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.