Five Lessons for New Attorneys from Lou Reed

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This weekend we lost one of the most influential musicians of modern history -- Lou Reed. His lifelong collaborations with other artists -- the likes of Andy Warhol, Nico, John Cale, and David Bowie -- are a testament to surrounding yourself with talented, interesting people.

As we remember his music and his contribution to pop culture history, we came up with five lessons that young lawyers can take away from Reed's colorful life.

1. Keep It Simple, Stupid

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed studied creative writing, journalism and film directing at Syracuse, and while there, studied poetry with Delmore Schwartz, who showed Reed that "with the simplest language imaginable ... you can accomplish the most astonishing heights."

Keeping language simple isn't just important for poetry, or song writing -- it's immensely important in legal writing. It's easier to be persuasive when you keep language clear and concise. Using additional, superfluous methods of writing and prose, obscures and obfuscates the true meaning of that which you wish to communicate (see what I mean?).

2. Commercial Success Does Not Equal Influence

The Velvet Underground did not find tremendous commercial success, yet Rolling Stone says they are "[a]rguably the most influential of all the proto-punk groups." Brian Eno stated that even though the Velvet Underground "sold only 30,000 copies in its first few years, 'everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.'"

For young lawyers in this market, that can be inspiring. Many of us went into the legal profession with lofty ideals; finding financial success is not the only measure of a good attorney. You can have lasting impacts on many lives depending on the kind of work you go into. Whether you work on an influential case, or work to further human rights, your work can have tremendous significance.

3. Career Change

Though Lou Reed was a song writer before starting the Velvet Underground with Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, reports Rolling Stone, before moving on to a solo career.

Like Reed, your career may take various twists and turns -- rather than fight against them, embrace the changes. It's never too late to change practice areas, or go from a big firm to in house, or even start your own firm.

4. Just Say No

Because one of Lou Reed's most well-known songs "Heroin," we can guess that he had some fun times in his life. Since attorneys don't have the best rep when it comes to illicit substances either, take it easy, and keep away from the bad stuff.

5. Volunteer

In his later life, Lou Reed performed at many benefits, lending his musical talent to support many causes. Like Reed, you can take on pro bono work as part of your practice to benefit others and give back to the community.

While taking life legal lessons from someone like Lou Reed may not seem obvious, upon closer examination, we can learn a lot from him. We'll miss the man, but his music lives on.

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