Meet the authors of the Federal Civil Rules Handbook

November 17, 2010

Kristen Albrecht

Federal Civil Rules Handbook(Editor’s note: Yesterday, West released the 2011 edition of the “Federal Civil Rules Handbook.” To mark the occasion, we thought you might like to hear the story of two of the authors behind the book, which delves into each of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with insightful analysis and citations to leading authorities.)

Steven Baicker-McKee and William Janssen met while they both clerked for a federal court – but neither Steve nor Bill thought they would end up in the legal industry. I recently got a chance to meet them while they were on a visit to West’s headquarters here in Minnesota. Here’s how they ended up producing one of the legal industry’s most popular publications.

Steven Baicker-McKee Steve Baicker-McKee graduated from Yale in 1980 and took a job as an actuary – a career path that he soon abandoned because, as he puts it, he didn’t have quite enough personality for the role. From Boston, he moved to Virginia and built custom cabinets and furniture before enrolling in law school at the College of William and Mary. He now serves as a litigation attorney and shareholder with Babst, Calland, Clements and Zomnir in Pittsburgh, but if he weren’t employed in the legal industry, he swears he would be making furniture again.
William Jannsen Bill Janssen’s goal was to be a professional athlete – until he realized he had no skill. He tried to fall back on finger painting, he says, but after debating in college he decided to give law school a try.  He earned his law degree from American University and eventually became a partner at the law firm of Saul Ewing LPP. Now he’s a law professor at the Charleston School of Law, which appears to be his ultimate calling; he says he would be teaching regardless of whether he was in the legal industry.

The idea for “Federal Civil Rules Handbook” (first published in 1993) came from Steve’s neighbor, a state-court attorney working on her first federal case. The neighbor would catch Steve in the back yard and ask him questions about various nuances of the federal rules. At the end of her case, the neighbor handed Steve a copy of a state handbook and suggested that he should write something similar.

Steve wrote a sample rule explication and sent it around to the top legal publishers, and he immediately got responses. As he began work on the publication, he connected with Bill at the law library. It took four years to complete the first edition – all done while the two continued their full-time day jobs.

Here are some questions they answered during their visit to Eagan:

What advice would you give to aspiring legal authors?
Find a hole that needs to be filled, rather than plowing over the same ground that’s been plowed before. There may be a better way to fill a hole that’s already been filled, but filling new holes will make you more successful.

If you weren’t the authors of “Federal Civil Rules Handbook,” why would you buy it?
Maybe for insomnia?
It’s getting so thick, you could place it under the wheel of your parked car to keep it from rolling downhill.
Steve: In all seriousness, though, I think it compliments what you get on Westlaw and in other print publications.  It provides you with quick access to the rules and gives you a starting point for further research.
It can also be used to answer questions quickly when you’re on the phone with a client – and it should be the one title you take with you to court.

Author fun factWho in the legal world would you most like to meet?
Justice O’Conner. My class studies her opinions. She has incredible strength as a human and is a legal giant.

If you could meet any other West author, who would it be?
Arthur Miller.

What’s your favorite law-related movie?
“My Cousin Vinnie.”

What was the first concert you ever went to?
Bill: Bruce Springsteen.

What song always gets you dancing?
Steve’s is YMCA.
For Bill, it’s anything by the Grateful Dead.

What’s your favorite NFL team?
The Steelers, definitely.
The Eagles – or whoever happens to be playing Dallas.

Kristen Albrecht is an ecommerce marketer for Thomson Reuters.