Paul Floyd: The artful lawyer


It might be the nature of law, or perhaps the presumed nature of the people drawn to law, but artistry is not one of the attributes popularly associated with the profession. As a rule, clients want their attorneys to be competent, learned, persistent—but artistic? For Paul Floyd, practicing art as a discipline has been a part of his life since around 2009, or about a third of the time he’s been a practicing lawyer.

According to Paul’s wife, Donna Floyd, it started with photography. As she recalls, he had a new camera that he brought along on a trip to Alaska. From there it was visits to the zoo, where she says he would take “about 50 pictures of every animal.” If that sounds somewhat aggravating, it did have a payoff: free hotel nights and gift certificates from contests he entered, and a growing list of organizations using his photos. His recently retired law partner, Leny Wallen-Friedman, estimates Floyd has taken “north of 100,000 photos,” demonstrating an all-in type of commitment to the form.

Floyd might have stayed with photography as his primary creative outlet if it hadn’t been for a chance encounter with an art instructor on vacation in Wisconsin’s Door County around 2019. The instructor led a group exercise in watercolor and Floyd got the bug. Then, when the pandemic hit, he found his opportunity to dive into the art form. It didn’t take long before he had ordered a portable painter’s kit online, letting him set up easily in art museums or paint in plein air. A small park near Floyd’s home in St. Paul became a favorite haunt as he practiced his new skills during the covid shutdown.2023-Paul-Painting

But this wasn’t a pandemic bread-making fad for Floyd. Instead of retiring his watercolor kit when restrictions eased, Floyd doubled down. He discovered that he could make quick pictures while waiting for meetings to start, or more elaborate sketches of the meetings themselves, in the style of a courtroom artist. He even carries the painting box onto airplanes now, whiling away the flight using a dry watercolor technique. “It’s true on a plane you have turbulence,” he notes, “but you just go with the bumps. Sometimes it ends up being an abstract.” 

That’s a go-with-the-flow mentality Floyd doesn’t apply to law in quite the same way. As he explained in a 2021 Hennepin Lawyer article, “Surprises in watercolors are a good thing. Surprises in law are rarely, if ever, a good thing.”

Floyd still takes photos while traveling, but now he also documents his vacations by making a drawing in advance of each site he and Donna plan to visit. These dedicated notebooks become a sort of guide for the trip, letting him anticipate and learn about each place in advance, before taking notes about them in real time.

In addition to being enjoyable, Floyd’s artistic endeavors may be benefiting him in other ways. Numerous studies suggest that making art improves skills ranging from communication to managing projects to empathizing with others. In the Hennepin Lawyer article, Floyd noted another benefit of doing art: gaining a fresh perspective. As he wrote, “I once painted a scene only to turn it upside down and realize that it looked so much better reversed. It is my subconscious at work.” 

Which brings us back to those clients who may not realize the benefits of employing an artistic lawyer. Now Floyd’s clients can add perspective to the list of attributes they appreciate, knowing that he can see things from more than one angle, finding the best approach to the problem.