Where Creativity Meets Legal Writing: Bridging the Gap

By: Sammi Elefant

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were an unlikely pair. Catmull began his career as a computer scientist, Lasseter an animator. The two innovators are now respectively at the helm of both Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. However, at the time they co-founded Pixar, the computer-animation industry did not exist. Many prominent computer scientists and animation artists (including Disney’s “Nine Old Men”) rejected the idea of a computer generated animated movie and didn’t think it was possible. On November 22, 1995, the skeptics were silenced with Pixar’s immensely successful release of ‘Toy Story,’ the world’s first-ever computer-animated feature film.

The story of Pixar, founded on the inconceivable, reminds me of my experience with legal writing. Not long into my first-year legal writing class, I realized that this form of writing would be one of the greatest challenges I would face during my legal education. Legal writing requires precise research skills, intricate and complex analysis, and vigilant construction of legal arguments – not to mention the uncompromising legal prose often incomprehensible to most readers.

In attempting to “write like a lawyer” I felt as though my take on the legal issues was lost among the rules and conformities that were required of me. Like Lasseter and Catmull, I faced an audience who would rather maintain the rigid practices of memoranda, then break down those traditions to build them back up better than before. As a third-year student, my perception of my first-year legal writing class has shifted. I had to learn the legal writing rules to know how to break them. That is, to be so comfortable with the fundamentals of legal writing that I would now be able to incorporate creativity and disciplined imagination.

Throughout the careers of law students and lawyers, legal writing does not disappear. In their second years, many students seek out membership on law journals and are required to produce professional memoranda at their jobs and internships. I earned membership on the Journal of High Technology Law (“JHTL”), Suffolk’s highest ranked journal. As a staffer, you spend the year writing a legal note on a topic of your choosing in the hopes of being published.

The reality is that not everyone is selected for publication. In fact, I was one of the authors not selected by my journal to be published this year. Like with any form of rejection, the clarity of the work can get lost in the insecurities that manifest. However, Suffolk presents many opportunities for student scholarship to those who seek it. As a writer, the two most important things to me are (1) contribute new and forward-thinking analysis to the legal canon, and (2) trust my gut and stand by my work even in the face of disbelievers. This is why I spent the summer working closely with Professor Vinson and Professor O’Leary, two of Suffolk’s legal writing faculty, to re-work my note. Suffolk enables students to pursue outside publication by allowing them up to 100 submissions free of charge. This is a generous opportunity that I would encourage any student to go after. Within one week of submitting, my note was picked up by UCLA’s Entertainment Law Review.

It would have been an easy choice for me to accept my first rejection. However, I was confident that I had created a piece that would be a unique contribution to legal scholarship, not only in content, but also in form. Just as ‘Toy Story’ had completely disrupted traditional animation, my note, although sometimes deemed as too creative in the way the legal issue was presented, and non-legal in tone, is an accessible and emotional read for an audience that extends beyond lawyers. Creativity and legal writing should function together, like animation and computer science. The notion that legal writing has to be dense, conventional, and voiceless is flawed. As Ed Catmull says, “craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”