelist gets to take.
And the old saying is for novelists, what is your favorite novel and the answer is the one I am working on now, because that’s when you can lie to yourself that this one is going to be perfect.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, one, I want to call this a device and I don’t mean that in any pejorative way, but you actually in a number of novels have brought back recurring characters.
Scott Turow: Yes.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Some other novelists do the same, and so those of us who have sort of lived with your books and read all of your books look forward in some sense to the next chapter, as it were, in the life of those characters. Why do you do that?
Scott Turow: I just love it and to me it reflects life as I have experienced it, and for many, many years I rode the commuter train from at that point Wilmette, Illinois downtown. And I would see the same people get on the train. I would have no clue who they were. And then a decade passes and somehow that person moves in next door or ends up as a client or becomes a friend through hobbies like golf. It’s bizarre, but all of a sudden people move from the complete background where they are no more than familiar faces passing on the commute to people who have an involvement, sometimes an intimate involvement in your life.
And that’s exactly what happens in my novels. That’s what happens in Kindle County, that characters who are in the background in one book all of a sudden become the center of attention in another one, and I just think that’s very faithful to life.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: I have a bone to pick with you too, which is to say in some genres of legal fiction or TV shows, I am thinking of The Good Wife and others, those that are set in Chicago, those occasional shout out to real places like say Northwestern Law School, but not you, not me. Kindle County is not Cook County and I forget the law school that the characters in Testimony went to, but it wasn’t Northwestern.
Scott Turow: It’s not.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: So you are going to put us in.
Scott Turow: It’s Eastern Law School, which is —
Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s sort of close.
Scott Turow: It’s pretty close if you if you review the descriptions of Eastern College, it sounds more like Northwestern than any other institution. But I blundered into Kindle County by complete accident while I was writing Presumed Innocent. I thought I was setting the book in Boston, but I spent so many years writing it that what was meant to be Boston ended up more closely resembling Chicago. So I had to give it a name and then it was a totally fictional place.
Second book I wanted to write about Sandy Stern while he lived in Kindle County so I was going to be in Kindle County again and for the reasons we have talked about, I have stayed here. But it’s really Kindle County is a city more the size of Boston with otherwise many, many of the attributes of Chicago.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Do you expect that you will write other nonfiction books in you, as it were, or is that in your rearview mirror?
Scott Turow: I have always been a fan of the books that Norman Mailer wrote somewhat later in his life, like Advertisements for Myself, where he took his previous nonfiction, usually nonfiction pieces and sort of tied them together with personal commentary, everything from intellectual excursions about what he was writing about to just memoir of what produced those particular pieces. And I have always promised myself I am going to do that at least, so we will see what happens.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Let me come back to the connection and you are asked certainly about this over and over again between your legal practice and your experience as a lawyer and your novels and actually a quote from New York Times interview. You said, “Trial lawyers know how to sell a case whether it’s in court or on Oprah or at a bookstore signing. Do you think it’s true?
Scott Turow: Sure. I mean of course. One of the great educations that I received as a prosecutor that I did not get as a Writing Fellow at Stanford is how to understand and address a popular audience, and you both have to go low and high in the way you do that.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Can I just jump in on that?
Scott Turow: Sure.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Did you — a lot of negatives in the sense, but did you not get that education because at a place like Stanford or the program you were in they were looking down on popular audiences, they just regarded that as not — as sort of beneath what they were teaching you?
Scott Turow: Well, the short answer is yes, the dominant sort of view in the world of literature in general was the one that Ezra Pound expressed when he said, “The poet is the antenna of the race, and thus he will never be understood by the bullet-headed many.” So this said that art was above the comprehension of the masses.
Now, there is another tradition Tolstoy who said that the idea that great art can’t be appreciated by most people that this is as silly as saying that great food can’t be eaten by most people. And I was always more on the Tolstoy side, but there was in my day even at a program like Stanford, which was dominated more by realists than people who wrote so-called new fiction, even there, there was not a lot of talk about the audience.
There was a lot of great talk about writing and writers and what’s on the page, but very, very little talk about how somebody who is reading this say without several years of graduate school education is going to understand a particular passage.
But when you get into a courtroom and you are trying to convict somebody of a crime, you better understand the terms of address that work well for a popular audience, meaning 12 people sort of dragged in off the street to decide the fate of another human being.
So I found my time as a prosecutor and the year since as a trial lawyer an extraordinary postgraduate education in the temper of a popular audience.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Do you think that those of us in the legal academy who have sort of in the course of our careers been focused and devoted ourselves to writing legal scholarship, writing books and articles and all of that, which is very sort of rarefied kind of writing, are by and large wasting our time, and by wasting our time I mean really spending an enormous amount of effort for just a tiny little impact?
Scott Turow: Well, legal scholarship is unique in the sense that — and we go back to Elena’s, the substance of her remarks to the Harvard Law School faculty, which is perhaps the greatest part of your impact as law professors is what you have on your students. The scholarship very often is aimed at influencing judges, because that’s where the only lasting changes in a common law system come from.
So it’s not like doing research in physics where you are going to discover a new particle that’s going to forever change the way everybody in the field sees the world; it’s kind of indirect when you are a law professor. And all I can say is that although I have published a couple of law review articles, especially early in my career, it’s not where I have wanted to spend my time.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Let me — we are running close to the end, but I want to, if I could, shift entirely to sort of the world of legal issues surrounding book publishing, fast moving, issues regarding piracy, copyright, fair use, and places like Amazon taking on publishing and trying to push out publishers at Google Books to publish entire books. I am not sure I get to a question other than the broad one, what do you think about developments in the state of publishing today as an author and as a lawyer?
Scott Turow: Well, I am the former President and still a board member of the Authors Guild, which is the largest organization of professional writers in the country, and my view in a few words is that the digital universe has been both good for writers in the sense that the barriers to entry have been greatly lowered and really bad, because — and even more than was true before we have enormous capitalist enterprises; Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook who are dominating that universe, and they dominate it because they have intellectual property of their own that ends up being controlling. And authors are getting squashed because they are the low people in the power hierarchy.
So you have Amazon essentially engaged in predatory pricing of e-books and I say that recognizing that their conduct has been criticized by the courts but never found to be illegal. You have Google, which has somehow sold the argument that you can use — that they can use an entire book and that can still be fair use. I still am scratching my head about that one. But all of these changes authors tend to come out on the short end of the stick, not to say that the traditional publishers deserve any medals either, because they have changed the royalty structure with the advent of e-books. They have said, oh, we are paying authors too much and so they have basically gone from paying 50% of the proceeds to authors to a quarter of the proceeds to the authors.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Why don’t the authors have more power, not only as a result of organizations like the Authors Guild, but the fact that any way you slice it as was the case 300 years ago and still today is, they have the content, but without authors, without then Google and Amazon these devices wouldn’t thrive?
Scott Turow: Sure. And if you talk to somebody who has been blessed for three decades to refer to himself as a bestselling novelist, yeah, I have power, I have market power and I can say to my publishers, well, I don’t care what you do to the average _______, you are not going to do it to me. I want more than 25% of the proceeds. When I came into this business I was getting 50% and I want to come closer to that.
And sure, you know, I will get it and Grisham and Stephen King will get even more, but it doesn’t change the nature of the game for people who are desperate, just to get published. And there are contracts of adhesion, to use the law school terminology, and they take what they are offered.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s also struck me, I mean this is an oversimplification, but unlike let’s say the music industry, there are no natural substitutes, which is to say an author needs to be published in order to have their work disseminated and out to an audience. You are a great band, you may even in the demise of the CD business go out and be the next Phish, the next Grateful Dead, not all are going to become that, but you have the ability to perform, to basically actualize your art in some way.
What does the Great American Novel do for the author or for society stuck in the drawer?
Scott Turow: Right, and we do have the alternative of self-publishing; the problem is that it’s very, very rare for somebody to break out of that world. The most self-published books probably earn about $500, and in most instances don’t even cover the costs that authors have to bear. And unlike, as you point out, musicians who can still give concerts and have that way of reaching the audience directly and getting paid for it, authors these days don’t get paid for those bookstore appearances and so they have no alternative to publication.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Great. Can I just conclude by asking the same question that everybody asks you at the end of the interview, which is, what’s next? What are you working on next?
Scott Turow: I am writing a novel, sort of apropos of some of the things we have talked about. I am going back to my beloved Sandy Stern and writing about what, since Stern these days is about 85, what will clearly be his last trial.
Daniel B. Rodriguez: Great. So I want to thank Scott Turow for being our guest this morning. This is Dan Rodriguez, signing off from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
Outro: If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit HYPERLINK “http://www.law.northwestern.edu/planetlex” law.northwestern.edu/planetlex or HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com.
Subscribe via iTunes and RSS. Find both Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Northwestern University, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
|Published:||October 18, 2017|
|Podcast:||Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast|
|Category:||Law School , Legal Entertainment , Legal News|
Planet Lex is a series of conversations about the law, law and society, law and technology, and the future of legal education and practice. In other words, a bunch of interesting stuff about the law.
Kate Shaw and Megan Murphy talk about their experience as lawyers in the media, the many legal issues facing journalists and pundits, and whether...
Michael Kang talks about everything election law, from partisan gerrymandering and the constitutional issues involved in redistricting, to the effects of voter ID laws....
Tonja Jacobi and Sarah Schrup talk about major issues facing the Supreme Court and the implications they have on our democracy.
Alexa Van Brunt speaks on the police brutality and bias in Chicago and the draft consent decree to reform the Chicago Police Department.
Zach Fardon talks about the problems within Chicago, the root causes, and how to address it.
Mark Cohen and Eva Bruch talk about what’s broken within the legal industry around the world.