Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He has taught at Yale since 1982. Carter is known for his legal and social policy[…]

Carter believes there is a reason so many lawyers turn to fiction.

Question: What is your creative process?

Stephen Carter: I’ve often wondered why it is that I write mainly mysteries and thrillers. They say writers are the worst people to ask about their own creative processes. But I’ve actually developed a theory about this. You might notice that when lawyers and law professors turn to fiction, a lot of them write thrillers or mysteries. That’s been true not just recently, but over many, many years – especially with mysteries. And I have a theory about why that is. Think for a minute about why people hate lawyers. Because you go to your lawyer for something simple like writing a will, and you sit down and you think you’re done, and the lawyer starts saying, “Have you thought of this? Have you thought of that? Have you thought of this, and this, and this that might happen?” People hate that, but that’s what lawyers are trained to do. When I’m working as a law professor, from the first hour of the first day of law school, what they’re learning is whatever they think the settled answer is, there’s always another question – a question of the form, “What if this happens? What if this happens?” What lawyers do more than anything else, they think about and plan for contingencies, hypotheticals. Well isn’t that what a thriller is? Isn’t that what a mystery is? “What if this happens,” the writer thinks, and decides to make it happen; that there’s something about that form of writing I think lends itself to a legal imagination; lends itself to the way that lawyers’ minds naturally work. So then it’s not any wonder that I and many other lawyers and law professors are drawn in to mysteries and thrillers – something with tension and surprises – as the form of writing that we are most comfortable with.

Recorded on: 7/25/07