UF Law grad becomes New York Times bestselling author
By Jenna Box
It was 1994 when a newly published author paced the floors of his local bookstore in South Florida. He grabbed a James Grippando novel from the shelf and walked toward the counter with the thriller, titled The Pardon.
“That’s my book, you know,” he told the sales clerk as he laid it on the counter.
“Yes, it is once you’ve paid for it,” she responded with a puzzled expression.
He held back the urge to whip out his license to prove his identity.
“Best $23 I’ve ever spent,” he said as he gave her the cash.
She pointed at the book, “James Gri…Grippa…Grippa-na-nando. Never heard of him. Any good?”
“No,” he said, “just lucky.”
Ten years and 20 books earlier, Grippando (JD 82) was a trial lawyer who couldn’t shake his childhood dream of becoming a writer. Today, he’s a New York Times bestselling author. His luck has yet to run out.
The double-Gator was once the editor of Florida Law Review, the general chairman of Gator Growl and a standout student.
Fresh out of law school, Grippando served a judicial clerkship immersed in death penalty cases on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was from this experience he drew inspiration for The Pardon.
“I was not one of those lawyers who started writing because I hated the practice of law,” Grippando wrote in an email. “I enjoy it. But it was hard to find a way to do both law and writing at a high level.”
During the height of his legal career, TV shows like “Law & Order” and writers like John Grisham started to become popular. He knew he could write like that, too, he said.
Grippando was right. His latest novel, Blood Money, came out in January, capturing the attention of readers with its stark similarity to the Casey Anthony trial. Grippando’s books are known for drawing from current real-life issues to create gripping realistic fiction.
Grippando said UF Law set him up for success in every way, from his first job as a clerk to his 12 years as a trial lawyer. Although he stepped away from the legal field for a time, he now serves as counsel at Boies Schiller & Flexner thanks to telecommuting.
Lawyer-bashers might say that the connection between being a lawyer and a fiction writer is simple, “either way, you’re making things up,” he said.
“The less cynical view is that both are story tellers,” he said. “A trial lawyer, like a novelist, needs to make his client (the protagonist) sympathetic and the adversary (the antagonist) dislikable; needs to know which facts are important to get into evidence (editing); can’t make the story overly complicated (plotting); and needs to know his judge or jury (the audience).”
For this reason, he’s not surprised so many lawyers transition easily into writing. But Grippando’s knack for storytelling wasn’t the only contribution to his success. His mother was also a published writer.
“Somehow she managed to raise five kids, work, and take courses on the side to get a doctorate degree in education,” Grippando said of his mother. “Her dissertation was later published and became one of the top textbooks in the country for nursing students. More than a quarter-century later it was still going strong in its sixth edition. I hope I can have a run like that.”