Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, Ted Frank of Overlawyered.com announced that he was leaving the law firm of O'Melveney & Myers for a 'dream job' at American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, where he'll manage the thinktank's litigation-reform work as director of the AEI Liability Project. When I heard Ted's announcement, I thought it would be interesting to inquire a little further. Ted was kind enough to answer the following questions in an e-mail exchange. --Evan Schaeffer
On Overlawyered, you described your position with AEI as your "dream job." Why?
There probably aren't a lot of college kids who voraciously consume their subscriptions to the National Review and the New Republic, look at the two-line biographies of the policy analysts doing think pieces, and say "I'd like to be doing that," but I was one of those people. I was notorious on campus for writing a prolific number of op-eds for the school paper and for a couple of political magazines. It got to the point that I was sufficiently frustrated with the infrequency of their publication schedules that a bunch of friends and I took over a dormant left-wing magazine that was sitting on an office and a pile of student funding, but couldn't get anything done because it was organized as a collective. We turned it into a functioning organization publishing a centrist magazine, and I taught myself how to do layout so that I could help get it out the door and I'd have someplace else to write.
And now I have the opportunity to play the sort of role that I admired in college and do it at a thinktank that's perhaps the best in the business, surrounded by great thinkers in the forefront of their fields and a squad of bright research assistants. Just in the first week of May, AEI sponsored seven programs, including talks by Richard Posner, Lawrence Silberman, Tyler Cowen, Lawrence Lindsey, and Camille Paglia; that's just a wonderful environment to be in, and I'm not even changing my Metro stop to go there.
It's worth clarifying that I have several other dream jobs, like Article III appointee, Solicitor General, or game show host. Some are more plausible than others; the Yankees' third-base slot looks to be locked up for a while. But when it comes to dream jobs, it's important to make a decision and commit to it. I learned that lesson from a woman I dated who jumped from network tv executive to memoirist to med student to dot-com executive to sitcom writer to radio commentator and back again a couple of times, even achieving a measure of fame and recognition in each of those positions. She had several lifetimes' worth of dream jobs, yet she was one of the unhappiest people I've ever known, because she was always dwelling on the roads she wasn't taking. The status anxiety of successful people is just a fascinating subject that hasn't been explored enough; it amazes me that John Adams went to his grave worrying that he'd be unfavorably compared to Thomas Jefferson.
Will you miss the day-to-day grind of litigation? What will you miss about it?
I think what I liked most about litigation was doing research, thinking, and writing on knotty issues, and I certainly liked that enough that I was prepared to spend the rest of my life doing litigation to keep doing that. So I'm fortunate in that I'll get to keep doing that four blocks away.
I've gotten to visit twenty different states and a bunch of places I'd never would've gone because of litigation I've done. I would miss that, too, but hopefully I'll get a chance to talk at some law schools.
I've worked for some great law firms doing some cutting-edge cases: on average of once a year, I got to learn about an industry—hotels, TV set-top boxes, office supply retailing, ammonia pipelines, wine corks, Indian gaming, seismic retrofitting—inside and out as part of some litigation or the other I was doing. I invariably found that part of the job fascinating. I don't know what sort of consulting opportunities will present themselves while I'm at AEI, but I imagine that I'll end up missing that aspect of litigation, though I'm not sure that that qualifies as part of the "day-to-day grind."
I can amend that to add that, forty-eight hours out from my last day, I'm suffering blackberry withdrawal symptoms.