Work + Growth

The Myth of the Left-Brain Lawyer


Bookmark
  • Since the 1900s, the myth of logical left-minded people and artistic right-minded people has gained popularity
  • Scientists argue that logic and creativity go hand-in-hand, and no one is dominated by one side of the mind
  • It’s time for lawyers to feel confident exploring creativity, and enjoy the benefits for their health and their job

If you’ve been calling yourself left-brained or left-minded, it’s time to learn the truth behind the myth and break free from this legal stereotype.

You already know the classic pairing in comedies and oddball romances: She’s an artist, he’s a lawyer. She’s a free spirit, he likes a rigid schedule. She’s creative, he focuses on the facts, and of course, she’s the sunshine to his somber reality. It’s a classic example of the comedic couple for a reason—we tend to associate creativity (or “free spiritedness”) with a very different type of person than we do intelligence, analytical skills…or a career in law.

Why?

Because of a very popular—yet very debunked—theory. This theory argues that people can be divided into left-minded or right-minded thinkers based on which side of their brain is dominant. According to the theory, left-minded (or left-brained) thinkers are logical and methodical like the typical lawyer stereotype. Right-minded/right-brained thinkers, on the other hand, are more creative, intuitive, and subjective.  We’ve probably all fallen into the common misconception about how our brains work, referring to our artistic friends as “right-minded” and our more uptight, organized peers as “left-minded.”

The problem with this convenient categorization? Although our brains are divided into left and right sides, the link between sides and personality has been proven to be a total myth.

The Story Behind the Theory

In the early 1900s, two researchers named Broca and Wernicke discovered a fascinating trend in their studies of patients with injuries. Patients that had damage to their left cerebral cortex showed significantly more loss in their language abilities than patients with injuries on the right side. And they weren’t so wrong—even today, scientists agree that the left side controls language syntax for the majority of people (although for some, that same control is exercised by the right side). But this is where the science ends and popular culture takes over. Specifically, when author Robert Louis Stevenson stumbled on the theory gaining popularity in scientific circles.

Intrigued by the idea of the dual personalities struggling for dominance in each brain, Stevenson reimagined that perceived struggle on a much broader stage—penning his classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and sealing the myth of right and left-minded personalities into popular culture almost permanently.

The Truth, According to Science

While language may stem from your brain’s left side, the rest of the theory has been widely dismissed. To combat the myth, many psychologists point out the interconnection of creativity and logic in the first place. Since creativity and logic aren’t two distinct methods of thought (as perhaps the 19th-century audience may have assumed), there’s simply no way that one side of the mind would have sole jurisdiction over one or the other. To paraphrase one lecturer: Many advanced math problems rely on bursts of creative inspiration, and plenty of art is based on a logical structure.

Have you thought of yourself as left-brained or right-brained? How much of the stereotype do you fit?

What Does It Mean for Lawyers?

It may mean you’re not so logical after all, or at least not strictly so. Instead, you probably rely on both creativity and analytical thinking to succeed in law—and you’re certainly firing away with both when you handle presentations and client discussion. But there’s great freedom in realizing that there’s no “left side.” It means there’s no one stereotype that lawyers, or anyone else, needs to adhere to in order to match expectations.

What Does It Mean for Everyone?

It’s time we stopped limiting ourselves to one side of our mind— or one stereotypical personality type. Though many of us may seem to prefer logical thinking over creativity, everyone relies on a little bit of both to make decisions in our professional and personal lives. The division of right and left minds is an appealing simplification, but it also acts as an excuse—or even encouragement—for people to ignore exercising the traits they consider outside of their own categories. Instead of exploring other ways of seeing, we can (and do) claim to be right or left-minded at the exclusion of all else.

Lawyers especially, known for their logic and analytical thinking, might view creativity and art as too “other-minded” for them. And that means missing out on the benefits that creative pursuits can have for you, your health, and even your job.

Now that the popular theory has been thoroughly debunked, it’s time to stop ignoring your creative side and start actively exercising the creative muscles that help you craft a winning argument or inspire a successful line of research. As the myth loses popularity, who knows? We might find more lawyers doing pottery…or more poets filing their own taxes. And that’s better for everyone.