Don’t make Richard “Doc” Schneider choose between writing songs and writing briefs. According to Schneider, each discipline depends on the other.
“I try to be fully engaged with the law practice but also fully engaged in life, and doing both helps the other,” he says.
Schneider, who was branded “Doc” while at the U.S. Naval Preparatory School because of his training as a hospital corpsman, has been a “serious lawyer” at King & Spalding since he joined the firm fresh out of Mercer University’s law school in 1981. He’s developed a specialty in class action defense and corporate investigations, becoming a partner in 1988.
In his first case as an associate, Schneider represented Hardee’s after a woman claimed the biscuits in the franchise’s breakfast sandwiches infringed on her own recipe. He based his strategy on the contention that a staple like a biscuit recipe was too basic and common to be an intellectual property. Schneider went so far as to hire the cooking show host Nathalie Dupree as a culinary expert to cook the biscuits using the two recipes; the test yielded noticeably different results. In the judge’s summary judgment, there was an extremely long footnote charting the history of the biscuit. It seems the judge was an amateur biscuit expert himself.
Although Schneider’s legal career took off with his biscuit win, his songwriting took a little longer to develop. “I wrote my first song when I was 19 and wrote an occasional song between 1975 to 1988, none with any serious intent,” Schneider says. “Then, in 1988, my partner Bill Duffey Jr. and I were out in front of King & Spalding and he told me his father, in 1968, had given him a Martin guitar that he had never opened and kept in his closet for 20 years. I said, ‘Let me look at it.’ It had a great sound and it just made me passionate about music again.” He pauses and laughs, “Six years later, I returned it to him.”
That Martin guitar, along with the music of James Taylor and David Wilcox, inspired Schneider to get serious about his songwriting. “Once I turned out three or four songs that I thought were OK, I started hunting around for a studio so I could record on something other than my kids’ Mickey Mouse recorder.”
Schneider moved beyond recording on devices with mouse ears and began working on a real album in 1993. In 2003, he released “Choices & Chances,” which, along with wistful acoustic songs about childhood and meeting his wife Helen, contains a track called “The Legal Guitarist.” “I am your legal guitarist,” Schneider croons with his tongue firmly in cheek. “I’ll take you through the legal forest/Beware that lawyer over there/He’s the one who does not care/I am the answer to your prayer/I am the lawyer with no hair.”
Responding to an ad in Performing Songwriter magazine, Schneider sent his CD to Jeff Jacobs, a former keyboardist for Billy Joel and a current member of Foreigner. Schneider and Jacobs have been working together for two years now and Schneider, showing his true songwriter spirit, sounds like a proud father when he talks about his songs being interpreted by other singers and mixed by Jacobs.
“The law has given me the luxury of being able to pursue my sideline interests in music and literature [he collects first editions of classical works, which he displays in his office],” Schneider says. “And recently it has allowed me to take several songs and have them redone by people who actually know what they’re doing — good musicians, good singers. It’s extraordinary what they’ve done with it. To me, the greatest joy is hearing [my songs] performed by other people.”
In addition to songwriting, Schneider writes poetry. When King & Spalding lawyers retire, Schneider will often compose a poem, or sometimes a speech, and recite it at the farewell party. Here’s one stanza from a poem Schneider wrote for his retiring colleague Frank Jones:
One career and twenty-five years ago,
he left his cherry-blossomed mornings
and brought the Macon sun
to the white tower.
And copper fields of lawyers since
have risen up under that warm season
we call our partner, our teacher, our friend.
With a CD under his belt and a famous producer as a collaborator, could a Doc world tour be far behind? Schneider says his clients have no reason to worry that their attorney will abandon them for a mic in some smoky club. “My love of the law is equal to my affection for music,” he says. “I enjoy playing these songs. They’re a nice distraction. But I’m a lawyer and I’m meant to be a lawyer.”