Offbeat attorney/author wins American Bar fiction contest

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Award-winning short story author Lance Hendrickson

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

 by Cynthia Price
Legal News

An attorney with a diverse roller-coaster of a career — a political candidate who was too idealistic for his own good — and a half-hearted author who keeps winning awards, Lance Hendrickson is a man of many contradictions.

The American Bar Association recently chose his short story, “It’s Legal, There,” from 135 submissions as the winner of the very first ABA Journal/Ross Contest for Short Fiction.

He also won an honorable mention in the State Bar of Michigan’s 2007 contest. Those are two of very few writing contests he has entered, so his track record is outstanding.

Hendrickson currently lives in Whitehall and was raised in nearby Hesperia. His practice has taken him all over the country, both right after he received his J.D. from Arizona State University College of Law and more recently.

Though he did minor in English at the undergraduate level at Central Michigan University — his major was Political Science and he graduated cum laude —he chose to pursue the law rather than his writing.

That is in part because being a lawyer had been his dream for a long time. He tells it this way: “When I was this big,” gesturing to indicate a height of about three feet, “I was watching the Watergate hearings with my mother. I was kind of getting it, but not quite, so I asked her, ‘What are the men in the suits doing?’ She answered, ‘They’re saving the country.’ I just thought, OK, I have to be a man in the suit – most of them are lawyers so I guess I’ll go to law school.” 

While at Arizona State, Hendrickson took advantage of a number of opportunities to do good, including working in the  Arizona Attorney General’s Office Child Support Enforcement Section doing legal analysis and policy/legislative recommendations; editing and drafting documents for the Arizona Solicitor General as a student extern;  and interning in the Mesa City Prosecutor’s Office.

 He also assisted in complex litigation against former directors and officers of Western Savings and Loan as a summer associate in the Phoenix firm of Lorance and Thompson.

When it came time for full-time employment, Hendrickson chose to work as an assistant tribal attorney and assistant public defender for the  Colorado River Indian Tribes. There he learned about federal Indian law
and tribal gaming. He assisted with writing the tribe’s first Tribal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Hendrickson returned to Hesperia after that, pursuing an extension of his goals: running for public office. He was successful in the 1996 and 1998 primaries for state representative, but defeated in the final elections, and served as a school board member in Hesperia from 1997 until poor local economic conditions forced him to move away again.

“I’m a really good political strategist but  I’m a lousy candidate,” Hendrickson says, noting that although he still loves politics he will not run again. ‘I tend to open my mouth at the wrong times.”

The Sacramento firm of Monteau, Peebles and Crowell allowed him to continue his work with Native American Tribes. A Senior Litigation Associate, Hendrickson also helped tribal clients with business development and regulatory licensing. Finding he was good at that, Hendrickson moved around the country for many years, serving in various legal or business development capacities, ending up as an Assistant Casino Manager in  Kansas City, Missouri, in charge of regulatory and property management.

All the while he pursued his writing, including a brief stint as a syndicated humor and political columnist. He says he has only recently taken his writing seriously at all, and this week sent off a whole book’s worth of short stories to a contest where the prize is publication.

“Maybe it’s time,” he comments.

His winning short story is understated and very much that of a lawyer. The protagonist, who shoots off sarcastic, erudite and self-deprecating comments much the way Hendrickson himself does, is in a rural small town defending a woman accused of killing her young son. His regret at having to give her the legal advice he does, considering what she is up against, is almost palpable.

Hendrickson uses the highly effective device of having everything in the first-person story written in past tense except for occasional off-handed corrections to present tense about his own emotions regarding the case. For example: “But they bothered me, that meeting, and that client, and that case.  And it bothered me that they bothered me.  Bothers, I guess.”

For his efforts, he won $3000 and a trip to the National Press Club in Washington DC, along with the other major prize-winner. 

The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction went to a Stanford law professor, Paul Goldstein, for Havana Requiem, about an attorney helping a group of aging Cuban jazz musicians and their families reclaim copyrights to their works and the mystery that ensues. “That was neat to see,” Hendrickson comments. “The whole thing was really cool. I even stayed at the Willard.”

Noting that some of the better-known judges who were supposed to be there, such as Katie Couric, did not show up, Hendrickson adds that his own high point was meeting Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I got to tell him what a good job I thought he was doing, and chat with him for a while. That was a nice experience.”

The contest and award are made possible by a trust from the estate of Los Angeles Judge Erskine M. Ross.