Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Reece Hirsch is always on the lookout for a good story. Years ago, an idea for a novel came from another partner traveling with him on a business trip.
“He said he was headed to Amsterdam to knock on the door of a hacker to get him to return stolen property,” Hirsch recalled. “I thought, that’s interesting. So it became the first chapter of “The Adversary.’” That’s the first book in a three-part series following the adventures of former Justice Department lawyer Chris Bruen.
Hirsch co-heads Morgan Lewis’s privacy and cybersecurity practice out of San Francisco, and draws from his professional experience in his novel writing. He exaggerates real-life scenarios to make them more exciting for his thrillers.
“I deal with issues like ransomware, security breaches, big data, state-sponsored hackers, and all of those subjects find their way into my books,” he said. “But I kick it up a few notches.”
“If you read those books, you’d think being a privacy lawyer is the world’s most dangerous profession, when in fact it is not,” Hirsch added with a chuckle.
Hirsch’s newest novel, “Black Nowhere,” centers on a new protagonist: FBI special agent Lisa Tanchik. She investigates a Dark Web site acting as a free market exchange for illegal drugs, a story loosely based on the rise and fall of now-defunct Silk Road.
The book will be released in hardcover on Sept. 1. A second book in the series is slated to be published next May.
Tanchik isn’t a lawyer, but the subjects she encounters pop up often in Hirsch’s legal practice.
“I was really struck by the Silk Road story because it parallels the arc of many start-up successes,” said Hirsch, who has advised start-ups on privacy and security issues. “It just happened to be a criminal enterprise. The story provided an opportunity to talk about disruptive business models in the tech industry and the nature of start-up culture.”
Journalism to Law
Hirsch’s path to thriller writing wasn’t direct. He majored in journalism at Northwestern, and worked as an editor at a business magazine before starting his own arts and entertainment publication. He later enrolled in law school.
As a young attorney, Hirsch gravitated to the intersection of healthcare and technology. He became an expert in HIPAA, which “led to learning the gamut of U.S. privacy and security laws.”
He didn’t start “writing in earnest” until after he made partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in 1998.
His first novel in 2010 was about a young attorney making partner at a San Francisco law firm.
“There are a lot of legal thrillers on the market and a lot of them didn’t portray the dynamics of law firms the way I saw them,” he said. “There’s a lot more to the practice of law than going to court. I’ve personally never been in a courtroom, so I wanted to write about a corporate attorney.” This includes the politics of law firms, the importance of billing credit, and the dynamics among associates competing for the attention of prominent partners.
The story also deals with the “boredom” of performing due diligence.
“But of course the due diligence in my book deals with uncovering a big conspiracy,” said Hirsch. “By grounding it in a reality I knew, it helps to sell some of the more over the top aspects of the thriller.”
Hirsch said his newest thrillers give him a chance to explore cutting-edge concepts in privacy and security law with more creativity.
“One of the themes of my books is that objects are closer than they appear, that technology is a wonderful thing that brings us together but also brings us together in ways that can be harmful or scary,” he said. “That’s a kind of fear I’m able to play upon in my books.”
“As a writer of cyber or technology thrillers, I’m always looking for interesting new technologies,” he said. “And as a thriller writer, I’m asking, how can I kill someone with this?”