The Creativity Conundrum

Why aren’t lawyers more creative?  Not creative about solving client problems, but creative about being lawyers.  Here is an exercise:  Walk down any aisle of any new grocery store and notice how many products are there that didn’t even exist ten years ago.  Heck, just look around at the store itself and see how different the shopping experience has become in just the last decade.  Now, look at the legal profession.  Any new products?  Do our offices look different?  Have we changed in any meaningful way how we provide our services or interact with clients (apart from e-mail) in the last ten years?  Name another industry or business that has so systematically avoided innovation and shown such a disdain for new ideas.

I had a meeting on Saturday morning with another attorney and we were talking about our respective practices.  He does nothing but personal injury and I’ve sent him quite a few cases.  I shared with him some of the things I was implementing in my practice and he remarked how “creative” I was.  I responded that every lawyer I know is pretty creative when solving client problems, but that creativity  (or ability to think differently) doesn’t translate into high-level thinking about changing the way they approach the business of law.

The discussion reminded me about an article from Psychology Today titled “The Art of Creativity.”  There is a lot of great stuff on creativity in the article,  but the part that caught my eye was the list of ways to discourage creativity in children:

Surveillance: hovering over kids, making them feel that they’re constantly being watched while they’re working.

Evaluation: making kids worry about how others judge what they are doing. Kids should be concerned primarily with how satisfied they-and not others-are with their accomplishments.

Competition: putting kids in a win/lose situation, where only one person can come out on top. A child should be allowed to progress at his own rate.

Overcontrol: telling kids exactly how to do things. This leaves children feeling that any exploration is a waste of time.

Pressure: establishing grandiose expectations for a child’s performance. Training regimes can easily backfire and end up instilling an aversion for the subject being taught.

The article also fingers a bit more subtle culprit:  time.

Children more naturally than adults enter that ultimate state of creativity called flow. In flow, time does not matter; there is only the timeless moment at hand. It is a state that is more comfortable for children than adults, who are more conscious of the passage of time.

“One ingredient of creativity is open-ended time,” says Ann Lewan, a director of the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C. “Children have the capacity to get lost in whatever they’re doing in a way that is much harder for an adult. They need the opportunity to follow their natural inclinations, their own particular talents, to go wherever their proclivities lead them.”

Now, how many of these “creativity killers” are applicable to lawyers?  Can you name any law firm associate that doesn’t experience all of them nearly every day?  Is the answer to the question that started this post that our prevalent business model wrings all the creativity out of our lawyers in their first few years of practice?  If so, what can we do to stop it?

I’ve got some ideas, and I’m going to be posting a lot more on the legal creativity conundrum in the next few weeks. 



4 Responses to The Creativity Conundrum
  1. Al Nye
    October 31, 2004 | 8:03 am


    Of all the things you mention, time (or lack of it) may be the worst culprit. Most lawyers are just too busy to take the time to be creative — it’s much easier to do things the same old way.

    Hopefully, your article and future posts will get the creative juices flowing for many ….

    Al Nye

  2. robert rolnik
    November 2, 2004 | 3:02 pm

    Ummmmm…. there are still plenty of new judicial opinions coming out. Also, each patent written is more than likely written by a patent attorney — sometimes they even add their own 2 cents worth of creativity in that.


  3. Randy Wells
    January 5, 2005 | 1:14 am

    Creativity is many times crushed by the established mores of a particular industry.

    Witness the dominance of E-Trade. E-Trade was told the it could “never work”, that people could only invest after meeting with a trusted advisor. Advertising to transact business over the internet was sheer indiocracy. The established firms did everything possible to shut down this company and to drive it out of business. Now, everyone has developed an “e-trade” component to it’s business. Matching clients to trusted attorneys is one of the most important services for people that are in crisis. They can actually do “due dilligence” without revealing their identities. They actually have the right to choose which attorney they are comfortable with, based on the confidential responses received from that attorney. We perform an incredibly creative solution to an age old problem. Yet, we constantly are barraged with diatribe about early day problems and practices of the company seeking to establish a market.

    Creativity is tough! Be prepared to take alot of criticism from your associates when you step out and attempt something bold. It is much easier to “fall in step” and follow the pack.

    We at LegalMatch have chosen a different path.
    The past is dead, the future is bright.

  4. The Advertisement of Ideas
    January 6, 2005 | 2:50 pm

    Ah yes. Is it advertisement or is it content? But isn’t all content advertisement of something, whether and idea, a premise or service? Does anyone post without the intent to promote something? is there really a difference between advertising ideas and advertising commerce?

    This new blog world is indeed blurs the line between content and pure unbridled self-promotion. Is this simple fact the beauty of blogs or the curse? Do we diminish relevance by allowing self-promotion or have we opened an avenue for ideas which simply did not exist before?

    Back to the issue of creativity, there is little doubt that non-affiliated [solo] attorneys will be key players in the reformation of the practice of law into something more often constructive, more value driven and more respected than the current state of affairs. Creativity is so often about environment, rather than potential. There is no way I could say the things I say on my website about billable hours and other important issues without being anonymous. My ideas attack the very law firm I am currently leaving. Once I quit (tomorrow), my ideas and my identity will be easier to reveal.

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