Does law school make students less creative?

Here is a short set of notes that are slightly provocative, aimed at both law school leaders and faculty, and the students who are choosing whether and how to attend law school. The notes come from a discussion in my Intro to Legal Design course, in which visiting guests and the law students discussed the question: — does law school kill the creativity of the lawyers-in-training?

Most people around law schools comment on the transformation of aspiring JDs, entering school with an application focused on public interest work and ambitions of change-making, to more big law-focused 2Ls, 3Ls, and working lawyers.

This other transformation, though, of “Losing My Creativity” also seems to happen. I get emails every month from lawyers who are considering ways to ‘recover’ their creativity. All these notes reference a feeling that law school drummed out their inclination or their free time to experiment, to sketch, to play around, or (more fundamentally) to be confident in their creativity.

The conversation we had in Intro to Legal Design seemed to affirm this trend, but it also pointed to some potential responses. Students and guests proposed that Human-Centered Design (HCD for short), taught in explicitly ‘design’ classes, or woven into clinical training, collaborative team-work, and client-centered courses could correct this trend. If we teach design practices around prototyping and empathy — and if we focus on metrics that prioritize user experience and dignity of the lay person, we can equip law students with a richer set of strategies to practice with.

And we can counter the law school trend of over-focusing students on the two main aspirational tracks — becoming either a partner in a ‘big law’ law firm, or becoming a judge. Given that most JDs won’t end up as either as a judge or a big law partner — and with more JDs interested in exploring entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary tracks to control their own career, we need to figure out these better ways of educating them to be leaders who can deliver value, bring groups together, and create great ideas. These quickly jotted-down notes are just a start.

Are law students leaving law school less creative

thats the point

lawyers and strategies

strategize and experiment

thinking of people, not judges

empathy creativity collaboration

USer-based metrics

design-based metrics

One Response
  • Aug 29, 2016

    This is a hugely serious subject, and Please be gentle on my take here :)> (This after some 8 years in the THICK of the legal system as an SRL). It is my take that Law and the Courts are like a brotherhood clan. Language spoken = ‘legalese.’ Students are DRILLED to loose any creativity, it will NOT BE TOLERATED. Everyone shall adjust to think along the imposed mentality and act according to that set, drilled manner. If you can not/ will not conform, you can not be our ‘friend.’ Only Uniformity rules.
    I have experienced the courts are not about justice; there is no such thing. Democracy is a ruse. You think it exists, but in practice all is pretense. It does not exist; in small pockets maybe. The Courts are about furthering the cause and well-being of those who function inside it. It is a closed-shop Brother/ Sister Hood. If you seek creativity, don’t go in to LAW!

    Evert-Jan Steen Aug 29, 2016
    Reply

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