Discovering the Art of Writing Romance with Former Lawyer Jayci Lee [TFLP181]

On today’s podcast, Sarah is chatting with Jayci Lee, a former lawyer who has become an author since leaving her job as a litigator. The conversation covers everything from the process of leaving law to the importance of caring for mental health. Sarah discovered Jayci after reading one of her books where the main character is a lawyer. One former lawyer instantly recognized another, and she knew Jayci would be a great podcast guest. Let’s dive in.

Law School Fulfilled Her Father’s Dream

Jayci was 20 years old and making the dean’s honors list every semester at UC Berkeley. She didn’t have a plan for post-graduation, so she decided to apply to law school. Her roommates were law school bound, so she was familiar with the process and requirements. When she told her father, he shared his dream of becoming a lawyer, but his family couldn’t afford to send him to college. Her Korean name even stands for a righteous pillar, but she never knew that until sharing her plans with her dad. 

Once Jayci began law school, she never thought she’d be an attorney. She was planning on going into academia. Law school was enjoyable for her, both competitive and interesting. She has always loved writing, and that even includes legal writing. When it came time for internships, she fell into litigation. 

During Jacyi’s first year at a firm, she was assigned to a lot of writing, research, and discovery, which she enjoyed. The disconnect started happening when she had to deal more with opposing counsel. It felt like a pointless conflict. She tried to be proactive, but litigation is completely reactive. Her specialty was employment defense, and she wanted to teach clients how to avoid litigation. Her firm was more about billable hours and trials. 

A Medical Leave Led to a New Plan

Jayci knew who she was before becoming an attorney. She is a conflict-averse person by nature, put into a conflict-full situation. When she found herself feeling down, she knew exactly why. The problem was that she felt stuck and didn’t know what else to do. 

The conflict Jayci felt was that she was doing something she was good at, and there was some satisfaction in that. She also got married, had kids, and felt responsible for contributing. Unfortunately, after 15 years, it led to depression, and Jayci had to take a medical leave. 

On medical leave, Jayci found herself with free time, which she had not had in years. It made her think about the dream she had back when she was 14 years old to become a romance author. She knew that she would never do it if she didn’t take the time she was on leave to write a book. Her first book was written in two months, and her second was written in four months. When she returned to work, her books were submitted, and she was looking for a literary agent. 

On a podcast episode a few weeks ago, Sarah talked to a former lawyer who became a therapist, and they covered the importance of taking a mental health leave from work. Sometimes, taking that step back will help you gain a better perspective. Jayci remembers comparing notes with coworkers about their anxiety dreams and anxiety attacks, but that is not normal. You’re in survival mode so much as a lawyer that you don’t have time to consider your physical and mental health and what you’re doing to yourself with all the stress. 

Writing was Her Real Passion

Jayci knew writing was her passion, but she had ignored it for years. When she was forced to step away from her lawyer job, it meant she could return to her dreams and try writing. The first two books were done, and she returned to work, but she relapsed just a few months later and found herself back on leave. This is when she signed her first book contract and signed with a literary agent. 

Some of Jayci’s main characters have helped her process her time as a lawyer. By documenting some of her own experiences as a lawyer in her character’s stories, she was able to process and knew she could never return to law. 

Throughout her time in school and during her law career, Jayci always kept writing in the back of her mind. She’d say she would write a book by 30, then 35, then 40. It was a pipe dream because she never made it a concrete goal. 

Being traditionally published is extremely difficult. You need an agent, and that process is difficult. Jayci took an old-fashioned approach and sent letters with sample pages of her manuscript to agents she was interested in working with. One got back to her and asked for the full manuscript. At the same time, an editor at Harlequin found her cold submission at the bottom of a slush pile and wanted to sign a three-book contract with her. The editor called the agent, and everything happened quickly from there. 

How Litigation Helped Her Writing

Jayci’s time as a litigator gave her tons of experience in writing for her characters. In terms of writing, legal writing is very different from writing a novel, but she learned to write fast and write cleanly, which has been incredibly helpful. Deadlines are easy to hit, and she is used to working under pressure. She is able to stay motivated instead of getting overwhelmed, which is greatly beneficial. 

Another skill Jayci is able to use from her time as a litigator is being persuasive. She persuades her readers and captures their attention. She knows how to tap into the reader and tailor the piece toward them. 

Final Thoughts and Advice for Aspiring Authors

Today, Jayci is an author of contemporary romance and rom-com stories featuring Korean American main characters. She’s published nine books, with a 10th coming out this summer. Her advice for anyone that wants to be an author is to start today. Write for 30 minutes each day, whether on your lunch break or first thing when you wake up in the morning. The process is long, and it will take a lot of patience and tolerance of rejection to find an agent and go through the publishing process.
Taking action, even a small amount, will also help your mental health because you’ll be working towards something meaningful for yourself. Follow Jayci on Instagram @authorjaycilee. And if you are a lawyer and you’re looking for a way out, download the free guide on our website.

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Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

Today, I'm sharing my conversation with Jayci Lee. Jayci shares how she practiced law. She was a litigator for 15 years and ultimately decided to leave law to write romance novels. She has now published 9 books since 2020 and her 10th book is coming out this summer in July. Jayci and I talk all about that process, how she went from practicing law to being a published author.

We also talk about the mental health aspects of her story and some of the things that we talk about here at Former Lawyer about the importance of taking care of your mental health. I'm really excited about this conversation. Let's get to my conversation with Jayci.

Hey, Jayci. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Jayci Lee: Thank you so much for having me.

Sarah Cottrell: I am really excited about this interview. Just for the listeners to know, the way that this interview came about is that Jayci writes books, she is a former lawyer, I bought one of her books maybe a month and a half ago in one of the Kindle Daily Deals and it's called Booked on a Feeling and I read it. One of the main characters is a lawyer working at a large law firm, and I won't spoil what happens but I was like, “I need to ask this person to be on the podcast.” So here we are.

So, Jayci, can you introduce yourself to the listeners, and then we'll jump into your story?

Jayci Lee: Okay. I'm Jayci Lee and I am a recovering litigator, now a reformed romance author. I write romance contemporary and rom-com featuring Korean American main characters. I have my 10th book coming out this July. I debuted in 2020, so the fast writing that I learned as a litigator is helping out for me to turn out books and I'm excited to be here to chat with you guys.

Sarah Cottrell: I am super excited and yeah, wow, your 10th book since 2020. I do not have experience in it but I have heard, particularly writing in the romance genre that writing a lot or publishing frequently is sometimes part of that job as a romance author. We can talk more about that as we go along. I want to start though where we start with pretty much everyone on the podcast and ask you what made you decide to go to law school.

Jayci Lee: This is going to sound pretty funny and very immature because I was 20, and basically, I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad. I was on the dean's honors list basically every semester. I was graduating magna cum laude and I thought, “My grades are too good to waste, I should go to law school.”

Sarah Cottrell: It's actually not an uncommon story.

Jayci Lee: Really? That's so funny.

Sarah Cottrell: Well, there are a lot of people, and people who listen to the podcast will know this because it comes up in many, many interviews, but a lot of us, especially if you were a liberal arts major, did well in undergrad, weren't 100% sure what you wanted to do, you had good grades, you were a good test taker, got a decent LSAT score, and a lot of us were like, “Oh, people say you can do anything with a law degree so I'm going to go do that.” That comes up a lot.

Jayci Lee: Oh, wow. That's good to hear. I don't feel totally shallow anymore.

Sarah Cottrell: No, you're in very good company.

Jayci Lee: I have a little story. Can I tell you?

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, yes, please tell me.

Jayci Lee: Okay. After my first year in the dorms, my college roommates were both law school bound back to back, so there was that and then I thought, “Okay, I have good grades, I should go to law school.” I call my parents and I tell my dad and he just tells me this whole story of how he grew up, there was the Korean War when he was nine and so he grew up very poor and in a big family but the Seoul University in Korea is basically like the Harvard of Korea and he took the test and got into the most prestigious Seoul University Law School.

His dream was to become a lawyer but he couldn't go because his family couldn't afford to send him and his older brother to college. So he had to give up that dream. My Korean name, [Cheongju], it stands for righteous pillar. My dad was like, “Do you know why I named you that?” and he was just telling me how it was his dream and I was carrying that out for him and I had no idea. He never told me and never put that pressure on me or anything like that. I was so happy that I could do that for him. It’s one of the reasons I stuck around in law for longer than I should have.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I was going to say it's so interesting that you didn't learn that story until after you had decided to go because it is true for a lot of people that a big part of what puts them on the path to law school is apparent, potentially saying oh, this is either a parent being a lawyer or a parent wanting them to become a lawyer.

Like you said, it can be wonderful to have that support and at the same time, if you get into the career and realize it's not a fit, it can be very hard when you have those emotional ties and the concern about disappointing family.

Jayci Lee: Mm-hmm, yeah. But lucky for me, my dad gave me his writing genes. He was a writer and a poet so it wasn't too bad switching. I was living out two of his dreams.

Sarah Cottrell: That is amazing. I love that. Tell me, it sounds like you decided to go to law school and it wasn't necessarily, and this is true for a lot of us, that you had always wanted to be a lawyer but that it was the next step that made sense.

Can you talk to me about when you were in law school, did you think, “Oh, this was a great choice and this feels like a good fit”? Did you think, “This feels maybe not the thing but I'm just going to ignore that,” which was the experience a lot of us had, or was it something else?

Jayci Lee: I went into law school, I never thought that I'm going to be an attorney. I thought I would go into academia. I enjoyed law school. I went to USC Law School, super competitive but I had fun. I’m like, “I'm only going to study to the point where it still interests me and I'm having fun. I'm not going to over-study and get sick of the stuff I'm learning.”

I've always loved writing and while legal writing is completely different from fiction or writing an entire novel as to something like 20 pages, it was something that I still enjoyed. It didn't hit me at law school that this isn't for me because I thought I'm going to go to academia. But somehow I fell into litigation, summer internships, and whatnot.

At the very least, I thought I was going to be a transactional lawyer. I never thought I would become part of this contentious litigating population where you fight for a living. That was just something I never even imagined.

Sarah Cottrell: I am just laughing because I relate so much. I went to law school thinking that I wanted to teach law and then I actually started reading legal scholarship and I was like, “Oh, actually, no, I definitely do not want to do that,” and I really liked research and writing and so I was just like, “Oh, research and writing, I should go into litigation.” [inaudible] me maybe I just shouldn't be doing law and then I started working as a litigator and pretty rapidly realized, “Oh, I really detest conflict, especially conflict that feels pointless,” which at least for those of us who have that particular perspective on conflict, a lot of litigation can feel like pointless conflicts.

Tell me when you were on your way to being a litigator, were you at that point aware like, “This might not be a great fit,” or did you have this idea like, “Well, this is who I am now and this is what I'm doing”? Does that make sense?

Jayci Lee: Yes. I'm going to start answering that might go off on a tangent but I was a slow learner I guess. But what does happen when you first join a law firm as a first year is you get put to do a lot of research, discovery, and writing. I am thinking, “Oh, this isn't bad,” and the more opportunity I had to deal with opposing counsel and saw so much unnecessary contentions happening and things getting rapidly personal where it's just my job and they were out to hurt me for some reason, that's when I started just really feeling the disconnect.

Like you said, I do not like conflict and I totally agree with you, pointless conflict is especially upsetting. Near the end of my career before I left, I tried to focus on being proactive instead of reactive where litigation is completely reactive. I did employment defense so I wanted to specialize in teaching my clients, the employers, and the companies how to avoid litigation or at least put them in a situation where they won't be in the wrong.

They didn't go for that, my law firm, they like trials and billable hours too much I guess. But [inaudible] little bit bitter, I work with good people but ultimately, it wasn't for me.

Sarah Cottrell: Well, I think to your point, this is something we talk about on the podcast a lot, which is you might have individual people who are decent but in the structure of a law firm, especially when you have the billable hour model and just the way that the profession is structured, there are so many problematic incentives that discourage people from leaning into their decency.

I also think as a whole, the profession is not nearly as emotionally and mentally healthy as you would want, and as a result, you have a lot of people who are spewing some of their trauma out on other people in ways that are very problematic.

Jayci Lee: Yes. I did wonder sometimes with certain opposing counsel what happened to them. I couldn't believe the extent, how nasty they got, how quickly they became so mean and I just couldn't understand what drove them to become that person, that kind of lawyer, so I totally see that.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Let's talk about that a bit because this comes up a lot for people who come on the podcast and then also for the lawyers who I work with. A lot of us find ourselves in these situations, whether it's at a law firm or somewhere else and it feels like a really bad fit.

We're sometimes looking around horrified but often, what we end up doing is feeling like, “Oh, there must be something wrong with me that I'm not able to just let this roll off or that I feel so drained by this,” so can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like for you? Were you like, “This is ridiculous and I feel like I'm the only sane person here,” or did you have that experience of feeling like, “Well, maybe there's something wrong with me”?

One of the phrases that comes up a lot for people is, and this was definitely my own experience, this feeling of like, “Well, maybe I just can't hack it and maybe there's something wrong with me.” I think that's a very pernicious lie that a lot of people deal with. Can you tell me if that was part of your experience?

Jayci Lee: For me, I think I went in knowing who I am. I am a conflict-averse person by nature put into a conflict-full situation so I knew why I was struggling but I also knew the nature of the game. It didn't become a scenario where I question my abilities or my competence in the job but I was very aware of why I don't like it but I was too stuck to do anything about it.

It was my question, “What else do I do? I don't know how to do anything else.” That's what kept me there instead of feeling like, “I can't cut it in this job. I'm not good enough.” No, it was just, “This job sucks but I don't know how to do anything else.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yes. That is so common that people say, “I don't even feel like I'm qualified to do anything else,” is something that people talk about a lot. Then also sometimes, there's this element of feeling like, “Well, I can do it so I should,” even if it feels terrible, even if it's having very negative impacts on us.

A lot of people who choose to become lawyers tend to be the kind of people who have this idea of, “Well, I've chosen to do this and now I'm doing it.” It can be hard for us to take our own emotional experience into account.

Jayci Lee: Yeah. I was doing it because one part of it is that I was good at it so there was some satisfaction in knowing that I was good at it, I was winning more often than not, and what else am I going to do that pays even close to what I'm making now? Then I got married and had kids and it's my responsibility to contribute. If I leave, am I being selfish is the kind of thinking that went on in my head.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I'm sure there are a lot of people who are listening who will relate to that exact line of thought. Can you talk to me about at what point in your years of practice did you start to think beyond just like, “This sucks but what else could I do?” and start to think “Maybe there is something else I could do,” can you talk a little bit about that progression?

Jayci Lee: Okay. There wasn't a clear progression for me because I am an obstinate-full, I pushed myself to the breaking point literally where my depression robbed me of the ability to function so I had to go on medical leave. After 15 years for the first time in my life, I had what's called free time, I don't know if you have any of that, lawyers certainly don't.

As a 14-year-old, my dream was to become a romance author. As almost a 40-year-old having a breakdown and staying at home for a medical leave due to depression, what did I do? I thought, “Okay, if I don't write my book now, I'm never going to,” because my plan was always to go back and work as a litigator.

In my free time I thought, “I'll try to get published. Let's see what happens,” and I just literally sat down and wrote my first book in two months, wrote my second book in four months, so by the time I returned to work, I was on submissions for my books and looking for a literary agent.

Sarah Cottrell: That is amazing.

Jayci Lee: It was inside me. It was something I needed to do. It was my passion that I had completely ignored and neglected for decades. It was only when I was robbed of the ability to be a lawyer that I thought back on my dreams, what do I want to do instead of what should I do.

I went back to work. Six months later, I relapsed and realized that I really couldn't continue working as a lawyer. But within months of me finally leaving my firm, it was still a medical leave, I wasn't ready to cut ties, but I signed my first book contract, I signed with a literary agent and I had a six-book deal within months, and realized, “Okay, this is going to be my full-time job from now on. I can't go back because there's no such thing as part-time litigation. I'm going to go about 50% yeah, good luck with that. You're working 60-hour weeks anyways.”

I had to wait until the choice was taken away from me for me to realize, “I'm going to do what I want to do. It's probably not a good idea to continue being a lawyer.” It took me a little bit.

Sarah Cottrell: Well, first of all, I want to tell people who are listening that when you're listening to this podcast, if you scroll back in the feed, I think it'll be three or four weeks before this episode releases, I will have released an episode talking with a friend who's also a former lawyer who's a therapist about how to take a mental health leave from work and the reason we're we did that episode, which as we're recording is releasing in the future, but as people are listening to this episode was released before this episode, is that this is something that comes up a lot for people, the need to take a mental health leave.

It's something that people who I've worked with have done. I think that it can feel, for some people, very scary to contemplate but it's a really important thing, it's a really important tool, especially when you are in a place where your mental health is affecting your ability to function.

As people know on this podcast, I talk a lot about how I think every lawyer should be in therapy and I talk a lot about my own experience with panic and anxiety. I know that it's something that a lot of people struggle with and many lawyers feel like they shouldn't be as affected by their mental health as they are. It's really important for me that people hear that taking care of yourself, including your mental health is important and so I really appreciate you sharing that part of your story.

Jayci Lee: I was going to say it was a running joke in our associate's group that all of us would wake up in a panic at three in the morning thinking we forgot to file something or something went wrong. All of us would wake up at three in the morning and we're like, “Oh, that's so funny. You too? You too? You too?”

It was literally almost all my peers, we had anxiety dreams, panic attacks in the middle of the night, and thought it was normal. It isn't, guys. Anxiety attacks and waking up in a cool sweat every night, that is not normal. Lawyers might think it is but you guys, it is not normal. You need to see someone, you need to unpack whatever is causing those nightmares and deal with it before it becomes a much bigger issue.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think it's so important for people to understand, I think as lawyers it's very easy to think, “Oh, well, mind over matter. I'll just decide to not feel a particular way,” but when we're talking about mental health, we're talking about your nervous system. We're talking about things that are not just a mind-over-matter situation.

I think it's interesting because there are a number of people who have come on the podcast and have had similar experiences in that they basically got to the point where they realized, “I can no longer do this because it is not healthy for me mentally or physically.”

I think there are a lot of us who became lawyers who I think can be very obstinate and it can take a lot for us to admit that there's something else that we should be doing.

Jayci Lee: Yeah. Lawyers, I think most of us are consumed with overachievers, so sucking it up and doing our best is part of our MO. I think we need to realize that is not the healthiest thing to do to yourself. You have some grace for yourself. I think that is so important.

Oftentimes, we don't pause enough to think about what we're doing with our bodies, our mental health because we're so busy and we just have to survive every day, survive getting through the law firm culture, all your caseloads. When you're in that survival mode, I think you forget that you need to take care of yourself. That's a big trap I think in some ways that you have to dig yourself out of before it hurts you and really affects you.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Even you shared that you had gone on leave and then you went back and then you ended up going out on leave again, I think that is a story that I've heard multiple times because again, I think as lawyers, often whether it's by training or personality or both, we have this sense of “I should be able to do whatever it is that I decide I'm going to do” without accounting for the fact that we're humans, we're human beings. I think it's really important for people to recognize you're allowed to be human. You are human but it can be hard for us to admit that to ourselves as lawyers.

Jayci Lee: I had two bouts of pneumonia and one of my cases went to trial. It's the case I worked up. Two trial attorneys were handling it but, of course, I'm prepping the witnesses and I'm at court with 104 fever and sweating cold sweat. That's what was expected of me and it didn't occur to me to say, “I'm sick. I'm really, really sick and I can't do it.” The culture is toxic in some ways that they want you to forget that you're human.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, absolutely. I will say that the fact that you have that experience when I was reading the book, it very much came through. I was reading the book and I was like, “The person who wrote this book definitely used to practice law, maybe still does.”

Jayci Lee: I was going to say Booked on a Feeling where I wrote about a litigator who was starting to question her career, her life, that's when I really realized that, “Wow, I didn't enjoy being a lawyer. I didn't process it fully. I thought I just got sick and I had to take care of myself,” all that. It's hard work long hours.

But it's not only that, there was so much more to it that felt wrong to me, to my personality, to who I was that I figured out as I wrote about this character, Lizzy, a fifth-year litigator. Writing has taught me a lot of things, one of which is I cannot go back to being an attorney.

Sarah Cottrell: It's so interesting that you say that because I do think it's one of those things that we often have to process over time. First of all, a couple of questions. My first question is you said you originally wanted to be a romance author when you were 14, I'm assuming that's because you read romance novels and you were like, “This seems like it would be fun”?

Jayci Lee: Yeah, I started reading romance a little bit too early probably at 13. It was Harlequin and a lot of it was sweet romance but then you graduate quickly into [inaudible] Harlequins and I left all of it, the drama of it, the escape the sense of hopefulness, and this other unalterated happiness the characters get for me to be part of that and to feel as well. It was so compelling to me that I wanted to be the one to tell stories like that myself.

Sarah Cottrell: Do you remember between 14 and when you went to law school, was there a point where you decided, “Oh, actually, I'm not going to go that path,” or did you just drift away from it?

Jayci Lee: Always in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “By the time I'm 30, I want to have written a book, by the time I'm 35, 40.” I kept pushing it back and it didn't take up a concrete space in my mind where I made it a real goal, it was just a dream, a literal pipe dream. I had no idea that I could really do it. It was just something like a romanticized thought about someday becoming an author.

It wasn't at any point where I'm like, “I shouldn't be a lawyer. I should be a writer.” No, it's when I stopped being a lawyer and I had time to sit, think, and just be that I realized, “Alright, I'm meant to be a writer.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. You talked a little bit about the fact that you wrote some books and then you ended up getting an agent. We've had one or two other authors on the podcast and this is something that we've talked about a bit but I would love to hear from you because I know it's different for everyone, can you share a little bit with the listeners the significance of the agent in the whole book selling process or manuscript selling process and then what the process is to go about finding an agent?

Jayci Lee: Okay, basically, if you want to be traditionally published, you cannot do it without an agent because most publishing houses will not even look at your manuscript unless your agent did. To even get yourself into the door, just your toe into the door and have a real person take a look at your manuscript, you need to find an agent.

The process is pretty difficult. I know authors who've tried for 10 years book after book submitting it to hundreds of agents to take them on as clients. You get pretty much used to rejections on your route to becoming a traditionally published author.

Everyone, any famous author, Stephen King, anyone, I'm sure every famous author that has gone through any school, reading requirements, all of that, all of them must have gone through multiple rejections before finding an agent. It's a draining process but you need to persevere ultimately to find your agent because that's the only way to get traditionally published.

Sarah Cottrell: Can you talk a little bit about how you found your agent?

Jayci Lee: I did it the very old-fashioned way of making cold subs which is I just wrote query letters, included some sample pages of my manuscript, and sent it out to a few agents that I was interested in working with. But I was very fortunate in that one of my top choices was interested in my work and she asked for my full manuscript.

She was in the process of reading over my full manuscript to decide whether or not to take me on as her client. I have one exception, Harlequin, if you want to write category romance, does take un-agented manuscripts. Being the overachiever type that I am, I was pursuing both leads. I submitted to Harlequin. This is cold submission again so you're going at the bottom of thousands of manuscripts. I was submitting to agents.

But Harlequin, an editor there somehow discovered me from what they called a slush pile and wanted to sign a three-book contract with me. She asked me if I had an agent and I said, “Oh, I have someone who asked for my full and she's reviewing.” My editor said, “I know that agent. I'm going to give her a call and let her know I'm making you an offer and see if she wants to sign you.”

Basically, in the same week, I signed with Harlequin and my agent. For me, it happened really quickly. I was very, very fortunate. So within two years, I would say I sold my manuscript and found an agent.

Sarah Cottrell: You said your first book released in 2020 within two years. Are you saying you wrote your books in 2018 or the first one released in 2020? Can you talk a little bit about the timeline for people?

Jayci Lee: Okay. There's a whole process before a book comes out. In 2015, I wrote my two books. I spent a couple of years revising those books with the help of a mentor. In 2017 is when I started querying to Harlequin and to literary agents. In 2018 is when I signed my first contract and signed with an agent.

Publishing process takes multiple editing and positioning. They decide when is the best time to release the book and whatnot. It was decided that my book was going to come out in 2020. I signed my first book contract in 2018, my first book came out in 2020.

Sarah Cottrell: Got it. You said you've now released or you will have released 10 books, you have your 10th book coming out this summer. Is that right?

Jayci Lee: That’s right, yes.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay. What is your 10th book about?

Jayci Lee: My 10th book is the last book in a three book series with Harlequin Desire, and it's about three sisters called the Hana Trio. They're the string players in the trio and each of the sisters has a book. This one is the last book, the youngest sister who plays the viola for the string trio.

It has a lot of yummy tropes romance readers will recognize. Many of them like a secret crush, age gap, fake dating, enemy still lovers, a lot of things happen where she meets this virtuoso violinist of her generation who has been her teen idol, and suddenly her sister is going on maternity leave and he has reasons to lay low and decides to sub for her in the Hana Trio. She tries very hard to be professional and not crush on him again but she ends up falling in love with him as he does with her.

Sarah Cottrell: Sounds amazing.

Jayci Lee: It is a lot of fun to write.

Sarah Cottrell: I was going to say that people who are on my email list will know that I am a big fan of Hallmark Christmas Movies, which I think romance is basically all of the wonderful tropes that you sometimes might see in those but in book form.

Hey, it's Sarah. I want to remind you that I am now working with a very limited number of lawyers one-on-one who are trying to figure out what it is that they want to do that isn't practicing law. What we'll do when we work together one-on-one is we will meet for 12 weeks and you and I will walk through the framework that I've created to help lawyers do exactly that. On top of personalizing that and making individualized choices about which pieces of that you need to focus on, spend more time on, spend less time on, I also have the capacity to lend my brain to your situation.

When we're working together one-on-one, I'm able to look at cover letters, resumes, and other things that you may be putting together, cold outreach emails, figuring out who you might want to reach out to, figuring out, “Okay, I have all this information about who I am, values, personality, strengths, etc., from these various assessments, but how do I put that together into a picture of what it is that I actually want to be doing? How do I figure out what I actually want my life and career to look like?” all of those things.

If that sounds like something that would be helpful to you, I would love to talk with you about whether or not working with me one-on-one is the right fit for you. Go to the website, the Work With Me drop-down, there's a link to information about working with me one-on-one. You can see more details and the price as well as the button to book a free consult with me so that we can talk through whether working with me in this capacity would be the right fit for you. I onboard one new one-on-one client per month so if this is something that you're interested in, definitely schedule that call as soon as you can because I fill the spots on a first-come-first-served basis. I look forward to talking with you about whether working together one-on-one could be a good fit.

Can you talk to me, Jayci, you mentioned early on that being a litigator helps you do the writing that you need to do, I can't remember exactly how you put it but one of the things that of course people talk a lot about when they're thinking about leaving law is do I have transferable skills? What are they? All of these sorts of things, so can you talk a little bit about the ways in which your experience practicing as a lawyer might show up in the work that you're now doing as an author?

Jayci Lee: Obviously, based on Booked on a Feeling, it is inspiration fodder. I based the main character on a litigator based on my experience as a litigator. But in terms of writing, legal writing is drastically different from writing a novel, obviously, but how it helps me is that my 10th book in the last two and a half years is coming out, it helps me write fast and helps me write clean.

I could write more books I guess, meet deadlines easily, and work under pressure. There's a lot of pressure because publishing is a wait, wait, hurry, hurry kind of game so you're just waiting and waiting and suddenly, “Okay, you have to go to write the story but we want it in a few months,” so you're like, “Ah!” A lot of people go into paralysis when there's too much pressure but litigators have learned to work through that.

I don't get paralyzed, I get motivated, and I just sit down and pound out the story way faster than advisable. But when I read it over, there's hardly a typo or anything because I am able to write very clean because out of necessity, I had 15 years of practice doing that as a litigator. Even though I'm writing something completely different, a love story, a story full of hope rather than two parties fighting each other, it still translates.

Sarah Cottrell: That makes total sense and that's something that comes up in a lot of different contexts where someone is doing some sort of writing in their post-legal career. It's so interesting because, I don't know if this is your experience, but I think so often, especially when you work at a law firm and so you're just surrounded by lawyers, you really discount some of those things, some of those skills that you've developed because it can be hard to see them because it's just what is done in that environment and you can forget that not everyone has that level of training and experience of just, “Okay, well, now you need to write the brief and it needs to be done and it also needs to be well organized. It also needs to not have typos.”

All of these things are actual skills that people can bring into whether it's working as an author or doing something else that involves writing. I know that a lot of people tend to be surprised once they move into something else to realize, “Oh, these skills are actually notable and it was just hard to see them in the environment that I was in.”

Jayci Lee: Yeah. One thing litigators also have is the skill to persuade. When you're writing a novel, a fiction, it's important to capture your reader's attention, make them invested in the characters and the story you're telling. I think our ability to write persuasively to tap into the reader's psyche and emotions, I think that's also a transferable skill.

Because when you're writing motion, you have to know who the reader is going to be, probably an overworked law clerk, depending on which region you'll talk and lean towards whatever political biases they might have or whatnot so you are tailoring your brief to your reader. It's a little bit similar in writing fiction in that you have to think about what the readers want, why you're writing the genre that you're writing, and being able to write persuasively, to not just tell them but to pull them in with your words is a skill I think I did definitely transfer from being a litigator as well.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. For people who are listening and are thinking, “Wow, this sounds amazing. This is maybe something that I've been interested in doing or just interested in writing in general,” what advice would you have for someone, Jayci, who's in that place where they're like, “This sounds really interesting but also I feel like there are things that are holding me back”?

Jayci Lee: Fun fact, a ton of romance authors were former lawyers. I'm so surprised to meet my colleagues who say, “Oh, I used to be a lawyer too.” There are way more than you would think. My advice would be if you're okay doing the work you're doing, I don't think you should just quit right away and plan on becoming a published author because, like I said, it's a long process.

If you do want to write a novel and become a published author, I say find 30 minutes in your day, sometime lunch break. It's best to take a break during lunch if you can. I know most of us ate at our desks but doing 30 minutes of something different, something you're passionate about will rejuvenate your mind so you could go back to being a lawyer and do a better job of it.

I would take 30 minutes every day and every minute, you could scavenge from your weekends. It's harder for parents I'm sure but you could still do it. I had two little kids and I still wrote my books. Finish your book, start the submission process. If you have to cut your hours a little bit, do that but start the process, save some nest egg or have a safety net.

Because this process of querying and trying to get published is nerve-wracking as it is, I wouldn't suggest you ratchet up the stakes by quitting your job with no other plans of supporting yourself before you do this. Be consistent. Don't give up. Be strategic. You have all the tools to be able to do this. You just have to plan it out.

Sarah Cottrell: I think just the take action but it doesn't have to be a huge amount of action at any one time necessarily but just consistent action, I think that is so important. Even with the lawyers who I work with, as they're, like you said earlier on the call, figuring out what they want to do as opposed to what they think they should do, part of that process is recognizing you may not be able to even do this every day, work on this every day but if you have small consistent amounts of time that you set aside, you ultimately will make progress.

I think as lawyers, it can be easy to want to wait until there are perfect conditions to do the thing that we've been wanting to do but I think your point is incredibly well taken, which is you just should start. Start now.

Jayci Lee: Yeah, you should. That makes all the difference. It will help your mental health to feel like you're making progress towards something you want, something different, there's the hope in it. That's why I'm like, “Don't just quit and do this because the pressure will make it less fun.”

You want to keep it fun and hopeful so work on that book you've been dreaming about. Just set aside a time and write as often as you can. Just do it consistently and keep going until you finish. It's very important to finish your book. A lot of people have trouble getting past a certain point but you need to finish that book because that way, you could really start submitting and trying to move forward towards publishing.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that. Jayci, is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't had a chance to touch on yet?

Jayci Lee: Oh, you don't want me going off on a tangent. I'll just talk your ear off. I think all your questions have been very insightful and had a great time chatting with you. We've covered a lot of the issues I think and lawyers who want to be former lawyers considering it. It would be great if it could start a conversation amongst our group, our peers.

Sarah Cottrell: I agree wholeheartedly. Jayci, for people who want to connect with you, find you online, buy your books, all of that, where should they go?

Jayci Lee: You could find me at I am active on Instagram and my tag is @authorjaycilee.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay, awesome. We will put all those links in the show notes and on the page with the blog post for the episode. If you're listening and you're driving or whatever and you can't write stuff down, you can just go to the episode information in your podcast player or on the website and all of the links to Jayci's site, her socials, and whatever, it'll all be there.

Thank you so much, Jayci, for coming on the podcast. I'm really glad that I read Booked on a Feeling and found you.

Jayci Lee: I'm so glad too. I don't get a chance to talk about my prior life and how it led to this life and it's fun for me to share and to know that there are listeners out there who would really care so thank you for inviting me.

Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at Until next time, have a great week.