[Ed. Note: Most lawyers would be happy with a third of Tim Green’s success. But Tim Green isn’t most lawyers. Green’s resume reads like a work of fiction. But it’s all true.
As an All-American player for the Syracuse Orangemen, Green was the 1986 first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, which led to an eight-year NFL career. He’s now a practicing lawyer in upstate New York and also the New York Times bestselling author of 15 thrillers (his most recent title, Above the Law, was released in February), three works of nonfiction as well as a line of children’s books. And lest he get bored, Green has also worked as a television host and contributor to National Public Radio.
Bitter Lawyer recently caught up with Green to find out how he balances his passion for fiction with his law practice, and how a ferocious linebacker found his way into the law.]
What’s your current title?
I guess I identify myself as a lawyer and an author.
Where did you go to law school?
Syracuse. Graduated in ’94.
Do you practice?
I do practice. I’m counsel at my law firm, Hiscock & Barclay. It’s a business firm, and I’m involved in the acquisition of power plants.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Every day is different. I usually get up early. I work out. I try to spend about an hour or so with my two-year-old. Then I start making phone calls and emails. I try to take an hour or more to write. Then I usually have some meetings. In the afternoon I usually take my son to football practice. And since it’s summer time, I’ll try and take all my kids boating or do something on the lake. Then maybe play a little XBOX with the boys and try to write in the evening.
You’re a busy man. Did your legal training—or your sports training—help you become a master of time management or were you always an over-achiever?
My wife would say that I’m maniacal about budgeting my time, I guess. But I think it was sports that really helped. My focus during high school and college was always to be both a student and an athlete. A lot of people say you can’t do both, but I was always very determined. And that determination continued even through the NFL, because until I retired at age 30, I was also a part-time student, going to law school during the offseason. And even then, I was always writing or doing something else.
And being a father teaches you to budget your time too. I’ve got five kids, so I do my share of changing diapers as well.
What made you decide to go to law school?
A couple of things: First, I knew that my football career would end eventually, and I wanted something more than just my undergrad degree. Second, I was conditioned to have more than just one thing to devote myself too.
In the offseason, you really just train. That’s about four hours per day, working really hard. That’s about all you can really do. I like to write too, but that’s about four or six hours a day for me. So I had time to go to law school during the offseason. I really enjoyed it. For me it was a great experience. A lot of people would see it as a salt mine, I guess. But maybe doing it over the course of six years made it a better experience.
What has been your best moment as a lawyer?
One time, there was a client who had a billion-dollar transaction. They had national counsel, but on the eve of the closing, their national counsel pulled up short on giving an opinion letter that would satisfy the lender’s counsel. I got a call at 8:45 p.m. from the CEO of the buyer [our client]. He said it wasn’t going to close and that we had to do something. I scrambled and pulled our people out of their homes, and by midnight we were able to come up with an opinion letter, and the deal was able to go through.
That company has been major client ever since. Maybe that’s not such a dramatic highlight, and I guess it’s not that sexy, but it certainly pays the bills.
What was your worst moment as a lawyer?[Laughing]
My worst moment was… I probably shouldn’t say it. It’s just so bad. I certainly remember that moment, but to protect the people involved, I won’t say.
What was your best moment as a football player?
The best moment was in 1991 when we beat the Saints in the wild-card game in the playoffs. That was the highlight.
What was your worst moment in football?
The worst was when I was in the last year of my first contract. I had been hurt every year as a pro [up until that point], but I had never been injured [in college]. I never missed a game in college. But I just kept getting injured in the pros. So I was about ten games in to the season, near the end of my contract, and I didn’t want this reputation as a guy who gets injured. The season had been going well, and then, boom, I separated my collarbone. It popped out at the sternum. The pain was just awful, and I was facing the stigma of being an inured player. It was a bad time.
And you played?
Yeah. I didn’t take time out with that injury. I just played. It was excruciating. It was really rough. I was so distraught about it. I said I’ll play with it, and I did.
What was harder, studying for the bar exam or an NFL training camp?[Laughing]
That’s an easy question. Compared to an NFL training camp, the bar exam is like a Sunday picnic. A training camp is beyond anything that you can imagine. I’ve never been in the military, but outside of anything like that, or maybe prison, I can’t imagine anything more difficult. It was brutal, both mentally and physically.
You weren’t just an outstanding athlete in college, you also managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and you were the co-valedictorian of your class. But you’re kind of the exception to the rule, it seems, when it comes to student athletes. Should colleges just get real and start paying these players and treat it like a job?
I think that would be wonderful if colleges paid their athletes. The schools make a lot of money off their sports programs. But realistically, I don’t see that happening.
I don’t think the tradeoff you get as a student athlete is a very good one. It could be better. But I tell this to athletes: If you go to school, and you’re on a scholarship, and you don’t get your degree, that’s like going to the NFL and not cashing your paycheck. That’s your compensation. The degree is worth millions of dollars to you over a lifetime. It’s no small thing to get a degree when you couldn’t afford to pay for it. But it’s a message that doesn’t get pounded hard enough into athletes’ heads. Forget making grades to stay eligible, get your degree. That’s my advice.
As a lawyer and a former player, you have a unique perspective on some of the bad behavior by guys like Michael Vick. Does Roger Goodell have too much power as the commissioner of the NFL? Should he have the right to impose additional penalties and suspensions after the legal process has run its course?
I think there’s a pretty good balance the way it is. It’s not a right to play in NFL; it’s a privilege that can be taken away if you are going to damage the league and ability of others to make a living in the game.
The NFL has done a wonderful job at maintaining credibility and a good image with a game that is founded on violence. The league [has drawn] a bright line between what happens on the field and the stuff that happens off the field, and I respect that.
What’s your next project about?
Well, I have two. I’m in the middle of writing another kids book, and I also did a pilot for ABC that got picked up. The show is called Find My Family. It’s a reality show, and I’m the host. It’s a really nice idea for a show because it reunites family members who were separated at birth or early in childhood. I’m really proud of that show.
What made you become a writer? Did your legal training help?
I became a writer because I love to read. I always dreamed of being a writer as a kid. I love books, and I love the way they take you to another time and place. I always wanted to be able to do that.
I think law school helped. But I wouldn’t say [that it helped] so much technically. The best thing about law school is that it teaches you to look at everything from multiple perspectives. That’s what a writer has to do.
You studied English literature in college. Do you consider what you write to be fiction or literature? Is there a difference beyond the obvious question of marketability?
I think there is a difference. But I think that there is a crossover. The best fiction has a lot of literary elements to it and the best literature has a lot of fiction to it.
When you think of fiction, you think of commercial success and high entertainment value, and when you think of literature, you think of very in-depth plotting and themes, and just brilliant writing. If you look at Cormac McCarthy, my favorite writer, and you look at The Road or All The Pretty Horses, you see books that are both fiction and literature of the highest order. But take a guy like Michael Connelly—people call him fiction. But look at the quality of writing. I think he crosses over.
There’s no question that I’m a fiction writer, but I work very hard to have as much literary value as I can. Am I as talented as McCarthy? No. That’s almost a joke. But I do work hard and aspire to that. My fiction is better because I try and I care.
Two years ago The New York Times reported (article HERE) that you were planning to run for the state legislature in New York. What happened? Any plans to run for office down the road?
When Eliot Spitzer was governor of New York, he had a very specific plan for reforming the state government. I did, and do, subscribe to that plan. He personally asked me to have a hand in that. I thought very seriously about it, and had his political career not imploded, I think there is a good chance I would have done it. But once his career was derailed, that kind of ended it for me.
But as for any plans to run, I guess you can say you never know. I didn’t plan on joining Spitzer, he just asked, and I was interested in the opportunity. But I don’t know if the opportunity is there right now. I guess you could call me a reluctant participant, and I kind of think that’s what a politician should be. They should have something else going on in terms of a career because we want the kind of people who are willing to give up a few years to serve, not career politicians.
Want to go out on a limb and tell us who’s going to win the Super Bowl this year?[Laughing]
Oh boy. I have no idea. I’ll go with Falcons. One of these years, I’m going to be right.