February 2015

Lessons Learned from My Double Life

By Lisa Boero

Lisa BoeroBy day, I am a mild-mannered in-house health insurance attorney sifting through endless contracts, reams of state and federal regulation, corporate governance and other assorted trappings of the lawyer’s daily existence. By night, I am a detective, searching for clues, chasing murder suspects and enjoying a life of suspense and mayhem. Welcome to the insanity of my double life.

As a lawyer who is also a mystery writer, I am often asked about how I can manage my bizarre double existence. Seriously, do I ever sleep? (The answer is yes, but not as much as I would like.) I have come to realize, however, that my two selves could not exist without each other and that the management of too many things has taught me four important lessons:

1)      Busy People Get Things Done

Most people do have time, they just don’t have big blocks of it. I am a full-time lawyer, a wife and a mother, and when I wanted to write my first book, Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late, I could have easily dismissed the idea of taking on such a big project. Instead, I decided that I wasn't going to make lack of time an excuse not to do what I loved, so I wrote whenever I had even five minutes between activities. At first, that meant carrying a pad of paper with me wherever I went. The first Nerdy Girls book was entirely written by hand, in between my kids' ice skating practice, catching up on work emails and laundry. Now, I work on my iPad, which is the digital equivalent.

2)      The Two Birds and One Stone Theory

When we have multiple demands on our time, we need to look for the synergies rather than the differences between projects. For example, I think that creative writing has made me more productive as an attorney. Legal writing, particularly contract drafting, is highly nuanced but very rigid. I mean, where else are you going to see "heretofore" or “the party of the first part” used in a sentence? Creative writing gives me a chance to work with language in new ways, which helps me to look at words, even "heretofore," in a different light. One type of writing feeds the other and both are better for it.

Another benefit is that writing a novel, particularly a complicated murder mystery, requires a lot of problem solving. Not only do you need to create a world and all of the characters in it, but you also have to establish a mystery, solve it and then give readers just enough information to keep them turning the pages. As counsel for a health plan, I never know what problem is going to walk through my door and require an immediate solution. I can apply the same problem-solving techniques to corporate law as I do to plot a murder mystery.

3)      Change is Good

Even lawyers need a mental vacation. My books reflect my weird sense of humor and give me a chance to poke fun at otherwise serious topics. Crafting my experience into fiction also helps me to see the bigger picture and provides an outlet on even the most stressful days, so I highly recommend doing an activity that pulls you out of your everyday rut. Plus, for me, working as a lawyer gives me such a wealth of material. Lawyers get to see clients, colleagues and friends at their best and their worst. That is why all of my books have a legal connection. “Write what you know” is an adage I have taken to heart.

4)      Hit the Ground Running

When I was preparing to enter law school I went to a party and happened to run into a third-year law student. I asked her if she had any advice for me before starting law school, and she told me that I had to "hit the ground running." I asked her what she meant by that, and she told me that every decision I would make would be based on my first semester grades. Those grades would impact where I ranked after the first year and that ranking would affect what sort of summer internship I could do, which in turn would prepare me for my second year and so on.

I took her advice then and have taken it ever since in every aspect of my life, including my writing. If you want to do something, you must put your whole heart into it and hold nothing back. There is no room for hesitation or second chances. Life does not wait for you to get your act together. You have to be prepared and then go for it.

So even though your life may not involve murder or even reams of state regulation, I hope that you can apply these lessons to your own competing interests. And for those of you who may want to add novel writing to the list—just do it—only you can tell your own story!


Lisa Boero is the chief legal officer at Security Health Plan in Marshfield, Wisconsin and the author of two books, Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late and Bombers and Nerdy Girls Do Brunch. She is hard at work on a third Nerdy Girls book and will be bringing out the first book in a new series about lawyers, misplaced souls and tricky contracts with the devil, called Hell Made Easy, later this year.