Few things please fiction writers more than having readers tell them that the fictional worlds they’ve created possess the ring of truth.
Jeremy Blachman has had that experience, and in the most convincing way possible. Readers, including many with extensive knowledge of the milieu in which Blachman’s narrative takes place, have been convinced that his fictional creation is truth.
Blachman, who is graduating from Harvard Law School, is the author of a fictional Web log called “Anonymous Lawyer,” which he began writing in March 2004 after going through the law school recruitment process. The blog is written from the point of view of a partner in a high-end Los Angeles law firm who reveals himself to be a cynical, callous, alienated workaholic who delights in inconveniencing and humiliating interns and associates.
Blachman began the blog as a lark, thinking that it probably wouldn’t hold his interest for more than a week. But then a strange thing happened. Other lawyers started e-mailing Anonymous Lawyer to say that his depiction of life at a big law firm coincided exactly with their experience.
“People really believed the character was real,” Blachman said. “It was really just over-the-top satire, but law students even sent resumés to Anonymous Lawyer’s e-mail address hoping for a job.”
Why anyone would want to work for someone who makes paralegals examine stacks of photocopies to make sure the margins are straight or who gloats when his disparaging comment about an associate’s beard causes the man to appear the next day clean-shaven is anybody’s guess. Perhaps they were impressed by the character’s revealing candor, exemplified by statements like “There are a lot of things I’m terrible at, like being a decent human being, but one thing I’m excellent at is remembering people’s birthdays. It fools people around here into thinking I have a heart.”
In any event, Blachman’s blog developed a following, and readers, especially those in the legal profession, began speculating about Anonymous Lawyer’s identity and the identity of the firm for which he worked.
Blachman finally had his cover blown in December 2004 when Sara Rimer of the New York Times wrote an article about the blog, revealing that its author was not really an arrogant L.A. lawyer, but a 25-year-old Harvard law student from Brooklyn whose insights were based largely on a summer internship at a New York law firm enhanced by liberal doses of imagination.
But the loss of anonymity was amply compensated for when e-mails from publishers and literary agents started pouring into Blachman’s in-box. He ended up accepting an offer from Henry Holt & Co., and while most of his fellow graduates are toiling at entry-level positions at firms perhaps not unlike the one portrayed in “Anonymous Lawyer,” Blachman will be working on transforming his blog into a novel. He plans to take the bar exam as well, just in case.
“If I write a lousy book, I guess I’ll be a lawyer. But if it’s good, it will open up other opportunities.”
Those other opportunities, Blachman confesses, are really what he has been after all along. “I’ve always been interested in writing,” he said. As an undergraduate at Princeton he wrote songs and sketches for the Triangle Club, and as a law student he wrote a humorous column for The Record, the Law School’s weekly independent newspaper. He’s also written songs for the Law School’s a cappella group, Scales of Justice, and for the school’s parody show (one composition is “Billing Me Softly,” to the tune of “Killing Me Softly”).
But while he has found law school interesting and enjoyable, he sees the profession as more of a safety net than a career.
“Even before the book deal, I wasn’t really convinced that I’d practice law. I’ve really been lucky. Everything just fell into place. I never expected things to work out this way.”