Monday, May 05, 2014

Taming Chaos

         I was reading some U.S. Supreme Court opinions the other day (an occupational hazard).  Oddly enough, I began thinking about chaos.  Funny how one endeavor can prompt one to think of something completely unrelated.  On second thought, my first thought may be an example of just the opposite. 
         But whatever one thinks about the merit of any judicial opinion, or lawyer's brief, for that matter, the enterprise involves the same goal ‑‑ bringing order out of chaos. 
         A lawyer I knew, who passed away several years ago, was a workaholic who wrote briefs that sparkled with clarity.  Even when the law was against him and the mélange of facts fought against the creation of a coherent narrative, he could write a brief that was lucid and compelled the reader to seriously think about the merits of his argument.  He expressed regret that the law was so demanding that he could not devote enough time to appreciate the arts.  I am not sure he was aware of it, but it occurred to me that he was in fact an artist. 
         This revelation came to me during a three-hour lunch I had with two premier lawyers who are also award-winning photographers, Irving Greines and Eric Lawton. 
         Greines is a well known and leading appellate specialist.  His photographic work has been exhibited in shows and is held in permanent collections in museums, galleries and universities throughout the U.S.  He has been published in leading photographic journals and magazines.
         Lawton is a seasoned litigator who represents businesses and individuals in the resolution of complex civil litigation.  His work has been exhibited in galleries, private, and public collections throughout the U.S., Asia and Europe, that include the New York Public Library and the Bibliothѐque Nationale in Paris.  His books of photographs include The Soul of the World (Harper Collins) and The Soul Aflame (Conari Press).
It may not seem obvious at first glance, but the compelling artistic works of Greines and Lawton share some of the attributes one finds in the work of the lawyer who produces a persuasive brief or argument.  But of course little is obvious at first glance.  One has to quiet the mind and look deeply into the circumstances that precede the inspiration and labor that go into the creation of the work.
          Lawyers and judges must create a reasoned and coherent construct out of chaos.  Yes, lawyers have been known to create chaos.  And the same can be said of judges now and then.  (Readers at their discretion may eliminate "now and then" and are free to refer back to the first paragraph of this column.)  In most cases our critical faculties lead us to recognize that the task of lawyers, judges and artists is often the same:  to guide us through the world's bewildering maelstrom.
I have argued in the past that certainty and predictability, the objectives we strive to achieve in the legal profession, are mostly illusory. We do our best to bring meaning and predictability to the law, but the different perspectives we see in judicial opinions belie such notions. 
In large part we humans create chaos.  Just ask Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher.  In his Lettres Provinciales, he says, "What a chimera then is man!  What a novelty!  What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy!  Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe."
         No need to be depressed about this deplorable state of things.  It is simply the way things are.  In fact, this chaos is the spur to human excellence, to artistic creation.  Henry Adams, in his eponymous work, The Education of Henry Adams, said, "Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit."  I think that means chaos is good.  Something creative comes out of it. 
         One of Greines' first shows, which I attended, was provocatively entitled "Chaos Transformed," a goal both artists and lawyers strive to achieve.  Greines and Lawton pick out of a mass of information that which is necessary to make their visual statement.  The task is similar to the lawyer who must consider a hodgepodge of facts, and other information, including statutes and case law and make sense of it all.  It is an undertaking that transforms chaos into a "creation" that will produce clarity or insight for the reader or viewer.  Lawton notes the parallel between law and his art:  "Be it a legal problem or a visual subject, I'm presented with a world in chaos."  Whether it be the "art of law" or the "art of photography," Lawton looks to "discern the underlying theme ‑‑ to find the story and express it in a clear, compelling way."
Of course there are differences between the brief writer and the photographer.  Photographic art often presents a challenge to the viewer who must thoughtfully consider and ponder its significance.  Different viewers can derive insights different from one another and from the artist.  The brief writer, on the other hand, strives for a common understanding for all readers.  Yet, both lawyers and artists create in their own special way a sense of order and meaning.  Lawton approaches his work from all angles and senses when he can trust his judgment to capture the scene and the "elegance of simplicity." 
Greines finds beauty in blighted areas that people avoid, or walk though quickly.  He confines his photographs within a "defined space" so that the viewer can focus on the subject and find its own particular beauty. The good artist and the good lawyer often find gems in unexpected places.  In his appellate practice, Greines takes a similar approach.  He arranges facts and legal principles in a brief that will attract the reader.
Artists and lawyers helped create civilization.  Many in the public criticized the legal profession because so many lawyers were involved in the Watergate scandal.  Yet it was lawyers who brought the miscreants to justice.  The oft-repeated quote from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part II, "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," is not an indictment of lawyers.  It is a call from a butcher in a mob of angry citizens to overthrow the government and create havoc, disorder and chaos.  This call for anarchy is a tacit recognition that our legal institutions and its lawyers are necessary to preserve an ordered society.  No wonder the bailiff calls for "order in the court."
         I cannot even try to do justice (pardon the expression) to the body of work produced by Greines and Lawton by describing particular photos.  Nor could I do the same with a well-crafted brief or judicial opinion.  The unique vision that Greines and Lawton express in their photography compels the viewer to do more than merely look, but to think and participate in an act of creation.  Check out their work at their respective websites:;;  Think about what they say in their work.  And I guarantee you will write a better brief and of course be a better lawyer.
         Artists like Greines and Lawton challenge our way of thinking and take us into unexplored areas to find meaning in a chaotic world.  So do lawyers.  Look and you shall see.  The effort to make sense of a disordered world makes us all artists.  We may not always achieve it, but we can meet Pascal's challenge and be the depository of truth and "the glory," not the shame, "of the universe."

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