If You’re Creative, You’re Screwed in Law

I’m in the middle of playing Connect 4 with the 7 year-old. He loves this game, and he’s pretty good at it. I, on the other hand, am bored out of my mind. Then I berate myself that I need to share his enthusiasm, to enter his world. So I try to understand the attraction of the game.

4 in a row game
Which game gets your heart racing: creating or deconstructing?

That lasted for roughly a millisecond. Then found myself thinking that if object of the game were to work together to make interesting patterns with a limited number of moves, I’d be so much more into it.

Then it hit me: This is why I never liked law, and was never, ever going to. I just don’t give a shit about stymieing other people and winning. At heart, I’m only interested in creating, whether it’s new ideas, new art, new words, new clothes. Anything different and interesting.

Which Job Do You Want: Building Up or Tearing Down?

I’m going to go out on a limb just slightly and say that if you’re at all interested in creating, you’re never going to be happy in law. Law, in its DNA, is about tearing stuff apart. Whether litigation or deals, it’s about pitting one side against another. That means channeling energy into opposition and strategy, rather than into creating agreement and movement along a path. It’s the extrinsic v. the intrinsic.

Clients often hate their lawyers precisely because of law’s DNA: The client wants to go off and make something new and exciting, and the lawyers are the wet blankets telling them they can’t. Lawyers tear at the new idea, new product, new whatever, trying to make it like something they already know, and don’t add any good ideas about how to get to a new place. (This rant isn’t about the clients who want their lawyers to help them beat or outmaneuver the other side.)

On the other hand, creativity is about putting together some existing things in a new, unusual or just different way; basically, that drives lawyers insane because they don’t understand it. The new thing doesn’t fit into precedent neatly, if at all.

I trust you can see the deep tension between these two ways of walking through the world: enforcing the status quo v. busting it wide open. If you’re wired to challenge the status quo, you’re never going to be happy in law.

Often, people—and lawyers in particular—don’t think they’re creative because they weren’t art or theater majors or aren’t obsessively writing a novel. Certainly those folks are creative, but that’s not the only way to tell. Next time, I’ll talk some about the clues that you might in fact be a creative person in lawyer’s clothes.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who still wants to learn Photoshop, even though she isn’t a graphic artist (so far). She helps unhappy lawyers discern where their real happiness lies, in both career and life. Jennifer offers discounted sample coaching sessions. Contact her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today.


  1. As an adult, I think your goal in playing Connect 4 is to find the most creative way for you (the adult) to lose.

    Although my son sometimes dislikes when I do this because he wants me to play to win. So you have to *look* like you are trying to win. So there is an acting component.

    In law school, I told my roomate that I wanted to build something (not in the physical realm, but in the mental/psychological/cultural realm. I’m not a physical engineer. Doens’t interest me at all.) He looked at me kind of funny and told me that wasn’t what lawyers did.

    It would be fun to *create* the precedent and *alter* the precedent to do what you want it to do. But it takes lots of money to rent enough Senators and Representatives to try that.

    It might be a divergent thinking vs. a convergent thinking issue.

  2. “But it takes lots of money to rent enough Senators and Representatives to try that.”

    You always make me laugh, JP!

    And I will re-orient my views of Connect4. You are right, I was using the wrong lens altogether.

    Any ideas what you want to build now?

  3. That’s pretty much the blunt kiss of death I’ve been waiting for. I’m very creative – always been into drawing, painting, photography, music, film, etc. Most of my closest friends are involved in the music industry, architecture, design, photography, film-making, etc. Most lawyers I know bore me to tears within minutes in non-work situations.

  4. Now I know (years later) that this is why I had so many huge problems settling in to law as a young lawyer. I was smart enough to do the work, but I couldn’t get myself to think and act and “be” like the gung-ho law firm lawyers. I was just too “different” and it was 1) painful and 2) the gung-ho born lawyer types all acted like “eew, she’s different!” which again made it painful. Ugh. Oh well. It got easier when I understood why I seemed different (and to not take it as a sign of personal failure).

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