Here’s the (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our interview of former Sidley partner David Johnson.
So, this colorful departure memo that showed up in our inbox — did you actually write this? And what will you be turning to next?
This is my email, for better or worse. I retired to try my hand at writing fiction.
What type of fiction? Is it law-related? A novel or short story collection?
My fiction is not law-related. I am working on a novel about a series of murders in a small town in Depression-era Kansas that are committed by a midwife and her assistant. The basic story comes is derived from events in a small town in Hungary. The book is pretty far along.
What types of reactions have you received from your colleagues in response to news of your retirement?
My colleagues have been universally supportive.
One site that covered your departure memo, Constitutional Daily, sounded some critical notes. Any response?
What can I say? The humor-impaired have the same access to the internet that we all have. I’m not sure where the venom comes from, but doubt it would be worth the effort to find out.
In any event, congratulations on your retirement, and best of luck finishing the novel — it sounds fascinating!
Thanks for the support. I very much enjoyed Sidley — a great place to work. But it was time to give this a shot.
My reaction to David Johnson’s retirement: it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Lawyers tend to be risk-averse, which is why so many of them wind up like Johnson, billing hours instead of pursuing passions. [FN1] Countless lawyers are frustrated novelists, inventors, poets, entrepreneurs, actors, singers, and other creative types. Just look at all the diverse responses we received when we asked what you would have done instead of going to law school.
But as Johnson’s case demonstrates, the frustration doesn’t have to continue forever. You can step off the treadmill. Maybe you’ll have to wait a while before doing so — until your law school loans are paid off, or until your kids are done with college, or until you’ve saved up enough of a nest egg. But you can do it — and if you’re in Johnson’s shoes, having racked up almost 30 years of practice and many partner paychecks, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you. You can plunge into that alternative career that’s always tempted you, without an iota of guilt.
Good luck to David Johnson, and to all the other lawyers out there who can’t wait to send out their own strongly worded departure memos. Please be sure to cc: Above the Law when you go out in a blaze of glory. We’ll see you on the other side.
[FN1] For those whose passion isn’t law, of course. We recognize that many lawyers love what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
P.S. On the following page, we’ve reprinted (1) David Johnson’s complete departure memo and (2) his former Sidley Austin website profile (which used to reside here, but is now gone; click on the image to enlarge it).