Author John C. Brewer didn’t know what he was getting into when he took me on as a writing partner. What he is teaching me extends far beyond how to structure a tight, compelling story. He’s teaching me how to react and interact like a human being. It’s a bit of a problem, because I am a lawyer.
As we work on knotty story problems, John will proposed Solution A, off the top of his head. I will come back with three problems with Solution A. John, like the rest of non-lawyer humanity, hears it as a rejection of Solution A as infeasible. He tells me I am limiting myself without considering options. He tells me I am stifling our creativity. But that is the lawyer conditioning and there is a reason why our thought patterns have been shaped in that manner.
What is the job of a lawyer? The simple answer from TV is to navigate the court system, but that is far from the truth. The real job of a lawyer is to anticipate and navigate around real or possible problems that stand between the client and her goal. Let me give an example. Let’s say John and I decide to open a cheese shop – equal ownership and equal profit split. The lawyer’s job isn’t simply to document how we want the business to work. it’s to work through problems that might come up and how they will be addressed. Say a giant wheel of Parmesan crushes me to death. If my ownership passes to my husband, does John want to be in business with Mark? What if Mark doesn’t want to be in business with John? What if the cheese boulder merely maims me, so I can no longer provide the physical labor that was necessary for the store to be a success? What if it hits me in the head, rendering me unable to make business decisions? What if I go insane? What if I stop showing up for work? What if aliens abduct me and I am never seen again? The lawyer’s job is to think off all of these possibilities and work out, in advance, ways around the obstacle so the business can go on to be a success.
So, for a lawyer, spinning out obstacles is not negative at all. But non-lawyers hear an implicit “you can’t do that,” or “it won’t work” when we lead off pointing out the problems that could arise with a plan. And frustration arises when we point out those same sorts of problems with every plan. The unfortunate result is that lawyers, whose job medium is communication, are left being ineffective communicators. We come across as negative, grumpy, obstructionists, and the public would prefer to never communicate with us at all.
So, while necessary for our legal skills, our training detracts from our ability to interact outside the legal world. I had not realized the extent to which this was true before working so closely with John. Now, I am learning to hold my tongue as he spins out ideas. I try to give him space to run with his ideas. Of course, I still jot down notes of potential problems as we go. After all, overcoming the obstacles is part of the creative process as well. And perhaps, as I get better at this skill in the writing world, it will carry over into the rest of my life as well.
Yes, as lawyers, our job is to play Devil’s Advocate. Not to shut down the idea, but so we can think of, and SOLVE, the problem before anyone else sees it! It’s a pre-emptive strike.
I don’t think my inability to connect with most people has anything to do with being a lawyer, since it pre-dates that. rather, I am a lawyer BECAUSE I am the way I am, LOL.
Fortunately, I have been writing longer than I have been lawyering (not a word, but it sounds better than soliciting and I claim poetic licence!) so I rarely find my lawyer brain shutting down my creative ideas.