I have a book recommendation for you! It’s David Lat’s SUPREME AMBITIONS. You probably know Lat as the founder of Above the Law, the website where young lawyers go for their legal news and gossip. Before founding that company, Lat was a Yale Law student, Ninth Circuit law clerk, and federal prosecutor – so he knows what he’s talking about in his debut novel.

SUPREME AMBITIONS follows the rise of a Audrey Coyne, a brilliant young lawyer determined to clerk on the Supreme Court. But in order to do that, she has to survive a clerkship with a temperamental and ambitious Ninth Circuit judge. Audrey soon discovers that high ambitions come with a high price.

Supreme Ambitions cover high resolution          David Lat (public domain image)

I loved this novel. It was entertaining, realistic, and often hilarious. Lat has a gift for keeping the pages turning, and I found myself reading long after a working mom should turn her lights out. Lat nails what it’s like to be a federal appellate law clerk. This was the most realistic book about being a law clerk that I’ve ever picked up.  It was also a helluva good read.

If you’re looking for an fun, smart read over the holidays, you’ll want to check this out. And if you’re looking for the perfect gift for the law clerk in your life, this is the one.

Oscar Pistorius Verdict

In light of today’s verdict, where the “Blade Runner” was acquitted of murdering his girfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, many people have asked me what I think of the trial. Here, in bullet-points, are a few quick initial thoughts.

*Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but is still on the hook for negligence. The judge may find Pistorius guilty of a lesser charge, “culpable homicide,” aka manslaughter.  That charge can carry anything from a suspended sentence to a long jail term. The judge will announce her decision on the culpable homicide issue tomorrow.

* She will apply the test of what a “reasonable man” with Pistorius’s disabilities should have done. She tipped her hand, saying she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused’s disabilities would have fired four shots” into the bathroom. Pistorius could have called security or went to the balcony and yelled for help.

* South Africa itself has been on trial, especially the police and criminal justice system. The police bungling of this high profile case makes you question what kind of mistakes happen under the radar in everyday cases. The case showed the worst of the police: mishandling of evidence, even evidence of the police stealing Pistorius’s watches.

* The judge had to decided whether this case is about domestic violence or residential crime – twin demons that haunt the country.

* Judge Thokozile Masipa is a black woman who was raised in a poor Zulu township, and studied law under apartheid. The fact that she holds this rich white celebrity’s fate in her hands shows how far the country has come since apartheid. She has been hailed for the calm and dignity she brought to the proceedings.

*Pistorius is South Africa’s OJ Simpson. His trial exposed the lifestyle of a celebrity and also made him they symbol of all things wrong in their country. It showcased the rich’s fear of the poor, racial tension, violence against women, gun violence, and the privileges of a wealthy white defendant.

* While Pistorius’s high profile trial has transfixed the world’s media, little focus has been given on how to prevent violence against women and girls,

* South Africa has some of the world’s worst rates of violence against women, and the highest rate of women killed by an intimate partner. A woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend every eight hours. The rate of intimate femicide, the killing of women by their partners, is five times higher than the global average.

*Research shows that partner violence and rape are fundamentally related to unequal gender norms, power inequalities, and ideals of manhood that support violence and control over women

* A 2013 Unesco report found South Africa’s sex education failed in a number of topics, including gender rights and age appropriateness. Children on South African playgrounds play a game called “rape rape” where boys chase girls and pretend to sexually assault them.

*An estimated 500,000 rapes take place every year in South Africa. In 2012, Interpol named South Africa the rape capital of the world. Still, fewer than 1% of rape cases are reported to the police. There have been reports that police stations are running out of rape kits, which are needed to collect evidence.

* A South African report attributed the low report and conviction rate to the public perception of the police post-apartheid, where police are regarded as a symbol of oppression.

For a more thorough analysis, check out these excellent articles, from which I took much of the above information and analysis: “The Problem of Violence Against Women in South Africa,” by Lydia Smith writing for the International Business Times, and “How the Oscar Pistorius Trial Became a Mirror on South African Society,” by David Smith writing for the Guardian.

How could she marry him? Why Janay Rice and so many domestic-violence victims stand by their man.

Of all the figures in the Ray Rice scandal, his wife Janay is the most mysterious.  Ray himself?  An irredeemable villain.  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who initially gave Ray a paltry two-game suspension?  A coldhearted businessman protecting his bottom line.  But what about Janay Rice, the woman who said “I do” to the running back a few weeks after he beat her into unconsciousness?  Inexplicable.

In fact, 80% of domestic violence victims are back together with their abusers by the time of trial, and don’t want charges brought.  As a DV prosecutor, I saw this over and over.  I’d meet a woman the day of her attack. She’d be bloody and bruised and ready to send her assailant to jail. Two months later, on the day of trial, she’d be cuddling her abuser in the back of the courtroom. “Please, Ms. Leotta,” she’d say. “I don’t want him to go to jail. I love him. Drop the charges.”

If Janay Rice had been mugged by a stranger, she’d wanted him arrested.  But being beaten by a man you love is a very different thing.

Three months after the brutal assault, Janay appeared at a press conference with Ray.  In the intervening time, she’d gone from being his fiancée to being his wife.  She said, “I deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night,” a line which had obviously been scripted for her, and which was promptly tweeted  out by the Ravens.  Ray proceeded to apologize to a lot of people —  including his coach, his fans, and everyone affected by “this situation that me and my wife were in” – but, glaringly, not to the woman he cold-clocked in that hotel elevator.  She sat by him, eerily stoic, ready with her lines.

Here’s my guess.   After Ray hit Janay he was very, very sorry.  He apologized, repeatedly.  He was far nicer to her than he’d been in, say, the year before the beating.  He promised he would change — and she wanted to believe him.  This is the cycle of domestic violence :  after a beating the batterer is the sweetest he can be.  He brings home gifts, promises, and his best behavior.  In this “honeymoon period,” the victim is thoroughly wooed.  She wants him to be better — he’s the father of her child! —  and she wants to be the one who can help him make that change.  She takes him back, hoping for the best.  But if there is no intervention, the tension in their relationship will build again — until the next beating.  And domestic violence doesn’t go away quietly; it spirals upward, with each incident getting more violent and brutal.

But hope springs eternal.  Love.  Forgiveness. Metamorphosis.  Happily Ever After.  In this case, Ray had even more lure than the typical abuser: the promise of a multi-million-dollar NFL salary. The wealth to buy the massive diamond ring Janay wore during that awkward press conference.   The kind of lifetime financial security that few women can hope for—and that Janay, perhaps, could not resist.

Eventually, Janay said she didn’t want to go forward with criminal charges — but the state went forward anyway, as states may do.  Ray was indicted for aggravated assault on March 27th.  He and Janay were married the next day.  This was not a coincidence:  New Jersey has a spousal privilege, by which a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband, although a girlfriend can. Ray and Janay may have been deeply in love, but I bet the reason they got married was so she couldn’t be forced to testify against him.

But Ray didn’t realize there was video still lurking out there, and one video is worth a thousand pages of sworn testimony.  I’m not a big fan of tabloid journalism, but we should thank TMZ.  Thanks for shining a light where few news outlets, even in 2014, are brave enough to look.  Like the video recording in the Donald Sterling case, this two-minute clip took a snippet of unrehearsed reality and got America talking about an uncomfortable reality that still prevails when powerful men think no one is watching.

I hope the NFL expels Ray Rice.  The league could make big difference.  Courts are a blunt tool – carrying the high standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and tending toward probationary penalties even if there is a conviction.  But the NFL has a sharper tool: the tool of public opinion. If Ray loses his job, millions of American boys will see that  this is unacceptable, that no matter how well you play ball, you may not hit the person you love.  That message would also make a difference to millions of female football fans.  Ray Rice says he wants to be a role model, and he should be: by modelling the fact that if you commit such a craven assault—however rich or successful you may be—you will lose your riches, and you will go to jail.

Most of all, I hope Janay is doing okay.

Lessons from a Sex-Crimes Prosecutor — by Heide Herrmann

My friend, Heide Herrmann, is a sex-crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (the same job I held before becoming an author).  She has handled some of the office’s most high-profile sex-crime cases, but is known for bringing incredible diligence, compassion, and good judgement to every case that crosses her desk. Heide is leaving the USAO to work for DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch.  Her recent Facebook post about the lessons she learned from the job really resonated with me.  In a few lines, she captured a lot of what the job is about.  Her post is reprinted below. Good luck with the new job, Heide, and thanks for making the city a better place: one day  and one person, at a time. — Allison

As I embark upon my last week as an Assistant United States Attorney, below is a list, in no particular order, of a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the last six years or so. Some more trite than others.

1.  You gotta fake it ’til you make it.

2.  Everything about being a prosecutor is scary as hell. And it’s how I now know how brave I am capable of being.

3.  When a person tells you that you can’t possibly understand how she feels, she’s right. But you should still try.

4.  I can’t fix all of the problems for all of the people I meet. But every day, there is at least one thing I can do to make one person’s life a little easier, safer or better.

5.  No means no. Unconscious means no. So drunk that she can’t walk or talk means no. If that seems obvious to you, good. Teach it to your sons anyway, because apparently it’s not obvious to everyone.

6.  If a car runs you down in the middle of a crosswalk, it’s the driver’s fault, not yours. But you still look both ways before crossing. Young women — please think about how much you drink, and whether you’ll still be safe if you have another, and another, and another. If a man assaults you it’s his fault, not yours, but I’d rather you never find yourself in that situation.

7.  Hug your children. Tell them how important they are. Talk to them, listen to them, love them, protect and appreciate them. If you already do that, good. Do it more. You’d be surprised how many children have no one who gives them the most basic care and kindness. I don’t want to tell you more, because then it’ll hurt you, the way it hurts me.

8.  There is no group of people more concerned about doing justice, protecting the vulnerable, and maintaining the highest level of ethical and professional standards than the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. I will always be proud to have practiced alongside these heroic prosecutors, and to have served the citizens of the District of Columbia.

A Dream Visit to SVU –by Elexa Nosonchuk

SVU is on a hiatus this week, but this story will make you love the show even more.  This guest post is by Elexa Nosonchuk, one of the biggest SVU fans on the planet.  She visited the set last year via the Dream Foundation.  Here is her inspiring story.  Thanks for sharing this with us, Elexa!  You made me laugh, cry, and … breathe.

elexa mariska breathe pic


I have a progressive lung disease that will eventually kill me. The only things that have kept me alive for the last 2 years are experimental treatments, including chemotherapy and steroids. They each have their own side effects which wreak havoc on my body. One of the few things left in my life that I’m able to enjoy is television, and my favorite show is Law & Order: SVU!! I love the show and the inspiring, encouraging message it gives. SVU reruns are constantly on TV and I never get tired of watching them! A few years back, when asked to figure out what one thing I would like as a life wish, it was an easy answer, and thanks to the amazing people at The Dream Foundation (an organization that gives dreams to adults with life threatening illnesses) I was given the opportunity to visit New York so I could go to the filming of the 300th episode of SVU and meet Mariska Hargitay and the cast! Mariska, the driving force behind the show’s message – that sexual assault and domestic violence are never ok – is the show’s star, and my favorite TV actress! When I asked to meet her, I thought I might get to say hi to her for a few minutes and experiencing the city would be the biggest part of my trip, but the people at Dream Foundation and SVU made it so much more!

It started with a private tour of the set at Chelsea Pier. The entire way into the building I was freaking out; I even took a picture of the floor of the elevator. I was able to see each part of the set and got to sit in the judge’s seat in the courtroom. I sat in the interrogation room and watched segments of the episode film. I had multiple moments where I freaked out because I was so excited about everything I was seeing! Every time I passed by one of the actors on set they would stop and take a picture with me and talk to me! Everyone was so extraordinarily nice!! I must have been beet red the entire visit. One of my favorite parts of the visit was meeting the puppies – the actors bring their dogs to work – and I am definitely a dog person!! After meeting most of the cast and crew, there was a little party with cake and photo opportunities for the 300th episode. I was allowed to take a picture with the cast in front of the cake, during which I’m glad I didn’t pass out! I met Dick Wolf, who I didn’t realize was going to be there. I told him all about how I have seen every episode and he indulged my star-struck, wide-eyed freak out.


We started walking toward Mariska’s dressing room to see if I could finally get my meet and greet with my hero, and we ended up accidentally running into her as we turned a corner. I literally ran into her. I started giggling uncontrollably and doubled over because I couldn’t breathe (remember, I have bad lungs) and she asked, jokingly, if she needed to walk away so I could breathe again. Obviously, I said no!! We were able to sit and talk for a little while and it was so amazing. She wanted to know all about my disease and she took such a real interest, even tearing up multiple times. I was in total disbelief at how amazingly well the day was going. After hearing my story, Mariska got an idea and asked us to follow her to her dressing room. On her wall she had a frame with white paper in it which had the word “Breathe” drawn on it. She told me the story behind this drawing – she made it during an incident where she had a collapsed lung, and she hung it above her door so she could see it whenever she left her dressing room. She took it down, signed the back of it (ending with, “You are a badass. Never forget that”) and gave it to me. We both cried. She also gave me the ‘Fearlessness’ necklace that she was wearing!!! She wears it in every episode, and is a symbol of her Joyful Heart Foundation – and she gave it to ME!!! Again, we both cried. It was such a surreal feeling to be anywhere near her; I couldn’t believe how perfect the day was.

elexa mariska breathe

I was also able to bring the cast some bracelets that I had been selling that say “Just Breathe.” I was sure none of them would actually wear the bracelets, or that the bracelets would break too easily because they were just made of stretchy string, but I still watched every episode after that looking for the bracelet on one of their wrists. It took me about a year – I don’t know how I missed it the first time I saw the episode – but I finally caught a glimpse of my bracelet on Mariska’s wrist in the episode titled, “Vanity’s Bonfire” from 11/14/12 (have I mentioned how much I love Mariska?!). I haven’t noticed the bracelet on any other episode, but I may have just missed it. The last thing I left with my mark on it was a Dream Foundation hat that Kelli Giddish asked me to sign for her. I was so excited that she wanted my autograph, and she said she would wear the hat in her next marathon. I’m not sure if she ever did, but I hope so!!

Elexa Nosonchuk & Danny Pino

I don’t think it’s possible to explain what that trip meant to me. I’ve been trying not to ramble while I type this because I just want to say all of the incredible things that happened in my quick-talking, excited way that makes everyone tell me to calm down. I was invited back, but since I don’t live in New York, I’ll just have to cherish the memories I already have. Danny Pino has been awesome enough to keep in touch with me on Twitter. Every time I get a message from him it makes my stomach jump and I feel the excitement of being on the set all over again. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was way too excited to think straight. I don’t know if any of the SVU cast and crew remember that day for anything other than it being the 300th episode. I like to think someone other than Danny might remember me, but I understand that they meet fans all the time. I am so grateful for my trip and the memories I’ll always have! I wish I had a word to explain how excited I was all day, but no words exist.

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance

What have you been doing with SVU off the air? Watching a lot of hockey?  I’ve been desperately trying to finish writing my next book (the deadline is in  nine days — gulp!) and reading an awesome legal humor book during breaks (while standing at the counter eating peanut-butter bagels).

“The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance” is the first book by lawyer/blogger Kevin Underhill, the man who consistently wins the “Fun” category in the ABA’s legal blog rankings.  If you’ve read his blog, Lowering the Bar, you know he has a hilarious, clever take on the most absurd legal happenings every day.  If you don’t read his blog, go do it now.  I’ll wait.  Funny, right? [Read more…]

Win 2 Tickets to the Icing Smiles Gala

My friend Tracy Quisenberry is an amazing woman who started a nonprofit called Icing Smiles, which delivers custom cakes to families impacted by the critical illness of a child. To date, they’ve provided cakes and treats to 2,000 families.


icing smiles cake at hospital icing smiles cake



icing smiles i kicked cancers butt

Tracey Quisenberry, founder of Icing Smiles

Tracy Quisenberry











On Saturday, February 2, 2013, Icing Smiles will throw its Second Annual Gala at the Oak Room in Sandy Spring, MD, from 7:00-11:00 p.m.  The event will feature light hors d’oeurves, live entertainment, a silent auction, and dessert (believe me, these people know how to do dessert!).  My husband and I can’t wait to go!

Icing Smiles Gala Poster

I’m giving away two tickets (normally $150), to one of my readers. If you’re interested, leave a comment here noting your favorite cake flavor. One reader’s name will be randomly drawn from a hat next Tuesday.

Need Inspiration? Take a Vacation.

Many of my writer friends are, like me, working parents: juggling literary careers and the intense, non-stop logistical operation that is running a family.  We’re good at keeping dozens of balls in the air – but the first one dropped is usually time for ourselves.

That’s a mistake.  Taking a moment just for yourself – doing what you love, what makes your blood rush, what makes you grin like an idiot – is key to everyone’s sanity.  I think this is especially true for folks in creative jobs.  It may be a key to inspiration.

I’d been searching for that inspiration for the last two months.  I finished my third novel (“Speak of the Devil”) around Thanksgiving, and had been brainstorming my next book’s concept ever since.  But I was exhausted from rushing to meet my deadline and getting ready for the holidays.  In two months, I’d outlined several decent ideas, but none were inspired; none had that Big Book feel.

So I planned a vacation.

swimming with the fishes

Back in the day, my husband and I were adventure travelers: trekking to remote outposts, drinking snake-blood martinis, scuba diving among sunken army tanks. But now I have two little sons.  This time, I bowed to parenthood and booked a Jamaican resort featuring roving Sesame Street characters. [Read more…]