Is the practice of law art or science?

Written by: Lee Holcomb

Published in the Tennessee Lawyers' Association for Women

Winter 2018 Newsletter

The same talents that make for a successful, productive and

happy lawyer can also be used to make great art!


Law is an art, not a science! But in recent years, the practice of law has become more focused on the science side of things. Many of the services that lawyers have traditionally provided are now automated, think repeatable processes, technology solutions, eDiscovery, and contract coding.  Some have argued that this automation will only continue and will eventually eliminate the need for lawyers. My hope is that we will see a renaissance in the legal profession that will allow lawyers to get back to the practice of law as an art.  

Is the practice of law still an art? For me that turned out to be a true statement. Because I have a secret I would like to share: I didn’t go to law school because I wanted to become a lawyer. Instead, I wanted to create, build, and design things. But I also wanted to be able to market and sell the things that I made. And I guess, ultimately, to be able to support myself while I did all the above.

Early on in my art career, I worked with a store designing, painting and selling hand-painted floor cloths. As the relationship progressed, the owner of the store and I decided to enter into a more formal business relationship that would involve a joint venture to take my artwork to Mexico to have it replicated and mass-produced. Enter the contracts and lawyers!

The negotiation with the store owner quickly became overwhelming and a little scary to me as a 22-year-old trying to navigate business and legal documents. I didn’t know how to handle the contracts that were being placed in front of me, and I did not have the resources to hire an attorney who did know how to handle the legal work and business deals.

So I walked away. I wasn’t giving up forever; I was going to go to law school first and then come back to the art world. I figured I would have a leg up on dealing with similar situations if I could understand what was taking place and how to handle the business side of being an artist. I had no idea they don’t really teach that in law school.

From day one of law school, it was clear that I was probably in the minority in my reason for attending. It seemed that most of the students at my school had a better understanding of what they were getting themselves into. Nearly everyone had a strong desire to practice law, had taken pre-law classes in college, or at the very least had one or more parents who were attorneys.

Eventually, I overcame the initial hurdle of being behind the curve for law school. I started to get the hang of things. In fact, throughout my education and over the course of practicing law for twenty years, I started to appreciate the similarities between practicing law and making art. Lawyers and artists are more connected than we think. The same talents that can drive a successful law practice can also be used to make great art, think creativity, focus, and attention to detail.

Interestingly, I’ve met a number of lawyers in art classes and through the artistic community. In several instances, I knew people as artists for months or years before I found out they were also attorneys.

This begs exploration: Is creating art a therapy for the stressed-out lawyer? Or is a lawyer more creative and artistic than most people think?

I believe, in many instances, it’s the latter. True, creating art can be therapeutic after a long, stressful day at work. But creating art is also not too different than creating a brilliant legal argument or defense. Both require a unique perspective, tweaking, reworking/rethinking, hard work and courage in execution. They each necessitate a willingness to put yourself out there and make your argument (or your art) without a concern for the criticism of others.

It may not be a long stretch to imagine the transition from John Grisham lawyer to John Grisham writer of attorney thriller novels or Eric Garner’s transition from lawyer to writer in his portrayal of Perry Mason novels. Scott Turow, another author, sold 30 million copies while maintaining a successful law practice. 1 However, many people are much more surprised to learn that Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky were both lawyers before they became successful full-time artists.

Matisse moved to Paris in 1887 to study law. He would go on to pass the bar in 1888 and start work as a clerk in a law office. 2  It wasn’t until 1889, when he developed appendicitis, that he first started to paint to pass the time while he was recovering. 3  Likewise, Kandinsky studied and taught at the University of Moscow School of Law from 1885 to 1895. He made a career change to become a full-time artist when he was 30 years old. 4

Matisse, Kandinsky, and others discovered two fields that have deep similarities expressed in different ways: law and art. Attorneys and artists need creative freedom to have balanced, successful, productive and happy lives.

Years back, the lawyer was more of a maverick developing ideas and solving problems on their own in each unique case. Today, the legal industry is tethered by procedure, regulations, and repetition. Perhaps one of the reasons that the legal profession has a higher than average problem with substance abuse, stress and mental health issues is because many attorneys are not being encouraged or allowed to tap into and use their creative talents.

I hope this will all take a turn for the better with the advancements in technology. Could technology be the door opener that allows millennial attorneys to change the legal landscape and create new and more fulfilling, creative ways to be an attorney in the 21st century? Instead of death by robots attorneys should use the opportunities that technology is providing for a renaissance of the legal industry to create a new glory day for the practice of law that includes a perfect blend of art and science.




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Lee Holcomb