cbaReportFeb13 - page 5

February 2013 CBA REPORT
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5
cover article
H
H
ow important is inspiration to
the practice of law? For start-
ers, let’s acknowledge that the
topic is a tall order. After all, choosing
to write about
inspiration
instead of,
say, the latest health care labor case has
the potential pitfall that the reader will
expect to be inspired rather than just in-
formed. So the author hereby respectfully
requests a little slack; his goal is not to
inspire, but to ask you to consider again
what inspires you as a lawyer.
My interest in the question of inspi-
ration only partly derives from a legal
career. I’ve also had a lifelong interest in
painting. Luckily, I don’t have to support
my family with my artwork, nor do I
aspire to quit my lawyer day job for the
easel. Some people assume that the
worlds of law and the visual arts are very
different worlds. After all, one is a world
of words, the other a nonverbal world of
images. But, practicing law while pursu-
ing painting as a pastime has led me to
look at each through the lens of the other.
I’ve learned that the worlds of law and
the visual arts have a lot to teach each
other. Especially about inspiration.
It’s no surprise that some amount of
inspiration is important in doing art-
work. But how important is it to law?
Lawyering Triangle
Let’s imagine (or better yet draw) a
triangle to symbolize lawyering, with
sides labeled:
competence, professionalism
and
inspiration
. We’ll define compe-
tence as the mastery of the legal and
technical skills necessary to be a lawyer
and to represent clients well. We’ll define
professionalism as adherence to the law-
yer’s code of responsibility and norms of
civility and ethical conduct. For lawyers,
competence and professionalism are du-
ties. We can’t serve clients without them.
But inspiration isn’t a legal duty. Inspira-
tion is...well, what is it? How would you
define it for yourself? If you were to draw
the lengths of the sides of the lawyering
triangle of competence, professionalism
and inspiration to show their relative
importance to you, what would your
triangle look like? Would it be an equi-
lateral or scalene triangle? Whether and
how the lawyer defines inspiration shapes
the other two sides.
TheWhy
Inspiration in painting and law
goes to the
why
question. Why are you
practicing law? Why are you handling
that case or doing that transaction? Why
are you painting that scene or image or
person or thing? What’s the purpose,
the motivation? The answers will vary
from lawyer to lawyer, as they do from
painter to painter. The lawyer’s cumula-
tive work, his or her opus of matters
handled and clients served, will reflect
whether and how he or she answered the
why.
There’s not a simple, single or right
answer to what inspires you. For many of
us, inspiration’s road is a marathon, not a
sprint. But lawyers, no less than painters,
should push themselves to consider the
why.
Some Hurdles
As we do, and at the risk of deflating
our topic, let’s concede that the practice
of law can present a few hurdles to inspi-
ration. Consider four “isms”: skepticism;
temporalism, verbalism, careerism.
Skepticism.
Personality profiles of
lawyers suggest that a common trait is
skepticism. Starting with the Socratic
method of law school and reinforced
through the experience of law practice,
we learn to question, not to take what
the witness says at face value, to consider
alternative explanations, to rebut and
debunk and challenge. Skepticism serves
lawyers well, but it can also dull down
the otherwise bright light of an ideal or
foster a pragmatism that sees inspiration
as ancillary at best.
Temporalism.
Law is a profession
driven by time, billable hours, respon-
siveness, statutes of limitations, filing
and other deadlines, scheduling orders,
client demands. Every day the busy law-
yer has to manage the multiple demands
of time. And, of course, technology has
compressed time and expectations to
the point where the brain is expected
to process turnaround time more than
think. You may be thinking: “I hardly
have time enough in the day to do all I
need to do, emails, voicemails, calls and
filings; so it’s not very realistic to talk
about inspiration.”
Verbalism.
A lawyer’s world is not
only time-driven, but word-driven. Cases
and transactions turn on the meaning,
nuance, interpretation, clarity, ambigu-
ity, use and misuse of words. Lest we
become the proverbial hammer that sees
the world as nails, lawyers might work on
balancing their well-honed verbal mode
with nonverbal modes of expression and
By Bruce I. Petrie, Jr.
Inspiration and the
Art of Lawyering
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