Charles ("Chuck") Rosenberg '68 has been the credited legal script consultant to L.A. Law, The Practice and Boston Legal, as well as Showtime’s The Paper Chase, and served as an on-air legal analyst for E! Entertainment Television during O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials.
He has taught at schools including Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the Loyola Law School International LLM Program in Bologna, Italy, the UCLA School of Law, the Pepperdine School of Law, and the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.
A graduate of Antioch College in 1968 and the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, Chuck currently practices in the Los Angeles area, where he and his wife have lived since the early 1970s. His second book, Long Knives, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on March 1, 2013 in paperback, as a Kindle book and as an audio book.
He recently sat down with The Independent to discuss his legal career, his book, and his experience as an Antiochian.
Tell us about your current work and your new book, Long Knives.
Long Knives is a legal thriller about a law professor who moves from a partnership in a big law firm to a tenure track professorship at a prestigious law school. The promising new career goes awry when a young Italian law student collapses in the professor’s office, apparently poisoned by the coffee she offered him. Then a treasure map that the student brought to the meeting goes missing. The professor becomes a suspect—or maybe a potential next victim, because someone seems to be stalking her. The title is a not-so-sly reference to faculty politics. Just imagine how supportive an academic faculty might be of a colleague suspected of trying to kill a student (well, maybe it depends on which student).
I’ve been a lawyer for more than forty years. For the first thirty years or so, I practiced primarily as a partner in large law firms, where I specialized in civil litigation, although I also defended a corporate executive in a major white collar criminal case. Along the way, I’ve also had a few avocations—law professoring (mostly as an adjunct, in both law schools and graduate business schools), TV script consulting (Paper Chase, LA Law, The Practice and Boston Legal), and working full-time as a legal analyst for E! TV’s live coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials in the mid-90’s.
About a decade ago, I decided that I needed more time in my life, so I left the big firm, switched to a three-lawyer firm, pretty much gave up litigation and turned instead to providing legal counsel to start-up tech companies.
I had always wanted to write a novel, so in the early “aughts” (or whatever that nameless decade is called), with more time on my hands, I started to write one, which became—after a lot of ups and downs—the 2012 Amazon best-selling legal thriller Death on a High Floor.
It wasn’t my first try at a novel. I had started one in the mid 70’s that I never finished. When I started Death (as the title is now sometimes shorthanded by my publisher and my agent) my wife (Sally Anne Daily Rosenberg ’69) asked me, after I had been sitting at the computer for a long stretch one evening, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m writing a novel.” She arched her eyebrows. “Are you going to finish this one?” Every once in a while a long marriage can have a small downside. Anyway, I was left with no choice but to go through with it.
Long Knives is the sequel to Death, but it stands alone, and you don’t have to have read Death to enjoy Long Knives.
You're such a passionate writer. Why does it mean so much to you?
I think that in my case, writing fiction is a way of integrating what I’ve learned about the world over forty years of practicing law. Lawyers get to see both the best and the worst of people.
What (career-wise) are you most proud of?
Probably the occasions on which I’ve helped individuals, whether poor, rich or middle class, fight off a legal system that had seemingly turned on them. The legal system can often right wrongs and do good, but in the hands of aggressive jerks, it can occasionally become the vehicle for a really ugly exercise of power.
What did you study when you were at Antioch? How did your time at Antioch influence your work?
I majored in history, but also took a lot of economics courses. Spending fifteen months in France and other parts of Europe as part of Antioch Education Abroad opened my eyes to the world and to other cultures in a way that I think was unusual for college students in the 60’s.
Any professors that were particularly influential to either your work or your life?
I learned a lot about both history and good writing from Michael Kraus, Louis Filler and Frank Wong and a lot about economics from Ivan Lakos and Connie Pelakoudas.
I’ve never lost my interest in history, and it plays a role in each of my novels. Death involves the counterfeiting of the infamous Ides denarius of Brutus, a coin Brutus minted to celebrate his assassination of Caesar. The reverse (the back) bears the inscription in Latin, “Ides of March” and double daggers. Brutus put himself on the front (it’s a real coin!). Long Knives revolves around a map purporting to pinpoint the wreck of a Spanish treasure galleon that sank off the coast of California in 1641. While researching the novel, I became fascinated with the Archive of the Indies in Seville, where eighty million indexed pieces of paper document the Spanish administration of much of the New World from 1500 to 1815. Several chapters of the novel ended up being set in Seville.
I also learned a lot on co-ops, particularly when I worked as a special assistant to Morris Keaton during the time he was Dean of Faculty in the mid-60’s. As I near as I could figure out, Morris often started an analysis of a problem by asking, “How would I solve this problem if I had no idea how it’s usually done? Only after I figure that out will I go back and pay a visit to ‘how it’s always been done’ to see if the old way has something truly important to teach us.” That approach has worked well for me.
I only took two literature courses, one from Yates Hafner (Landmarks of Western Literature) and a Shakespeare course from Bob Maurer. Maurer gave me a good grade in the course but remarked, in a note on a paper, that my writing had “too much of an ‘if/then’ quality about it.” I remember thinking, “Well what’s wrong with that?” and left shortly thereafter to go to law school.
What would you say to current Antioch students who are interested in a similar profession?
To someone who wants to be a lawyer, I’d say that the analytical training you get in law school is great and the people you’re likely to meet along the way, especially your fellow students, will be smart and fun. But I’d add that the legal world is in tremendous flux right now, as it has been for a long time (even before the fall-off in legal work in BigLaw) so what kind of career you’ll have is anyone’s guess. Therefore (there’s that if/then thing again), don’t do it unless you’re prepared for a roller coaster of a career.
To someone who wants to write, especially fiction, just do it. If you write a thousand words a day, you can easily finish the first draft of a novel in four months, with weekends off. Then crowd-source the first edit: give it to twenty or thirty friends and acquaintances to read, and ask them to be brutally honest with you. After you cringe at what they say, get over it and rewrite it. Then pay a professional content editor to edit it (that’s different from and comes before a copy editor or a proofreader). Take that advice and rewrite it a third time. If you’re happy with it, try to get it published. If you can’t, don’t be embarrassed to self-publish it. But do get started. I sometimes wonder where my writing career would be now if I had finished that novel I started in the 70’s. I went and looked at the manuscript recently (it’s actually physically cut and pasted), and you know, it’s not half bad. It’s called Drill Here She Said.
What about your personal life? Kids? Relationships? Travel?
I’m been married for almost forty-five years to the woman I ran into in a hallway in Main Building in 1965. That chance encounter was lucky for me on many levels, only one of which is that she’s a great editor. The dedication to Death is to her as the “über editor” of the novel. Which she most certainly was. We have one son, who works in public radio.
What does the future hold for you?
The future? I’m working on two more novels. The first is the third in the series of which Long Knives is the second. It’s set partly in France and involves the antiquarian book world and some strange goings-on in the literary world of the nineteenth century. The next one after that is a historical fiction set during the American Revolution.
Charles Rosenberg’s book is available at: