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Law Practice Management and Technology

The Bottom Line Volume 35, No. 3 June 2014

Creative Lawyer Is Not an Oxymoron or
Why Johnny Esq. Can’t Innovate

By Andrew Elowitt, JD MBA PCC

People seldom think of lawyering as a creative profession. Architects, product designers, graphic artists, and admen are considered creative, but not lawyers. Use the phrase “creative lawyer” and many people will scoff and mention an anecdote about inventive but unethical timekeeping practices, or imaginative but spurious legal arguments. At best, people may relate a story about a lawyer who is – much to their great surprise – actually a very fine artist or talented musician. Who’d a thunk it?

It’s curious and somewhat troubling that so few people appreciate the role that creativity plays in successful lawyering, and the even larger role it plays in effective leadership and management. The creativity expressed in beautiful paintings or catchy tunes is readily appreciated, while the creativity used in legal problem solving is seldom so obvious, especially to those outside of the profession. Outsiders may associate lawyering with some of the more mundane tasks involved in corporate compliance, insolvency, and probate. They think of the repetitious and routine tasks that frustrate and bore many new lawyers without realizing that familiarity with them is necessary before important procedures and substantive areas can be fully understood and mastered.

As a lawyer’s expertise and responsibility grows, his or her need for creativity must keep pace with the complexity of the matters being handled. Creativity may not be readily apparent, but it is certainly exercised when litigators decide how they will address a jury in an opening argument, or when transactional attorneys design a negotiating strategy, or when mediators use their imagination to fashion win-win solutions. Whether it’s thought of as lawyer’s intuition or experience, creativity is essential to legal problem solving, especially when those problems are novel and complex.

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