Raising the Bar: Romance Has the Right to a Better Attorney
By Alexa Day
I have not been a huge fan of the lawyer as romance hero. Part of my resistance comes from reality, I imagine. As an attorney, I spent a great deal of time around other attorneys, and nothing cures an infatuation with lawyers faster than constant proximity to them. No offense meant, of course, to any members of the bar who might be hanging out here with me.
A larger part of the problem is that romance is generally fixated on the wealthiest fraction of the legal profession. I get that part of the allure of the super-rich hero is the comfort and security of money. But the world is filled with women who have their own comfort and security. And way too many of romance’s bumper crop of well-to-do heroes are … well … domineering jackasses.
They’re trying to impress people. They think the money makes them important. Money might not buy them love, but it’s always good for securing obedience and deference, and they’re willing to settle.
There’s a suggestion that the billionaire hero is on his way out, which is fine by me. I won’t miss them terribly, and they can take their alpha lawyer friends with them. But there’s an opportunity to reform the lawyer hero. If reality drove me away from lawyers in romance, then it makes sense in this great circle of life that reality would bring me back to the bar.
The last 18 months or so have been very good for the real life lawyer hero. Last winter’s film Loving featured two of them, bright-eyed ACLU crusaders who went to the wall to defend Richard and Mildred Loving’s right to be married. 13th and Time: The Kalief Browder Story introduce a few more, good people motivated primarily by the need to set things right. Off screen, the bold men and women of the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center are enjoying a moment in the sun, garnered under dark circumstances. The lawyers on the front lines here are not rolling in cash. One has to borrow an office. Another seems to be working in a windowless room just large enough for his desk and two chairs. Filmmakers make it a point to describe public defenders as hard-working, talented practitioners facing an impossible workload. Social media outlets emphasize that good lawyers are a bright light in a dark world.
They’re passionate. They’re tenacious. They know everything about the troubles that keep their clients awake at night, and they’re willing to shoulder as much of that weight as they can. They consider it their duty to ease fears, inspire confidence, and keep moving forward. They inspire that most blessed of feelings: Everything is going to be all right now.
And the legal industry is filled with attorneys just like this. Shouldn’t there be more of them in romance?
Of course, as an erotic romance author, I have to mention the delightful fiction potential presented by the rules preventing lawyers from sleeping with their clients. So no matter how attracted we might be to one another, nothing can happen without some fairly dire consequences. Except for impure thoughts. Impure thoughts about the forbidden can always happen. That’s great news for romance fiction, honestly — who doesn’t love a hearty struggle with impure thoughts? Even under extreme pressure, it’s hard to avoid an impure thought or three for the person who can create the feeling that everything will be all right now.
Two things, and then I’ll leave you to consider where the good lawyers of romance are (or to tell me where they are).
Why haven’t I mentioned the lawyer heroine?
My experience is that we already expect the lawyer heroine to take on this nurturing role. I don’t think we have nearly as many rich, hard-charging female attorneys as we have family lawyers, guardians ad litem, and the like. On the one hand, it’s good to see so many characters in these important lines of work, but on the other, it’s always reminded me of the days when heroines could only be schoolteachers and nurses. The iron ladies of the law deserve love, too.
Finally, I imagine some of you are wondering how I’ve gone on for this long without mentioning Dean Strang. I haven’t forgotten Dean. I just think he deserves his own space.
Dean Strang appeared on the worldwide stage in the Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer. He and his partner, Jerry Buting, take up the defense of Steven Avery in a murder case most charitably described as a giant clusterfuck. Dean is exactly the sort of lawyer the romance genre needs.
By the time he appears in the third episode, Dean is a reassuring presence. He’s not a physically imposing figure at all. He looks out at the world through big glasses, and his fashion choices made waves on social media for being ultranormal. (In fairness, he can successfully wear the color popularly known as buttercup. That deserves a nod from social media.)
As soon as Dean shows up, he understands what’s happening to his client and to the case immediately, and as a result, we feel safer, almost without knowing why. We learn that local law enforcement regards Dean with a respect that approaches apprehension. He is quick to call prosecutors out on missteps, and his attention to Avery’s alleged accomplice, a teenager who is not his client, is heartwarming.
The purity of Dean’s devotion to the justice system is untainted by any trace of naivete. He knows how things actually work and how they’re supposed to work. He believes in the highest possible standard but knows that he’s working in an imperfect world. To watch Dean work is to watch someone capable of deep love for a system that cannot love him back if it’s going to function the way he needs it to. He is intense and magnetic, and he has everyone leaning forward, just by doing his job.
He throws everything he has at the idea that the justice system should function effectively and that it’s his job to make sure that it does. His quiet fury, directed at those who are trying hard to subvert the system to protect themselves, makes the series work. Before long, viewers are showing up for Dean. The world seems a little hollow when he’s gone because we’re not so sure that everything will be all right.
Dean is surprised he has groupies. I’m not. I’m not surprised at all.
Romance doesn’t need more lawyer heroes. It needs better lawyer heroes.
It needs the man completely, but not blindly, devoted to justice. It needs the man who’s comfortable shouldering a client’s burden. It needs the man who has sacrificed wealth and comfort for limited funds and an imposing workload because his job saves lives.
It needs the sort of man who is surprised to find he has groupies.
Does this guy already practice in Romancelandia? Call him out in the comments and I’ll sit corrected.
In the meantime, follow Lady Smut.
Did you maybe bend the rule and touch your attorney? It’s okay. You can tell us.
Have you ever had mad monkey love on a motorcycle? A three-way in an alley? Been tied to a tree and made someone’s sex slave? Have you never, ever, never done any of this? Be rewarded for your naughty or sweet past and win crowns, fetish toys, books and more at the Ladysmut.com special reader event, May 3 at 1:30 p.m. at the RT Booklovers Convention. Link: https://www.rtconvention.com/event/never-have-you-ever-ever-ever