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May 6, 2021

Anna Dorn's Playlist for Her Memoir "Bad Lawyer"

Bad Lawyer by Anna Dorn

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Anna Dorn's memoir Bad Lawyer recounts her experience in law school and as a lawyer, and exposes the flaws in our justice system with uncanny honesty and humor (that is also found in her brilliant debut novel, Vagablonde).

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A must-read for anyone considering law school."

In her words, here is Anna Dorn's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Bad Lawyer:

Bad Lawyer is about my wack experiences in law school, courthouses, and law offices. The idea is to demystify law as a revered profession, mostly using myself as an example. The period I’m writing about—my 20s—is pretty cringe. (I’m never not cringing at a fairly recent version of myself.) In my 20s I had a blacklight Biggie Smalls poster in my bedroom and carried around a baby blue pipe and a grinder filled with weed in my Marc by Marc purse at all times. I wore culturally insensitive jewelry and unironically wrote raps. In my spare time, I’d tag “Vagablonde” (my rap name) in glittery paint pens on random buildings around Berkeley, where I went to law school.

I thought I was really cool.

I wasn’t. But in retrospect, my behavior makes sense. In law school, I felt very small. I was a queer woman in a historically hetero-male institution. If a teacher noticed me it was mostly to tell me there was something wrong with me. I spoke too softly and without enough certainty. My demeanor was inappropriately casual. My hair was messy and I had the posture of a crow.

I used rap music to feel powerful. I guess that’s why rap is so popular among Suburban nerds. When I rapped along to Nicki Minaj, I could vampire her swagger and feel like someone else.

Here are some songs that helped me escape my meek self in law school and beyond:

“She Neva Seen” - Mac Dre

In retrospect this song isn’t very good. The lyrics are silly and the production is shit. But it fills me with nostalgia for my early 20s in San Francisco (“the world’s biggest little city”). When I moved there to intern at the public defender, I had a major crush on a guy who wore a bedazzled Mac Dre T-shirt every day.

“93 ‘Til Infinity” - Souls of Mischief

My move to San Fran inspired a major Bay Area rap phase, and this track—recorded in San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios in 1993—is the apotheosis of the genre.

“Machine Gun Funk” - Notorious B.I.G.

My 20’s were all about Biggie Smalls. I recall wandering around the Mission high late at night listening to Ready to Die and feeling oh so badass.

Bad Girls — M.I.A.

I have the most vivid memory of having sex in my Berkeley studio to M.I.A.’s 2010 mixtape Vicki Leekx, lighting a bowl, and hearing the part of the mixtape that became “Bad Girls.” My chain hits my chest while I’m banging on the dashboard. It was so sexy. I thought to myself, this should be its own track, and then I got my wish! And then I got the bonus gift of Romain Garvas’s sizzling music video. M.I.A. filing her nails on the edge of a speeding car? Rolling her body before a desert expanse while a car explodes behind her? I need to take some deep breaths.

“Pop The Glock” — Uffie

Miami-via-Paris rapper Uffie is exactly how I wanted Vagablonde to sound—autotuned and scrappy and blasé af.

“Did It On ‘Em” - Nicki Minaj

In law school I was a Nicki Minaj superfan. I’ve always felt like a crazed stage mom with her because I started listening to her before she was popular and tweeted in 2009 that she was “about to blow up.” Her music has become more sophisticated over the years but I’m partial to Pink Friday, which came out when I was a 1L, or first-year law student in inane lawyer speak. At law school parties I would turn off Arcade Fire or whatever people were listening to and blast “Did It On ‘Em” at max volume.

“212” — Azealia Banks

This song dropped when I was a 2L and it was just the best thing I’d ever heard. I was still dating men at the time but Azealia rapping about getting her cunt eaten by a Parisian woman offered promise of a better life.

“Gucci Gucci” — Kreayshawn

This song also came out my 2L year and it felt very personal. Much like myself, Kreayshawn was a white rapper living in the Bay Area (“Oakland city represent, address me as your majesty”). We were basically the same, except she was much more famous.

“The Recipe” - Kendrick Lamar

Good Kid, M.a.a.D. City dropped when I was in law school and blew everyone’s minds. This track samples Mr. Twin Sister’s adorable track “Meet the Frownies” and preaches love for the Golden State: “women, weed and weather.”

“Blood On The Leaves” — Kanye West

I often credit Yeezus for my passing the bar. I would listen to it every day as I ran through the Berkeley hills during study breaks. This song in particular gave me the confidence to keep going. To this day, when the horns drop I’m filled with a rush of adrenaline.

“Murda Something (feat. Waka Flocka Flame)” - A$AP Ferg

Ferg and Waka—what a duo! I saw them both perform live in DC the year I did my clerkship. I would listen to “Murda Something” every day as I swerved past the metal detectors at DC Superior Court, where they had a lot of murder trials. Uncouth, I know….

Anna Dorn earned a BA at UNC-Chapel Hill and her JD at UC Berkeley Law. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch. Dorn went on to practice law for five years-first, as a law clerk at DC Superior Court; then, as a research fellow at the criminal justice nonprofit Phillips Black; finally, as a court-appointed appellate attorney in California. She left law in 2018 and doesn't plan on going back.

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