If you had to use one word to describe legal professionals, it probably wouldn’t be “creative.” Indeed, law schools and paralegal programs intentionally teach us to think methodically. Every problem can be solved using good old IRAC – Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. We rely on precedent to persuade judges and, in fact, are often chastised by courts if we get too creative with our legal theories.
Nonetheless, the rigidity of legal training doesn’t have to stifle creativity. To the contrary, several famous creatives started out in the law. Comedian John Cleese (Monty Python) went to Cambridge Law School. Jerry Springer is a Northwestern School of Law grad. Nina & Tim Zagat (famous restaurant critics) are both Yale Law alums. Despite their impressive legal backgrounds, these artists (and countless others) have forged lives centered on creativity.
But what about the rest of us – those with real, 8 to 5 legal jobs? Can we be creative while simultaneously practicing law?
Absolutely. Just like anything in life, if you want to become better at being creative, all you have to do is practice. We’ve compiled a few tips for fostering the creative spirit, both within the law firm and in everyday life.
#1: Be your own storyteller
If you think about it, we all have the opportunity to be creative every day. All you have to do is sit on a park bench and make up stories about the people who walk by. Look at the lines on their faces, the way they walk, the type of clothes they have on. Notice whether they appear happy, sad, or somewhere in the middle. Then create a story in your head about how they came to be in that particular park on that particular day.
I can almost hear your collective push-back now: “We don’t have time to go sit in a park, we work in a law firm!” That’s ok. You don’t have to go anywhere to practice storytelling. One author in the field of creativity says you can make up stories anytime from anywhere.
By engaging in this practice regularly, you may find that your stories quickly become longer, more elaborate, and more interesting. You may bring in other characters. However you build the narrative – you will become more creative for it.
#2: Get creative about your practice
Importantly, being creative doesn’t have to be about writing the great American novel or painting like Van Gogh. It can be all about improving your law practice simply by thinking outside the box and doing things differently than they’ve ever been done before.
- Creativity on the side. Take time to work on side projects that give you the freedom to be a bit more creative, whether it’s an idea for a business or a way to substantially improve your marketing approach.
- Look with fresh eyes. Are you doing the same things simply because you’ve always done them that way? Don’t be afraid to ask ‘why?’ and think outside the box when considering your next approach.
- Brainstorm pain points. What are the biggest challenges your firm is currently facing? Target those issues while embracing your creative side and be willing to try out some unorthodox strategies to solve them.
One area where many attorneys have had to get creative, for example, is with respect to billing. In this day and age, many clients simply refuse to pay hundreds of dollars per hour for an attorney’s time. So, how else can you bill?
To answer the question, you might look into how other professionals bill their clients. Alternatively, you might have a dialogue with your clients to explore their ideas about billing. As long as you’re thinking about ways of doing things differently, you are improving your creative skills.
#3: Expand your horizons
Finally, another powerful method for increasing creativity in your personal and professional life is to hang out with people who are different from you. Legal professionals tend to be a fairly cohesive group. We do the same thing day after day. We eat lunch at the same restaurants. We go to happy hour at the same bars. We talk to the same people.
Imagine what would happen to your life if you changed it up. Go have coffee in the artsy part of town. Have lunch in an industrial area. Talk to people who aren’t like you. Talk to other legal professionals who practice an entirely different area of the law. Venture out of your network to meet people from across the field or beyond it. Those conversations may inspire you to make creative changes at work and at home.
Creativity does not have to elude the legal professional. Give these simple tips a try. You might be surprised how much they improve your life and your practice.