The Importance of Being a Creative Lawyer
Law isn’t always seen through a creative lens, especially when compared to more artistic sectors. It’s often perceived as rigid, academic, and perhaps a little dry. Law may be built on precedent, but the profession is ripe for change and is ready for an injection of all-important creativity.
Are Lawyers Creative?
Lawyers may not immediately think of themselves as being creative – at least within their profession – but some of the best lawyers use this skill every day. A large part of the job involves problem-solving, abstract thought, analysis, and creative consideration to come up with new solutions to resolve existing problems.
Lawyers don’t simply read and interpret the rules. Of course, they must have an excellent understanding of the relationship between the law and their business and know how to apply this knowledge to develop the best conclusion. However, they have to find creative ways of working within a legal framework.
The outcome often relies upon a lawyer’s storytelling ability – how they package an argument or a party’s point of view in a suitable and meaningful way. These abilities, in addition to critical thinking, social skills, listening and reasoning, can be particularly useful in commercial law when working with multiple stakeholders.
“If you are negotiating a deal, it’s not really just strict law that you are helping with, actually you’re thinking about ‘How do you get the deal done?’ And to get the deal done, it’s not always just what you write in a contract, it’s the way in which your approach the discussions, it’s the way you explain your client’s point, and you have to think outside the box, it’s not just a strict legal exercise.” says Natalie Salunke, Head of Legal at RVU.
Lawyers must also work with what they are given – the adage ‘do more with less’ is ever-present and being able to make the most of what you have requires creativity and innovation. There’s pressure on lawyers and legal teams to be frugal; they are encouraged to follow a set process to keep fees down for example, while also being creative and innovative to achieve the desired result.
Can You Teach Creativity?
Creativity is highly sought after by clients, even if it remains somewhat unacknowledged by those within the legal profession. Paul Knight of Mills & Reeve believes clients value lawyers who are capable of coming up with different solutions to the problems they face and can help them achieve their objectives. These lawyers also tend to become the ‘trusted advisors’ within the business.
“But lawyers aren’t ‘taught’ to be creative or innovative in their approach during their law school training – perhaps they should be! The academic learning of the law is quite different to actually applying it in practice.” says Nick Cranfield, Head of Legal at Dyson.
“The practical application of law, if done properly, is going to involve some creativity, because it’s not about understanding what the law is, it’s about applying that to a particular set of circumstances and presumably trying to come up with a solution,” Cranfield adds.
Future lawyers need to be more creative and innovative in their approach to problem-solving, says Christian Fahey, Vice President of Legal Affairs at Inmarsat, who cites The O-shaped Lawyer as a collective programme that aims to improve the legal profession. It lobbies for a transformational change in the way lawyers are trained and developed, with a focus on originality.
Lawyers can be conservative, risk-averse, change-averse, and their training doesn’t always allow them to be collaborative or innovative, says Bjarne Philip Tellman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at GSK. “I think that’s part of the challenge that we face, we’re just not built for it,” he adds.
Moving With The Times
The world is changing – people, culture, and expectations have shifted, and the practice of law must follow suit. In a profession where precedent is heavily relied upon, it can be difficult to see where such creativity can be introduced, but by starting small, it can get easier.
Creativity is certainly a desirable quality for a lawyer to have and often goes hand-in-hand with being innovative. Creativity is a skill of thinking outside the box and coming up with new solutions to existing problems, whether it’s using technology, new user experiences or new processes, says Karina Vazinova, founder of KV Labs. “Innovation, on the other hand, is an operational skill. It’s about taking creative solutions and then figuring out a way of employing those solutions and making them work.”
A combination of both creativity and innovation are essential for change; it will require thinking differently and asking questions in different ways to get novel answers. There is a need to move away from the services and structures that existed in the past – to survive, you have to be innovative and try something new and different. You can’t replicate the same process or procedure and expect things to be different. The result will simply be an enhancement of something that already exists and that will only achieve so much.
Law firms should ‘give themselves permission to be innovative’ by thinking of themselves as a business not just a learned profession, and realise that they have customers and competitors, says Tellman. It’s very easy to see, read, hear or learn what we want to but we need to step out of our comfort zone and think differently and creatively, to focus on what’s there in front of us and what’s possible, rather than basing our actions on past experiences.
“Curiosity and an open mind are key ingredients to creativity and innovation; they allow you to approach tasks differently, ask why you do something in a particular way and whether that is the right way, or if doing something differently will result in a different – and better – outcome. We learn more by doing something new than we do reading or interpreting and repeating the same thing over and over again. If you are comfortable with the idea of trying something different and not always getting it right, then you’re not afraid of failure.” says Salunke, who points out that some of the best innovations have resulted from repeated failure – think James Dyson and his 5,126 vacuum designs before he finally developed one that actually worked.
Creativity can be sparked by connecting with similar, likeminded people through collaboration. Not just with others within the same profession but others within the industry – technologists and consultants. This allows different points of view to be heard, ideas to be challenged, and for creative minds to bounce ideas off each other. Could this effectively lead to a reimagination of the profession and how it can be delivered in the future?
To make a change within the profession, there needs to be a change in mindset. Lawyers have to consider their value to their companies and whether they are proactive and creative in their approach. The mindset of companies and those teaching future lawyers has to change too – creativity should be seen as an essential skill that can move the business forward.
Creativity goes hand-in-hand with innovation – to have one, you often need the other. The ability of a legal team to think outside the box is becoming an essential skill, held in high regard by clients, and increasingly in the profession.
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