GUEST BLOG: “Why Singers Make Good Lawyers,” by Marsha Nagorsky
Date: May 6, 2014
WHY SINGERS MAKE GOOD LAWYERS, by Marsha Nagorsky
I haven’t sung in a choir in over 20 years. Between a full-time job and parenting two young sons, regular rehearsal just isn’t in the cards. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss singing in a group, yearn for my days working to hold a difficult harmony or figure out a tricky rhythmic pattern, and enjoying the camaraderie that comes from the heady mixture of shared purpose and joyous delight that is collective musicianship.
While I studied music in high school and college, I ended up a patent lawyer, and now I work in a law school. It may seem counterintuitive to say that the most valuable training I received for being a lawyer was my musical training, but it is absolutely true. Lawyers are, at their very core, analytical thinkers, and the work lawyers do is mostly done in teams. A lawyer and a client, a lawyer and her colleagues, a lawyer and a judge are all working together to try to bring order to chaos, to try to separate wheat from chaff. The best training I ever got for that sort of work was singing with other people.
From group singing I learned how to concentrate completely on my own body and mind, while still staying connected enough with a team to work together seamlessly. I learned to take turns taking the lead, to let each member of the group shine at the right time, for the betterment of the whole. I learned how to find joy in really hard work, and to take great pleasure in the small successes as well as the big ones. I learned how to find layers of meaning in small changes, how to analyze a work of creativity, and how not to analyze it so much as to make it lose its context. Every one of these skills are ones I have taken with me through my entire professional life.
I didn’t just get teamwork skills and analytical training from my choir experiences—I also learned how to learn and how to teach. There’s a reason that among my very few teachers with whom I still keep in touch are my junior high choir director and my voice teacher. Watching them work with me one-on-one and as part of a group of rowdy kids gave me example to follow when dealing with students of every age and in every subject. My time as their student made me a better student overall, and definitely made me a better teacher.
The only place I sing anymore is in my synagogue, and I am so grateful to have that experience. But I am looking forward to someday getting back to one of the most formative experiences of my life, and once again finding a group of people with whom I can make music.
(Marsha Nagorsky is Associate Dean for Communications at the University of Chicago Law School. Read her companion column, “The 26-Year-Old Recordings and the 42-Year-Old Lawyer”)