There’s a lot of talk around these parts about the versatility — or lack thereof — of a law degree. In this kind of a legal job market, career services officers (and let’s face it, your own family) will continue to shout from the rooftops that you can do just about anything with a law degree.
That being said, while a J.D. degree won’t be of much help to you in, say, landscape architecture, it will be of great service to you if you’re able to land a writing gig on one of the most-watched legal dramedies on cable television.
How does one go from Biglaw to the front page of Funny or Die? Furthermore, how does one get a writer’s credit on a new hit series like The Newsroom? Let’s find out….
Meet Adam Perlman, a 2008 graduate of NYU Law School. After graduation, Perlman joined Cahill Gordon & Reindel as an associate, but he was only there for about 16 months before he decided that writing was his true calling.
To date, Perlman’s writing has appeared in two seasons of Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva, and he recently started working on HBO’s The Newsroom. Perlman also co-wrote the script for “White People Problems,” a comedy sketch video that was featured on the front page of Funny or Die. Check it out:
We had the chance to speak with Perlman about his career as a television screenwriter, and he had some very interesting things to say about it, plus some helpful hints for people who hope to make a similar career transition in the future. Here’s the lightly edited write-up of our interview with Adam Perlman.
Why did you decide to make the switch from Biglaw to screenwriting?
I never had a clear switch. It was always one of those things where I had a foot in both worlds. Coming from the East Coast, that always meant theater. I never considered television and film as actual job paths. I started thinking more and more about TV and film — other people were doing it, but I didn’t know how. Someone told me that I should write a spec script, but I had no idea what that was. So instead of studying for the bar exam, I used my Bar/Bri time as my own office hours for scriptwriting. I tucked away my Boston Legal spec script in the drawer, passed the bar exam, and went to work at Cahill. I was only there for a little more than a year before I quit to take my first television job — although I wish I had been laid off, I could’ve used the severance package.
Do you prefer law or writing?
As a writer, I have the ability to create other worlds. I love that I get to experiment with different professions. For example, I can be writing a law-related show one minute and a supernatural show the next. Television really acts like a crucible sometimes in that you have the opportunity to burn away a lot of the hype and get at things that are tremendously true.
Do you have any advice for people hoping to make a similar career transition?
My biggest piece of advice is that if you want to be a writer in TV or film, then for the love of God, you need to watch a lot of TV or film. It’s shocking and saddening how many people are writers, but don’t watch TV or film. Another big thing is just committing yourself to doing it, and actually doing it — whether it’s taking two weeks off to write in a cabin or a 30 minute stint when you get home from your day job. You need to get your writing to a point where it’s good enough to show to other people, get feedback, and get help if you need it.
You need to put yourself out there and be willing to start over. When I moved to California, I literally took a 90 percent pay cut. It’s what you have to do. You go from being an associate with your own office and secretary, to being an assistant again. It’s a very uncertain career out here. Honestly, you’ve got people here in mailrooms who just graduated from Harvard and Yale. It’s a leap you have to take if that’s what you’re very interested in. I’ve been out here for almost three years and I’ve had a ton of good things happen. Some is luck, but some is just putting yourself out there.
At the end of the day, you should always run toward your strengths and the things that make you unique. If you have a any kind of specialized degree — be it a law degree, or a medical degree — that can be hugely helpful to you, both in the material you create, and in your world view and how that differentiates you from somebody else. Hollywood is hungry for people who have experience and can add some authenticity to what they’re writing.
We here at Above the Law wish Adam Perlman the best of luck with The Newsroom, which will make its second-season debut in June 2013. Perlman also has several film ideas in development; as he noted when we last spoke, he wouldn’t be much of a Hollywood screenwriter if he didn’t. We hope to see more of Perlman’s writing, and we’ll be sure to update our readers if he’s got anything major in the works.