Who Knew International Trade Lawyers Could Write Novels?

By Justin Kirschner

Think about the captivating prose of the last great novel you read. It pulled you so far into the story that the real world faded in favor of the scene created by the mind’s eye. Only master novelists can do that, right? No ordinary person working as, say, an international trade lawyer could pull that off. Well in the case of The Revenant, you would be wrong—though forgiven—for thinking that. The novel on which the Oscar winning movie was based was written by the man who is now a deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. ambassador to the WTO: Michael Punke. Because of the duties of his day job and federal ethics rules, Punke has missed out on most of the fun surrounding the success of the film adaptation of his book. He could not attend the A-list Hollywood premier and walk the red carpet with Leo because he was negotiating a trillion-dollar trade deal in Nairobi, and he cannot sign copies of his book or make other “self-enriching” appearances. He did get to attend the Golden Globes and the Oscars, however. And there’s the plus that Punke’s Geneva colleagues now seek him out not only to discuss global trade issues, but also to do what has become the 21st Century version of getting an autograph, that is, they seek him out to take a selfie. Michael Punke: A-list trade lawyer by day, novelist and selfie target by night.