The 7 Questions With… interview series will give you an inside glimpse into the lives of various individuals involved in the legal profession, but in very different ways. Today we’re exited to welcome Tyler Coulson, a writer, attorney, and adventurer based in Chicago.
Let’s get started!
1. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
As a wee lad, I wanted to be a musician, a writer, a doctor, an astrophysicist, an astronaut, a farmer. These were all career ideas that interested me and made me happy. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that money was what actually made a person happy. For some reason, I thought that the best way that I could both make money and be a service to society was law. I was profoundly wrong in that assessment.
2. What was your very first job?
My first job was detassling corn. You see, farmers/multinational conglomerates need to know exactly what kind of corn they are planting. So seed corn companies have to know exactly what kind of seed corn they are selling. To accomplish this in yore (the days of), seed corn companies planted three rows of corn close together. The center and tallest row—the “male” row—contained certain specific important genetic information, and the outer two rows—the “female” rows—contained certain specific other genetic information so that when the two rows bred, the resulting corn would be of a specific and uniform genotype. The outer two “female” rows were bred to be shorter than the center “male” row, so that the tassles of the female plants were at a height that young men and women could reach.
The job of a corn detassler, which apparently can be done only when the temperature is over 100 degrees and the humidity around 90%, is to walk through the cornfields pulling the tassles out of the female rows of corn so that the seed corn company could guarantee that the male row pollinated the female resulting in genetically uniform seed corn. It was hot and humid, there were snakes and bees and wasps, and the corn gave us all corn rash on our forearms and the exposed skin of our faces and shoulders. We all got sunburned. There were fistfights and sometimes people hit each other with rocks.
We ate horrible food and operated machinery that we were neither old enough nor qualified to operate, which sometimes resulted in broken limbs. We were very bored. And one time, a 60-year-old man who drove us to the fields in an old school bus told us that he’d watched a few of the 14-year-old girls on our crew pee when they weren’t looking. So, all in all, I’d say marginally worse than the practice of law.
3. What did you think you’d do when you started law school? How is what you do now the same/different?
I started law school thinking that I could get involved in project finance for wind and solar farms. I also thought that, if that didn’t work out, I could practice with a banking or litigation group at a big firm. And I did practice for a big firm for a while. And it was completely different than I expected. I was nonplussed and unhappy, so I decided to walk across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
And, lo!, I did walk across the United States in 2011. What I did during those days was not so completely different from biglaw. For example, people think of Iowa as flat, but the fact of the matter is that the Iowa landscape is mostly rolling hills. In 2011 I crossed Iowa by foot at the peak of a furious summer. Real temperatures were over 100 many days, including a 9-day span in which the temperature didn’t drop below about 105. On the dry gravel back roads I pushed a 100-pound cart up one 40-foot tall hill and, upon reaching the top, I saw five more rolling off into the distance. I let the cart roll of its own weight down and then pushed up the next rolling hill.
At the top I saw five more rolling off into the distance. This went on forever and ever. Each hill individually was no great task to climb, hardly even enough to test a man’s legs much less to get his heart rate up. But at the top of each hill there were five more rolling away. After a certain number of hills—this number is likely different for each person—it dawns on you that all mythology is based not on fractured versions of older legends, older myths; rather, our myths are refinements of everyday human life and experience, distilled until all that remains to the story is the essential nature of the human condition. We are all Sisyphus, as it were.
What I do now is completely different. It’s in no way similar to what I thought I would do when I started law school, and it is in no way similar to what I did at a big firm, and it is in no way similar to walking across a continent. What I do now is mostly write, do short-term and contract legal work, sometimes take on small cases that are usually of an administrative nature.
4. In two sentences, what is your career about today?
I push a boulder up a mountain until I lose my grip on that boulder and go chasing after it as it rolls down the mountain. Then I rinse and repeat.
5. What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake, I write. I write. If I have legal projects, I do those things. I read and read and read. I usually have coffee and eggs for breakfast, and then coffee several more times throughout the day. I obsessively check the balance of my debts and credits. I try to talk to at least ten new people a day, but never do. On good days I spend one hour on the stationary bike at my gym followed by one hour, or “three sweats,” in the sauna.
6. What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading: three treatises on the history of law (names omitted); Shame by Salman Rushdie; The Monkeywrench Gang, by Edward Abbey; and obviously By Men or By the Earth and Attorneys After the Crash, both by a wonderful and talented young writer/attorney named Tyler Coulson. Please buy multiple copies and leave pleasant 5-star reviews on Amazon.com.
7. What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self or a person starting their career?
In every action you take and every decision you make, you should do everything within your power to limit or to eradicate entirely any unjustifiable harm that you would otherwise cause to another person, to another living thing, or to the Earth.
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Tyler Coulson is a writer, attorney, and adventurer based in Chicago. In 2011 he walked across the United States with his dog, Mabel. He is the author of By Men or By the Earth, the story of his cross-country hike, and Attorneys After the Crash. Tyler was born in rural Illinois and practiced corporate law in Chicago.
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