Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

How lawyers propitiate the gods

There’s a fascinating front-page article in the NY Times today about lawyers and “lucky” totems and rituals they employ. At one point in the story, the habit is even described as propitiation of the gods.

Several things come to mind reading this. One is Jung’s notion of compensation, with the dominant super-rational style constellating its opposite. Another, of course, is the way a totem or ritual focuses energy or serves as an object for the displacement of anxiety. The extreme example of the latter is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Although I specialize in creative types, probably the largest percentage of my clients has been lawyers. Apologies to any happy lawyers out there, but I’ve had many friends who gave up the occupation after a few years. In fact, when I was editing one of the nation’s largest alternative newspapers here, several of the editorial staff were former lawyers.

Part of this is counter-transference of course. My parents always told me I should be a lawyer because of my highly argumentative style. Instead of going to law school, I ended up doing a lot of critical writing — movies early on, then popular culture and politics and, even now, dining. So, I think my public persona probably attracted lawyers. (Too bad writing doesn’t pay like lawyering!)

But there are deeper connections between creativity and the lawyer’s occupation in my experience. Most of my lawyer clients and friends love stories. Their cases are narratives. They are also often attracted to offbeat characters. And they love words. So, a good lawyer often seems to me at depth quite creative, often a frustrated writer. Typically, they don’t recognize this about themselves or they are specializing in work that doesn’t provide much satisfaction of their creative urges.

The rituals and totems are not new to me, either. I had one client years ago whose undergrad major was  philosophy. Feeling compelled to make a living, he went to law school and had just been employed by the most prestigious firm in town, making a gigantic salary. He had installed a “zen” fountain and virtual rock garden in his office both to signify his difference from his colleagues and to provide an object of contemplation.

An acquaintance went to law school to satisfy his parents. But he was obsessed with food and before graduating was already writing a very funny blog, The Amateur Gourmet. On graduating, he immediately enrolled in a graduate writing program and his blog became one of the foodie world’s favorite. As far as I know, he has never practiced law.

I confess I’ve often said that the only lawyers I like are unhappy ones. But I also recognize that the most effective among those I’ve had to hire were pit bulls. It’s no surprise to me at all that lawyers, often deeply conflicted, engage in rituals and carry totems.

Comment Pages

There are 4 Comments to "How lawyers propitiate the gods"

  • baldwithglasses says:

    Cliff, I enjoyed this article as I enjoy most all your writing. The one thing I would have liked to have read in addition to your observations would have been specific examples (names redacted, of course) that you have specifically witnessed.

    Just sayin’…

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cliff Bostock, Nicholas Vikør Green. Nicholas Vikør Green said: RT @CliffBostock: New blog posting, How lawyers propitiate the gods – […]

  • Cliff says:

    Hey, baldwithglasses, thanks for commenting. As far as specific use of totems, they haven’t been different from the type in the Times story — lucky accoutrements, stones, etc. Ritual activity included, in the zen lawyer’s case, recitation of a mantra, particular foods, even fasting. The only surprise in the article was the mention of dining in particular restaurants. I thought hearing that was more about my being a dining critic than anything else. 🙂

  • BarneyF says:

    Great piece, Cliff. As other have commented elsewhere, it reminds me of your old column in Creative Loafing. How come you haven’t restarted that somewhere else? There’s nothing like it in the city or elsewhere for that matter that I know of.

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