Could You Trade Billables for Bestsellers? Lauren Willig Did.

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lauren Willig is just your typical Harvard Law grad who published three best-selling romance novels while she was in law school. No big deal.

After all, writing novels while studying law isn't as hard as writing novels while working as a summer associate -- or as a litigation associate -- at one of the top firms in New York.

Oh, wait. She did that, too.

After publishing four historical romance novels and signing a contract for two more, Willig left BigLaw to focus on writing her New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series. These days, Willig writes full-time, but she credits her law firm experience with making her a better author. How are the two fields related, you ask? Think time, turnaround, and an endless source of topics.


If you think that a writing career offers better hours than a legal career, think again. "On the whole, I'd say my hours are commensurate to those I worked as a litigator, with the difference that now it's largely self-driven," she said. "Right now, I'm under contract for four books to two different publishers, and, if I can keep to schedule, will have written 3 books (each running roughly 125,000 words) over a 12-month period, while updating my website daily, participating in several group blogs, and speaking at conferences and writers' workshops."

Suddenly, billables don't seem so rough, right?


Willig says that her brief stint as a lawyer "instilled a strong sense of what it means to be a professional, which translates to getting the job done in as efficient and polished a fashion as possible." As an author, that means quick turnaround on documents and edits, and a serious attitude toward deadlines. "This is a source of never-ending shock to my editor and publicist, from whom I gather that same day turnaround is not usually a staple of the publishing industry."


According to Willig, litigation and fiction writing really aren't so different: both involve creating persuasive narratives.

With her latest book, "The Ashford Affair," the two fields are even more connected. In addition to its 1920s era characters, "The Ashford Affair" includes a modern-day protagonist, Clementine "Clemmie" Evans, who is a lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm.

Willig says that Clemmie's law firm experience is an accurate -- but selective -- portrait of the BigLaw life. "Clemmie's hours, the coffee stains, the constantly buzzing Blackberry, the [takeout] leftovers under the desk, the abandoned social engagements: those features of the job are familiar to anyone who's worked at a New York firm."

If you've been secretly dreaming of trading billables for bestsellers, it seems that there are transferable skills between law and literature. But if you're happy to stay in your legal gig while enjoying the fruits of a former lawyer's labor, check out "The Ashford Affair" or any of the 10 books in Willig's Pink Carnation series.

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