Monday, March 18, 2013

Lawyer as Artist.

As I read Seth Godin's new book, The Icarus Deception, I kept asking myself: What is my art?  What do I create joyously, diligently, passionately, and with increasingly greater skill and insight?

In the early 1970s, my high school  -- University City High -- had one of the most REMARKABLE art departments in all of St. Louis County.  Staffed by three teachers, the program taught painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber arts. Thirty years later, I still have pieces of art I created at that time: pencil drawings of my boyfriend and the male rhinoceros at the zoo; a bronze cast sculpture of a heavy-bottomed woman; a huge hookah pipe, made of coiled clay, I now use as a deck ornament; a silk screened T-shirt imprinted with an original design; and watercolor landscapes.

The program also introduced me to many techniques and materials that I have used fearlessly throughout my life. The course made me a better problem-solver.  About a week ago, I needed to create a "vision board" that suggested how our Lion's Lounge at the law school would look after renovations.  I had no trouble creating this board in just a few hours.  I had many of the materials I needed stored in my basement waiting for me to turn them into something else.

Most importantly, the high school program cultivated my eye for design, color, shape, texture, and space. I see the world differently from the way many people see it.  I now understand that I access the right side of my brain more routinely than other folks.  Have I always had that ability?  Or, did exposure to art courses help me access it more confidently throughout life?  Most recently, I used my art to choose and place accessories in the Lion's Lounge in anticipation of our Open House for prospective students. Overnight, I transformed the feel of the room, and interestingly, students are using it more.

Over the last decade, I have carefully and lovingly designed my garden.  I think of it as a living canvass of color, texture, shape, and scent.  My house, decorated with many primitive antiques from central Appalachia, also expresses my design eye.

For me, most of these activities seem more like hobbies than art.  For me, my art takes other forms these days: teaching, writing, and public speaking.  I am especially excited when I am drafting complicated simulations for student use.  They are multi-layered stories, typically based on a news articles, that reflect the complex emotions, interests, and needs of several parties, all of whom must "bargain in the shadow of the law."

When I was still in private practice, my art took the form of creatively solving a client's problem, communicating emphatically with clients, counseling them effectively, and writing persuasive motions and briefs.  That art also included the thoughtful design of deposition questions or the well-designed presentation of evidence that effectively told my client's story.

More recently, that art expresses itself in my mediation practice.  I now use all my talents to design the best process I can for parties, with careful thought given to the location of the mediation, the food I offer, the communication skills I use, the way I encourage them to brainstorm creative options, and the ability to bring peace into the room.

I hope that my students see the path they have chosen, not just as the path of the professional, but also as the path of the artist.

Nov. 23, 2013 Update:  Another take on the topic.  http://www.abajournal.com/legalrebels/article/is_practicing_law_like_creating_art/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

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