A legal question arose in my WIP, and I needed the answer based on Pennsylvania law. I don't live in Pennsylvania anymore, and know no lawyers there. A few spins through The Google found the web site for the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The director was happy to post my questions on their listserve, and leave it to individual attorneys to contact me, or not.
That was last week. Since then I've heard back from ten lawyers and have spoken directly with four of them. (One called me on his way to a prison; said the destination reminded him he'd wanted to call me.) All have been pleasant, genuinely interested, and have been generous with their time beyond any expectations. They talked longer than I ever would have asked, were happy to provide ideas that don't quite apply to this book but will definitely be useful down the road, and to a person invited me to call them back if any other questions arose with this book, or another.
The episode reminded me how much people enjoy talking about what they do. Over the years I've communicated with a tracking dog trainer, cops, lawyers, child psychologists, and, by dumb luck, one of the leading memory retrieval experts in the world. All have exceeded my increasingly large expectations. This doesn't happen every time, but once someone is willing to talk, they're rarely stingy with their time.
Since I've always been quick to toss off a lawyer joke, it's only fair to give props to this batch who have been so helpful and generous toward a total stranger for no more remuneration than a promised acknowledgment in a book that may never see the light of day. (Well, one did ask for tickets to the movie premiere. Dreamer.) I'll not name them here, out of consideration of their privacy, but I'll follow up with all privately, and I'll make sure they get copies of the book, if there ever are any.
The lesson here is not to be too shy about developing real world sources, and to value them like the treasures they are. You never know when they'll tell you more than you asked for and end up giving you enough material for half a book.