How many lawyers fantasize about a more creative life? I’m guessing it’s in the 80 or 90% range.
Why? Because beneath the surface of every frustrated barrister is an actor or a producer or a Hollywood screen director mixing it up with the film glitterati.
Beneath the tough practical veneer of the most conservative legal practitioner is a budding saxophonist or an excitable amateur musical theatre director.
Buried deep within the soul of some attorneys is an irresistible desire to be Don Draper, cocky and calm, legs crossed, surrounded by billowing smoke and busty scurrying assistants in a booze-filled advertising haze. Others long for the tranquil writing life, picturing themselves as Roald Dahl, curled up in a solitary writer’s hut, penning twisted, magical tales.
But once the dreams wear off and you’re left staring at a life of discovery boxes in the office, you may wonder: if you’re never going to be George Clooney or J K Rowling (or not just yet!), how can you be creative in your legal life right now?
Here’s 3 ways you can up the creative ante and find your inner ‘artist child’:
1. Outrun Your Inner Censor
If anyone has ever done Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages’, you’ll recall her referring to our ‘inner censor’, the nasty voice inside that tells us to discount what we’re doing and makes us doubt and criticise ourselves. The inner censor blurts out objections every time we set out to be creative, making us question our every move until we crawl desperately back into our safe left brain, analytical hole with our traditional tails tucked in behind us.
The answer? Turn off your inner critic. According to Kate Mangan, writing for Lawyerist, to increase the flow of new ideas you need to “abandon some of your legal training, at least temporarily. Lawyers are taught to be critical and judgmental, but you need to abandon your judging mind when trying to be creative.”
Sit down and write, don’t judge yourself and forget about typos or spelling errors. Start playing the piano and fumble over the ivory keys – it doesn’t matter, turning off your artist child enemy is key.
Michael Melcher, well-known lawyer and author of Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction, recommends that you question your negative narratives and then come up with alternative ones.
Instead of saying “Even though I have a new skill in . . . it can’t use it to build my career because . . . ” or “I really should get my act together but I can’t because …”, verbalise the narratives in your head and sub in some brand new narratives that gently encourage creativity and reward your imaginative efforts, no matter how rudimentary.
Outrun that bloody censor – it only gets smarter as you do!
2. Practice Creativity in Daily Life
If you’re like me, you spend much of your life all starry eyed, dreaming about big changes and grand goals and dramatic exits. You imagine yourself quitting your job like a badass, Kevin Spacey-style, only to strike up remarkably fun and easy friendships with Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler within weeks and guess what? You’ve just written an Award-winning screenplay to boot and Weinstein wants to ‘do lunch’. Or you’ve danced in a YouTube video that’s gone viral and what next? Oh look, you’re jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch and you’re on your way to record a single with ‘Bey’. (everyone dreams about that stuff, right? Put down the brush/microphone)
But let’s face it. No one is an overnight success and you may not even want to be a fulltime conductor or painter or street performer. Maybe it is not a career change you seek at all – you might just need to practice daily creativity in your current legal life to enhance your lawyering and make you life richer. Your clients will no doubt thank you for your fresh perspective on things and you might just make some more creative arguments in court.
So start a blog. Writing killer copy for your law firm will generate marketing leads and scratch the writer’s itch at the same time. Get together with some other colleagues and start a jazz band. Join a book club or a regular yoga class. Next time you sit down to write submissions to the court or a letter to your client, really think about what you’re writing and make the words shine on the page. Throw in a movie or literary quote, draw a compelling analogy, tell a story.
Stories define and shape how we see the world – of course, focus on the case law, the principles. the precedents and the legal arguments but frame them in an interesting, fresh way. Inject your prose with enthusiasm and infuse it with you personality and keep them coming back for more. Flex that creative muscle and be remarkable in everything that you do.
3. Give Yourself Room to Ruminate
According to Jennifer Alvey, ex-lawyer and author of popular blog, Leaving the Law, if we don’t rid ourselves of the constant addiction to ‘screen time’, we don’t allow ourselves to think about the information that we pick up from them, let alone anything else. “It’s the thinking, and mind-wandering, which make up the base of the creativity pyramid”, says Jennifer.
Turn off the TV and the Ipad and pop your Iphone on the charger. Go for a walk, listen to music, swim a few laps in the ocean or your local pool, do something in nature, even if it is repetitive. Take Julia Cameron’s advice and take yourself on an artist date each week – a movie, a play, a trip to the local dimestore or $2 bargain shop to stock up on glitter and art pads and brushes.
Practice boredom and soak up the solitude (note to fellow parents: I hear you moan when I say this as your toddler throws food in your face, your precious bub cries all night or you do the fifth car trip to ballet/soccer/debating/fencing practice in the same day). As much as family life allows it, sneak away for a little while and let your imagination thrive.
Sit and meditate. Sit and gaze at a lake. Do it when you babies are asleep or when your husband agrees to let you race out the door for strong coffee and some ‘me’ time.
We’re all so intent on filling our worlds with screen time, we forget to step outside and smell the roses.
So there you have it. 3 steps you can take today to boost your creativity quote. Do you have any creative tips for lawyers? We’d love to hear from you! For more cool content, sign up to our blog and head on over to Legaler to request early access to our communication platform and dedicated client portal for legal professionals.