Law in Contemporary Society

How to be Creative as Law Students

-- By ThomasLiu - 28 Feb 2020

As a human being, I naturally get satisfaction from being creative. Whether it is playing a drum solo or showing off a fresh move on the basketball court, I feel a mysterious sense of reward and achievement from connecting existing but seemingly disparate ideas to produce something novel. Therefore, I believe creativity is not only a great means to generate valuable ideas, but it is also a good in itself, regardless of the result that the process brings about. In this essay, I will share some practical ideas on how to become more creative, both as an individual and as a collective, in law school. The ideas are largely focused on a general framework on how to begin to act creatively, rather than the specific details of mastering creativity as a skill.

Why It Seems Difficult to be Creative

Before coming to Columbia, I have never associated the idea of going to law school with being creative, and the first few months I have spent here have only deepened my conviction that the law school system is not designed to inspire creativity. Starting form the first day in school, the school has told me where and when I will need to show up to class, where I would sit, and who I was going to be learning with. Even though a person can still be creative regardless of the materials he’s given to work with, the law school environment set an uncreative tone and culture, where any deviation from the conventional standard will be faced with harsh resistance. For my first legal writing assignment, I thought the CREAC format was too rigid and developed my own format that I thought was the most optimal way to convey my argument. We all know how that turned out. When I am applying for jobs, the career office mandates a set template for our resume and cover letters, and it seems that there is a certain way that we have to act, talk and write, in order to be “professional” and be accepted by other fellow lawyers. It is true that there is nothing physically preventing me from being original, but it just feels much easier to follow the “rules” so in the worst-case scenario I will be in as good (or as bad) of a position as my peers end up in.

As an Individual

Nevertheless, once you realize how uncreative everyone in law school strives to be, it is easier than ever to be creative. After all, the lack of original ideas in this system just means that there might be less inspiration material to work with, but it does not stop you from extracting useful information within the system and put it into your practice. It is easy to be creative, at least in the relative sense, by taking undervalued risks that are not taken by your peers. For example, since most of us believe that the only thing that matters as in school are our grades, we are reluctant to do anything that does not seem obvious to help us gain a few extra points on the final exam. Activities such as using the writing center to polish your legal memo, talking to professors about the philosophical rationale of a legal rule, or analyzing the validity of a logical argument in a judicial opinion, is a “waste of time” because it is not obvious that these activities will get you a better grade than memorizing a two-liner rule of law that we get from Quimbee or remembering what type of jokes the professor enjoys so they could be discreetly inserted on the exam for some bonus points. Therefore, many resources at the law school become underutilized. As it is the case in an inefficient economic market, where the market value high-risk assets become undervalued when an overwhelming amount of equity is transferred to low-risk assets during times of fear, there is extra value to be gained by filling the gap between the inherent value and the market value. You can fill this gap by utilizing resources that may not produce obvious or immediate benefits for others, and the knowledge you acquire will enable you to fill the inefficiency in the market as you become a practicing lawyer.

As a Collective

Personally, I believe there is greater good to be achieved if we can encourage others to be creative as a collective, which will generate more original ideas as building blocks for further innovative pursuits. In a practical sense, if what I discussed in the preceding section fails to incentive to others to become more creative, we can learn from what the law school system has done to us, to sell a narrative that “creativity” is the most valuable asset in this profession. Once creativity is lauded as the new manifestation of success or professionalism in this industry, we, as risk-averse law students, will make every effort to be imaginative and original. The goal is to adapt the narrative according to people's incentives and what our peers associate with signs of success. For example, assuming 1L students are currently mostly incentivized by our grades, the first step in selling the narrative is to demonstrate that creativity is a great tool get you a higher grade. This can be done through making innovative study aids, utilizing new learning methods, etc. Once we get our peers to buy into this narrative, perhaps we will start to realize the actual value and potential of creativity and use it to fulfill what we perceive as the inefficiency in society. We can apply this process of incentivizing creativity to every level of collective we belong in – as Law and Contemporary Society students within the 1L class, as Columbia students within the law school system, as lawyers among all professions, and as human beings among all entities in this world.


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r1 - 28 Feb 2020 - 19:11:29 - ThomasLiu
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