The Accidental Advice Columnist


Since 2008, Philip Galanes ’91 has written the Social Q’s advice column for the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. It quickly became one of the most popular features in the newspaper. In November, he published a collection of essays based on the column: “Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today.”

Q: How does a practicing entertainment lawyer become Dear Abby for the New York Times?
A: You couldn’t plan it. A few years ago, I wrote a novel about a smart-alecky guy who was grappling with a broken heart. It got great reviews and sold about seventeen copies. But as luck would have it, one of the readers was the Editor of the Times’ Styles section. And she wanted that voice for an advice column: funny and kind, but not above a brisk slap.

Q: Were you surprised when Social Q’s became so popular?
A: Shocked! But the combination of new-fangled e-quandaries and old-fashioned social dilemmas (I could fill every column with in-law questions!) keeps it humming. At this point, we get hundreds of questions a week — plus loads of commentary from armchair quarterbacks.

Q: Any similarities between writing an advice column and advising clients?
A: More than you’d think. Real solutions to complicated problems, whether legal or social, have to work for everyone and often require creative (and unexpected) thinking.

Q: What are the most surprising Social Q’s?
A: Having come of age at a time when we spent hours and hours on the phone with colleagues and friends — and learned to pick up on subtle sticking points and disagreements, I’ve been surprised that no matter how much trouble younger folks have communicating via “type and send” digital messages, they still don’t want to pick up the phone. Just call and sort it out!

Q: How did the “Social Q’s” book come about?
A: I was sitting on a pile of 10,000 questions and comments, and I decided to cull the twenty most pressing concerns of Social Q’s readers — from Facebook fiascos and Internet dating disasters, to more traditional troubles: like family and coworker tension, bad hygiene and public transportation nightmares, and of course, holidays and weddings. For each of them, I devised a parlor trick or mnemonic or silly game to help readers grapple with the issue on their own. Hopefully, it’s not only useful, but also fun.

Q: How do your legal clients react to the column?
A: Some of them get a kick out of it. And others are too discreet to mention it, even three years in. It’s like a Rorschach test for how they like to think of their attorneys.