The Active Imaginations of Lawyers

stealing-books.jpgConsidering that lawyers are supposed to be particularly skilled at manipulation, we’ve done a piss poor PR job for our industry. While we occasionally get good press, I think the most generous appraisal of our industry as a whole would be that we’re party poopers. We take any good idea and we shit all over it – pointing out every reason why the idea is risky or impracticable, doing our best to suck any element of fun out of the idea and burying in paperwork any fun that might have otherwise survived.

But to be honest I think it’s kind of a beautiful skill. Lawyers have been trained to dream… horrible dreams about the worst possible scenarios. Our training is centered on jurisprudence with almost comically unlikely fact scenarios, and even in practice a trial lawyer is less likely to become involved in the 99% of cases where things just sort of work themselves out – rather trial lawyers spend most of their waking hours trying to sort out the times where things went horribly wrong.

The rest of us are charged with trying to preempt that kind of worst case scenario, however unlikely. In part because it’s our job, in part because we know that a 1% chance of something going wrong isn’t as good odds as people would like to believe, and in part because you only need to see one instance where a family was torn apart by litigation or where people lost their life savings because of a check mark on a form that they didn’t bother to read to be convinced of the party pooper’s value. The best lawyers are the ones who can imagine the worst case scenario and thereby ensure their client doesn’t become that worst case scenario.

There is, however, another side to this kind of legal imagination. A counterpart to the cynical imagination which is hopeful and which can be inspiring. An imagination which can imagine a better future and which can parse through the nonsense that fogs the path towards it. I’ve described law as feeling sometimes like you can see through the matrix – even in the first week of law school I felt like I’d been given a decoder ring which enabled me to understand how our society was engineered and how I might hope to change it.

As an example: I went to law school with some really impressive Indigenous people who were working on a project to rethink Canadian constitutional law so as to account for Indigenous self-determination. I don’t know where they’re at in that project – one can imagine that it won’t move beyond a thought experiment in our lifetime – but I’ll never permit anyone to tell me that it will inevitably come to nothing. These are people who are daring to dream, who have the skills to make those dreams a mission, who have the determination to pursue that mission, and who have the imperative to see that mission accomplished.

Fear is one of the best motivators of imagination; but likewise so is hope. And while we’d be of little value to anyone if we weren’t cynical, I’d like to see lawyers more often allow hope to spur their imaginations and to see them act on the resulting visions for progress.

Posted in: Progress

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