Corner Office: Q&A with Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz has been praised by Time magazine as “the top lawyer of last resort in the country.” His celebrated and notorious clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow, Leona Helmsley, and Patricia Hearst. He is also a prolific writer on both legal and political subjects—his latest book is Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways — and he teaches at Harvard Law School, where he became, in 1967, the youngest full professor in the school’s history.
In this Q&A he shares how he discovered the BlackBerry® smartphone when his frustration with computers had him at the point of giving up on email altogether—and discusses the different ways his BlackBerry smartphone now helps keep him ahead, as a renowned lawyer and teacher, and sometimes controversial author.
BlackBerry Connection (BC): When did you first start using a BlackBerry smartphone?
Alan Dershowitz (AD): It’s only been six or seven months. I’m a complete Luddite and a complete technophobe.
I tried every other possible device and none of them worked for me because they were too complicated. I write a million words a year, and I’ve written about fifteen books in the last ten years—all by hand. I’d just about given up, and I figured I’d do without computers and emails and all that.
It was Larry David, the comedian, who introduced me to the BlackBerry. He and I are friends and last summer he showed me that he was using one. Larry’s as technophobic as I am: he said, “Alan, if I can do it, you can do it.” His assistant spent five minutes showing me how it worked, and I was set. And then I learned how to use the smartphone in a creative way. The simplicity and the ease of use are the main draws for me—and the fact that it works. It’s the only piece of modern technology that I’ve been able to use productively in my life.
BC: You’re a defense lawyer, a professor of law, a writer… how does the BlackBerry smartphone help you in your different professions?
AD: Obviously I use it for emails back and forth, but I’ve also found that no matter where I am, I can compose short articles, op-ed pieces, or letters. Anything under a thousand words I write on my BlackBerry. I’ve started blogging recently and I do that through my BlackBerry, too.
I also use my BlackBerry to communicate with the legal team in ongoing cases, forwarding memos to the other lawyers so we all keep up. I can use it to stop people from making mistakes, and I’ve done that in investigations. To be apprised of events in real time is crucial, and on my BlackBerry I can get emails within a courtroom, where I can’t get phone calls.
As a teacher I respond to every email I get from my students. Answering on my BlackBerry means I can do that more quickly, and it means I need my secretary much less. I encourage my students to email me during my lectures, to [do a] Google® [search on] something I’ve said, for example. On one occasion a research assistant emailed me while I was making a speech on the Middle East, and I used that information during the question and answer period. Finally, as a professor you have to go to a lot of boring speeches, and let me tell you, the BlackBerry is the best thing in the world then. I was at a speech this morning and without my BlackBerry I would have fallen asleep…
BC: Has using a BlackBerry smartphone led to any other changes in your life?
AD: I have a group of eight friends I grew up with in Brooklyn, and we now live in different parts of the world. But we email each other almost every day, whether it’s a joke, an experience, news about our children. Because the BlackBerry’s such an easy way to use email, it’s a wonderful way to stay in touch with a circle of friends who live in different places.
This maybe isn’t so good: I get a lot of hate mail, especially anti-Semitic hate mail. I never used to respond to it, but now I do sometimes find myself answering, because with my BlackBerry it’s often just too tempting to email something clever back right away. I have a standard response:
Thank you for contributing to my new book, in which I am collecting all the anti-Semitic mail I have received. Your contribution will be noted and included. All the proceeds will go to fighting bigotry of the kind expressed in your letter.
That’s a terrific letter to send. It shuts them down instantly.