Mercer Law alumni and New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry visited Mercer Law School Friday, February 3 at noon to speak to law students, staff and fans alike.
Berry is the author of nine best-selling international suspense thrillers including The Jefferson Key, The Paris Vendetta and The Templar Legacy. His most recent novel, The Columbus Affair, is set to be published this May.
However, this speech was not a stop on a book tour, Berry and his wife Elizabeth came back to Macon as part of the Historic Macon event celebrating Macon native, Sidney Lanier’s 170th birthday.
When Berry walked into Classroom A of the law school, fans were excited, law students were intrigued and both law professors and Berry were nostalgic.
“I remember this room well. My first day in Professor Cresswell’s Matter of Course class I was sitting in the back of this room when he asked me what a matter of course was. I didn’t know and he nailed me to the cross,” said Berry.
“I never forgot that, and I never let it happen again,” laughed Berry.
Mercer Law Professor Harold Lewis gave a memorable introduction to Berry’s speech saying “This is not the Steve Berry I remember.”
“I remembered a first-year law student who I called on while teaching a Civil Procedure class to read aloud the federal rule of civil procedure x. Berry answered ‘I don’t have that rule with me, and you don’t have yours either,’” said Lewis.
After his introduction, Berry spoke to his audience of law school memories and how his time at Mercer Law helped shape him both for his future as a trial lawyer and as a novelist.
“I had to write one brief for Professor Lewis and when I got it back it looked like someone had died on it. There was red on every page, and Lewis told me to go back and rewrite it. I remembered that,” said Berry.
Berry then delved into the difference between legal writing and fiction writing, a difference that took him quite a bit of time to understand.
“When you write legally you are constantly repeating yourself, but when your object is fiction you only say it once. The difference is legal writing is meant to be persuasive, fiction is meant to entertain,” Berry said.
He told his audience that it took six years to break himself of legal writing, adding that his first seven books were written while he was still practicing law.
During that time he was rejected by publishing houses 85 times, but never gave up.
“On that 86th time it worked, a little book called The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown brought back the international suspense thriller genre and the only reason I was still there when this happened was because I didn’t quit,” said Berry.
Berry’s speech was followed by a question and answer session where audience members picked his brain.
It was revealed in this session that the idea for The Jefferson Key was born in Mercer Law School during an assignment for a Constitutional Law class.
“Article One Section A of the Constitution deals with letters of Mark which says that America can hire pirates to go out, pillage and plunder other ships if the U.S. gets a cut. I knew then that I wanted to write a book about that,” said Berry.
When asked how to approach a jury in a trial, Berry told the audience “The number one key to holding a juries’ attention is to appear like you know what the hell you’re doing.”
“I never went into a court room unless I knew more about that case than anyone else. You need to be more knowledgeable about that case than any other person,” said Berry.
“The life of a lawyer is that no one will come see you unless they have a problem. That is your life, learn to try and resolve it as best you can. I loved it, but I never want to do it again,” added Berry.
Berry concluded by saying how great it was to come back to Macon and by telling his audience to never give up. “I sent out 400 letters pleading for an agent; one took me.”
After the speech Berry invited his audience to come out for a book signing in the lobby of the Law School. Here students and faculty alike discussed Berry’s words of wisdom.
“It is exciting having Berry back here. It’s a different person. He is the same in basic ways, but he is an entirely different person that I did not know about. It’s exciting,” said Lewis.
Mercer student Joseph Batts thought hearing a Mercer Alumni speak was a great experience. “It was really cool,” adding that Berry’s advice to writers was interesting and helpful.