Longform

Legally Brown

Page 5 of 8

The letters were such a hit that soon Amanda found herself overnighting copies regularly to several friends, who clamored for more. Serena teased her that she was blowing her inheritance on Federal Express bills, but Amanda couldn't wait for someone to feel her pain. She recalls that one friend, in medical school at the time, started throwing parties for her friends, centered on the letters.

When she wasn't writing letters in class, Amanda read magazines, and her favorite, Elle, was the inspiration for her original book title, One Elle. It was a play on Scott Turow's One L, an account of the lawyer/novelist's own first year at Harvard Law.

The schoolwork wasn't so hard, Amanda recalls. In contrast to Harvard, where the screenwriters ultimately set the movie, Stanford is described as a "kinder, gentler" law school -- no Socratic method, and you can take classes pass/fail. Amanda stocked up on canned outlines, and she liked the logic games where you pretended to plan a dinner party.

After her first year, Amanda came home to clerk at Lewis and Roca, a topnotch Phoenix law firm. John Frank, the managing partner and an old friend of her father's, got her the job, she says. She calls the experience "ill-fated."

"I was so miserable and so, just, not psyched," Amanda recalls. "John was the reason that I went there. He was amazing, and a friend of my dad's, and I just felt like I wasn't right for it. I felt horrible, and I felt like I was failing him. I just, I shouldn't have been there. . . . I got out of it pretty quickly."

So why, after so much heartache and displeasing surroundings, did Amanda Brown return to Stanford for a second year?

"I didn't know what to do. I've never quit anything," she says. "I will finish anything."

More likely, given the history of quitting she's recounted in this interview, Amanda went back to look for more book material.

Either way, by the end of her second year, she'd had it. She was engaged at the time -- she met Justin Chang, who does investments, not law, on a blind date (in real life she didn't have a Warner to follow to law school) -- and was planning her wedding. Bride magazine had replaced Elle for preferred classroom reading.

Amanda remembers leaving class one day.

"This one particularly horrible Trekkie was coming in as I was going out the door, and he knocked everything out of my hands, and there were Vera Wang sketches on the floor and, of course, he didn't help me pick anything up, so I'm down on the ground picking it up, and for the first time in two years, he said something to me. He said, Why don't you just leave and get married like you're supposed to?'"

So she walked to the registrar's office.

"I said, You know, I'm leaving. I need the form to fill out so I can quit.' And [the registrar] said, You can't do that. We don't have that form.' I said, What do you mean?' She said, No one's ever done this before.' And I said, I just want to leave.' And she said, Well, you can't do that, you have to petition to do that. And, in fact, you would have to petition to petition to do that.' And I was like, You see, that's the whole problem here. That's it. I quit!'"

She thinks she might still be enrolled at Stanford Law, which always gets a laugh in media interviews.

For years, Amanda couldn't go anywhere near Stanford without getting physically ill, but now she is finally able to go to her dermatologist, whose office is just outside Palo Alto.

Amanda says she wrote Legally Blonde after a literary agent advised her to turn "One Elle," which she envisioned as a book of essays about her law school experience, into a novel. She says she took a community college writing class, put together a manuscript, and shopped the book with no luck. She was pregnant with Alexandra when she decided to send out the manuscript again. She used pink paper to attract attention. No book agents bit, but the movie people went nuts. Suzanne remembers the day of the bidding war. She figured Amanda would be lucky to get $10,000. The final figure was much, much more. Amanda won't say how much more.

Jack Brown didn't live to see the movie Legally Blonde, but he read the manuscript and returned it covered in notes, in his typical fashion. Amanda says she couldn't read his legendarily bad handwriting.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.