"I'm happy you're going to law school. Don't forget to turn off your lawyer brain every once in a while and come back down to earth." -a close friend
Over the past several months, while contemplating whether or not to attend law school, I've learned a lot about just what those who practice law do and don't do. Good thing. More than a few misconceptions exist about lawyers, and, even before my first day of law school, I find the responsibility falling on me to dispel some of these misconceptions.
In the creative world of musicians and artists that I come from, law is looked upon as an annoyance, about as creative and exciting as meeting with your tax consultant at the end of every year. It's mostly a waste of time, so better put as little time into it as possible. Contracts, agreements, corporate structures...all these concepts are nothing more than annoying human contrivances taking up time that could otherwise be used to compose a symphony or perfect a monologue.
Thanks to many conversations with many individuals practicing law in many different ways, I no longer see law this way. In fact, I now view the study of law as a creative enterprise that is just as much capable of creating beautiful expressions of the mind and spirit as any purely artistic discipline.
In order to understand how I could possibly see law this way, let's take a step back and ask the following question:
Why laws? Why the concept of 'law' in the first place?
With respect to criminal law and penal codes, the answer to this question is easy: to ensure the basic safety of all the members of a society. But we have plenty of laws that go beyond ensuring basic safety for the members of our society. Why do we need them? Also, don't forget about the civil court system, in which verdicts are determined based not only on written laws but also on what other courts have decided about similar cases (the legal term for this is precedent).
The answer is that in order for any project of any respectable level of complexity to occur, the individuals working on the project must first get together and agree to the terms and conditions of the project.
Since understanding this, I look at the whole world differently.
An example. Outside of my window here in Echo Park, I can see part of the downtown Los Angeles skyline. This skyline looks wildly different than it did five years ago, and it will look wildly different in five years than it does right now. Los Angeles is growing at a rate faster than it ever has since its 1920's Hollywood-powered golden age. I can see six cranes slowly erecting six different skyscrapers on plots of land that used to be parking lots.
My mind zooms in on a hypothetical crane operator, operating the crane to slowly move beams and joints into place. The number of legal agreements that led up to this crane operator putting beams in place on May 18, 2016, is staggering.
Notice how each and every step requires lawyers who are trained in how to clearly, thoroughly, and unambiguously write down the terms and conditions of an agreement. It is this clear, thorough, unambiguous agreement that allows the two parties to move forward with the project, knowing that their individual interests are protected even when challenges do arise.
This is the thing I find most fascinating about law. In the end, law is the practice of researching, synthesizing, and codifying, and the "deliverable" in law is the contract, or the case, or the verdict. In other words, the deliverable in law is a particular pattern of thoughts and facts. Like any great symphony or screenplay, a thought pattern is intangible, and yet it certainly must still exist in some concrete way, since these thought patterns are the requirements without which major projects and agreements among individuals and entities could never come to fruition.
This, to me, is why law is so exciting. Remember that all legal needs and disputes arise from real, genuine, day-to-day human interactions. As a lawyer, I get to bring my powers of observation, synthesis, and creativity to these human interactions to draft a thought pattern such as an appellate argument, or a contract. If I do a good job, if my creative thought pattern is based on sound reasoning and is properly relevant to the parties involved, then:
In other words...my creative work has a meaningful positive impact on the world around me.
If that's what it means to be a lawyer, then sign me up.
The following is excerpted from the Facebook post I used to announce my career change to my friends.
In 2005, I came to USC, fresh out of Interlochen, and I was a starry-eyed young musician who was ready to start in Los Angeles and become rich, famous, and beloved the world over as a classical musician.
In 2009, I graduated from USC, and my first real-world gig was as accompanist for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, a beloved job I would keep for six years.
It’s 2016, and when I look back on the past seven years of my life as a freelance musician, I am grateful for all the opportunities that the universe has sent my way, and I proud of the work I’ve done. I’ve played piano for Audra McDonald, LeAnn Rimes, and Melissa Manchester. I’ve worked with incredible ensembles, sung for visionary directors, and had the chance to work with music whose composition represents, to me, the pinnacle of human achievement (J.S. Bach and Stephen Sondheim make that short list).
In seven years, I've grown up a little, and so too have those stars in my eyes. Make no mistake, though: I'm still just as much of a dreamer as I ever was. Heck, I just started a whole new choir two years ago. The L.A. Choral Lab is my proudest achievement as a musician and I hope to still be conducting it when I need a walker to help me get on to the stage.
What has changed about my starry-eyed, unbridled optimism over the past seven years, though, can be encapsulated in a few facts I’ve learned about how the world works.
Maybe I’m scratching a seven-year itch. Maybe I’m making a hard, screeching left on the road of life. Maybe I’m embarking on an interesting two-year scenic route. Or maybe I’m simply doing what Yogi Berra suggested: I’m coming to a fork in the road, and I’m taking it. Whatever I’m doing, I’m thrilled to announce that I have officially enrolled as a student at Southwestern Law School’s two-year SCALE JD program. I start coursework in seven weeks, and in May 2018, I will be ready to take the California Bar Exam and start working as a lawyer.
I intend to continue to nurture and grow the L.A. Choral Lab throughout law school and into my new career. I have begun the process of phasing out the rest of my gigs and musical engagements so that when June 13 comes I can focus my energy on learning the ins and outs of a field that is brand new, and very exciting, to me.
My intention, at the moment, is to bring my musical experience with me by focusing on intellectual property and entertainment law. But who knows if that will change as I explore the field and learn about what my options are.
OK, back to practicing the St. John Passion. In a beautiful, albeit perhaps slightly cruel, twist of fate, my final performance as accompanist for the St. John Passion with the Pasadena Master Chorale is on June 12, one day before my first class at Southwestern.