Law School
Personal Finance

Interview With Saira Rao, Author of Chambermaid


Today we are fortunate enough to hear from Saira Rao, former attorney and author the new book Chambermaid. Saira was kind enough to take some time from her very busy schedule and answer these questions. Please join me in welcoming Saira to The Frugal Law Student!

1. How did you go from attorney to author?

I wrote and edited most of Chambermaid while still practicing. So technically, I was lawyering and authoring at the same time. I’d write early, from 6 to 9am every morning before leaving for work, then put in long stretches on either Saturday or Sunday. I think back to the two years I stuck, robotically, to this schedule and remember feeling like an automaton and such a pill.

2. Tell us about your book. Where did you get the inspiration for it? Is it autobiographical in some ways? How do you think federal judges will react to it?

Chambermaid is a comic tale told from the trenches of the federal chamber—the most elite and secretive institution known to the judicial estate. Even the Vatican is more open. The inspiration? I did, in fact, clerk for a court of appeals judge but it is not autobiographical. I’ll leave it at that.

I think (hope) anyone with a sense of humor — federal judge or not and lawyers and non-lawyers — will get a kick out of Chambermaid. Before the book was even released, some people in the legal community expressed outrage over its mere existence — as though having a federal judge as a character in a novel was inherently wrong. Although I think it would be fine for a former law clerk to write a memoir about his or her experiences clerking, Chambermaid is not a memoir. That said, I understand what all the scandal is about. Serving as a law clerk is considered to be the most prestigious job in the legal profession — a gift. Like anything else in life, some people have great clerkships, others have hideous ones. Chambermaid is the dark flip side to an otherwise shiny coin.

3. What are your future career plans? Have you made a permanent move from the practice of law? If so, why did you want to stop practicing?

I am working on a second novel. I decided to stop practicing not because I hated being a lawyer, but because I discovered that I loved to write. Really, it’s the only sort of work I’ve ever done that doesn’t involve me checking the clock every 15 minutes, wondering how much longer until I get to go home (that could also be attributed to the fact that I work from home).

4. Have you started writing your next book yet?

I have. Aside from one somewhat tangential character who is a former lawyer, my new manuscript is law-free (for the moment at least).

5. Now, for the law school finance questions. How much debt did you incur while in law school?

I did take out loans to pay for half of law school. But I was also deeply lucky to have parents who paid for the other half.

6. Have you paid off your debt yet? If not, do you have a goal of when you want to pay it off and how do plan on reaching your goal?

No, I have not paid off my debt. The rate on the loan is too low right now to pay it off.

7. What was your biggest financial mistake during law school?

Spending weeks on end in denial that I was in graduate school and behaving like a member of the gainfully employed. I’d eat out (a lot!) at the same restaurants as my friends who were investment bankers and very solvent. I tried to pretend I was someone-anyone—but a drab grad student.

8. What did you do to mitigate your debt load while in school?

Momentary shame spirals that entailed denial of basic things. These typically lasted hours, not days or weeks. As such, not much was mitigated.

9. Any parting advice to law students about saving money or choosing a career?

Law school is expensive. For some reason, most of us don’t quite grasp that until after the first loan repayment bill arrives. Unfortunately, my best advice is for the prospective law student-know what you are getting yourself into before going law school. Understand that most law graduates end up working at law firms. This, of course, is not at all a bad thing. It’s just the reality.

Thanks, Saira, for that awesome interview. Go and check out Saira’s new book, Chambermaid, available in bookstores now. (You can also purchase it through Amazon using the convenient link in the sidebar.)

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