Wielding the Pen for Liberty

Winter 2003

Wielding the Pen for Liberty

Take the fight for freedom out of the courtroom and into the press

By Marni Soupcoff

You don’t need to be a lawyer to be a writer, but the truth is that it really helps. Law school teaches you to be concise, persuasive and to back up your statements with facts—all qualities valued in a writer, whether he’s penning an op-ed or a puff piece for a glossy magazine. Drop the legalese (and maybe a bit of the arrogance) law school education instills and—presto—you have a solid foundation for a career in writing.

By the same token, you don’t have to work at IJ or attend IJ’s law student conference to become a right-of-center political commentator, but it really helps. When I attended IJ’s law student conference in 1998, I met fellow libertarians from around the country and got a great dose of energy and inspiration. It made me feel that I could go back and face my collectivist-minded fellow law students at Stanford with the confidence and calm that come from knowing one’s ideas are shared and valued by thinking scholars, students and practitioners.

Being part of IJ’s law student conference also made me want to work at IJ. In one session of the conference, I sat with my fellow IJ summer clerk David (who later went on to work on Capitol Hill) and listened, spellbound, as Chip Mellor stood at the front of the room and made the concept of conservative public interest work (something most people view as an oxymoron) come vividly alive. When he was done, David and I grinned at each other and said, "I want to do that."

Luckily, I did get to do that. I worked as an attorney at IJ from 2000 until 2002. While I was there, I met clients whose lives were directly affected by government overreaching in terrible ways. No matter how many policy pieces or law review articles I’d read in the past, I could never have understood the human terms of individual rights without actually getting to know the real people I did as an IJ lawyer. People like Reverend Jenkins (who lost his church in Long Island to eminent domain) or William and Bill Minnich (who lost the home of their family woodworking shop to eminent domain) made me sad. Their indomitable spirits inspired hope, and their plights showed me that strength is necessary. They also made me want to tell their stories.

And that is what I am doing now. Telling stories as a writer and political commentator, trying to ferret out hypocrisies and wrongs and shining the light of humor and ridicule on misguided policies. Or heck, maybe I’m just writing a bunch of articles about what one humble libertarian Canadian thinks of the world. I don’t know. But the point is that I’m enjoying it, and it’s going well.

And my experiences at IJ, from the law student conference to working as an attorney, are part of what gave me the necessary familiarity with both the intellectual concepts and the real-life struggles of fighting for individual liberty that have made it possible for me to be a well-rounded commentator. Those experiences also linked me with the people who have made writing not only possible, but also very pleasant.

My editor at the American Enterprise Online, Eli Lehrer, has become a fantastic friend with endless good ideas, both professional and personal. I can’t imagine spending my days writing without having him there to help with articles and new angles. But I might never have met him had I not attended Public Interest Law Group meetings on behalf of IJ. And I might not have kept in touch with him if not for another great IJ connection, Cato policy analyst and fellow former IJ summer clerk, Marie Gryphon.

Of course, freelancing is not all sunshine, and in the months since I have been writing full time, I’ve had moments when I’ve craved a bit of encouragement. Some of the warmest and most sincerely heartening comments I’ve received have been from my former colleague and IJ attorney Steve Simpson and from IJ friend Ron Krieger. And sometimes being encouraged is the most important thing of all.

As a fledgling 1L at Stanford, I already knew that the Institute for Justice would be an instrumental part of my professional life. What they were doing was too important and resonated with me too much not to have an impact. But what I didn’t realize then was that IJ could (and ultimately would) help me become, of all things, a writer. It’s a path I’m grateful to have found.

Marni Soupcoff (LSC 98) is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She writes a regular column for the American Enterprise Online.

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