How To “Write What You Know” Without Getting Disbarred

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Written by Erin Lyon

We’ve all heard the saying, “Write what you know.” Well, I’m a lawyer and we have this pesky little thing called “confidentiality.”

So, how do you write what you know without getting into hot water? Very carefully.

My books, I Love You Subject to the Following Terms and Conditions and the sequel, Unconditionally, follow the life of newbie-lawyer Kate Shaw through both romantic tribulations and legal shenanigans.

And I actually do this for a living so I can attest to the “shenanigans” part. Being an attorney gives you an interesting perspective into people’s lives and behaviors. Not *my* clients, of course. They are all amazing and are always on the right side of the fight. But other people’s clients … wall to wall shenanigans.

In Unconditionally, Kate runs into not one, but two, ex-boyfriends in court – one of whom is in a lovely prison-orange jumpsuit. Well, filed under the write what you know category, I really did see a long lost (very long, very lost) boyfriend in court. Shackled. And it really did look like orange was his color. And, in my brief stint working as a prosecutor, I did end up seeing not one, but two, exes. I’m not certain if they recognized me. Kate, however, isn’t so lucky, allowing me to envision in the most hilarious ways possible how much more embarrassing those encounters could have been.

I’ve also had more than my share of clients going all Hatfields and McCoys with their neighbors. Neighbor feuds begin gradually, but escalate quickly until you having seemingly rational people doing entirely irrational things. So, how do I take these clients and make them indecipherable from reality for my books? It’s a lot like baking.

Start with the proper ingredients: one offensive lawn ornament, one jealous husband, one trespassing pooch, 20 calls to local law enforcement, and a dash of crazy. Now let it stew over medium heat for five to ten years and voila! Kate gets a case with dueling exes living next door to each other and chaos reigns. By drawing inspiration from several different cases, adding tweaks where necessary (along with some creative license), my clients are undetectable and I get to keep my bar card to fight another day.

Being a lawyer, I also have many lawyer friends who share their own tales of jaw-dropping behavior which I’m able to mine stories from – such as the story of a young woman attempting to get child-support from an in-custody baby-daddy. When they were looking the man up in the computer, they requested his birthdate and when the (very) young mother heard her ex-lover’s birthdate, she loudly complained that she’d…um… had relations with “an old guy.” In open court. Loud enough to be overheard by everyone in the courtroom. Word to the wise – open court means just that. And anything overheard in open court is fair game for a writer.

So, in summation, put your facts in a blender and embellish liberally. And change the names to protect the innocent. And the crazy. And, lastly, if you say it in open court, it’s going in the book.

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Follow Erin Lyon on Twitter and on her website.