I remember my first lecture in law school like it was yesterday (actually 40+ years ago). The professor was Robert E. (“Nig”) Lee (really) who was an expert in real property law in North Carolina and a famed teacher and lecturer at Wake Forest University Law School. He said something that I will never forget. He asked for a show of hands for people who wrote poetry. Being an English major in college, I raised my hand. He looked straight at me and said, “After we are through with you, you will never write poetry again.” He went on to explain that lawyers must think in a certain, logical way, relying on precedent, research, and persuasion to make their case.
Balance, Health, and the Importance of Art
The truth is he couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only do lawyers need to be creative, imaginative, and “outside the envelope” thinkers, they also need to be artistic as well. In other words, lawyers need to cultivate their creative “soul” and “right-brain” to be balanced, healthy, and successful.
Lawyers who rely totally on their logic and “left-brain” skills sometimes leave a part of their soul behind. Art is that part of us that is the dreamer, the magician, the philosopher, the volunteer, the creator, and the creation. Art is something greater than ourselves, the ability to bring dreams into an otherwise logical world.
I believe that the vast majority of students entering law school have the intention of helping the world become a better place. When they graduate and start their practice of law, they run head-on into the business of law, which is competitive, logical, and stressful. Their altruistic dreams get lost in billable hours, paying the bills, attracting clients, and successfully representing those clients. In other words, the ego takes over and makes it all about competition and winning.
Lawyers who get lost often become professors or change careers. It is through art that lawyers can find fulfillment when the business of law falls short. That is not to say that some lawyers aren’t completely happy doing nothing but practicing law. My father was one of those people. He relished the battle, the competition, the debate, and the victories of his career. A graduate of West Point, he approached everything as a battle to be won. The law was not enough for me and after 27 years I quit and looked for more artistic pursuits.
The true gift of art is that it expands our horizons and allows us a different perspective.
Art can be anything that allows your imagination to soar. It can be painting, music, dancing, poetry, writing, or reading or watching these pursuits. Psychologists can tell us why exercising the right side/creative part of our brain is just as important as physical exercise. I just know that when we allow ourselves to dream and to pursue that dream creatively can transform our lives outside of the office or courtrooms.
It may have something to do with the dissolution of the boundaries that we place in our legal lives. Art and the creative process allow us to live without boundaries and live in an expanded, surreal world. This is extremely beneficial and healing when we spend most of our waking hours living in the circumscribed, logical universe of the law.
Cultivating Your Art
So how do lawyers cultivate their art? The best part of art is there is no incorrect place to start as there is no particular place to go. Any activity that allows us to imagine something that does not exist in the legal world will do. Music, sculpture, pottery, painting, carpentry, dance, physical exercise, reading fiction, creative writing, travel, and many other pursuits can allow us to learn and grow.
I was often accused of raising stress and winning to an art form, but that is not true. Art is not stressful unless we allow our egos to get involved. We worry about is our art good enough, will other people like it, is it better than someone else. All of that is our ego destroying our art. Do not succumb to the impulse to bring our egos into play. True art allows us to escape our ego for brief, glorious moments.
The true gift of art is that it expands our horizons and allows us a different perspective. There were many times that I gained helpful insights about my clients or my legal work while involved in artistic pastimes. It was almost as if when I took my logical, left-brain offline to allow my creative nature to take over, my eyes were opened to something new about everything.
It helped me to be less judgmental, more open-minded, and able to see with a wider perspective. I truly believe that art helped me be a better person. I recommend that lawyers spent a short period every day or a least every week engaged in imagination and creativity pursuing their art.
True intelligence is enhanced by art, and who wouldn’t benefit with a little more intelligence?
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