Stu Rees: Cartoonists’ lawyer and lawyers’ cartoonist

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Starting with this issue, the Harvard Law Record will proudly present a regular cartoon by one of its own alumni, Stu Rees ’97. Partly because of his experience as a cartoonist, Rees has developed a successful solo practice representing syndicated cartoonists from around the country in their contractual negotiations. Rees has had over 1,200 cartoon illustrations featured in over 40 volumes of the Thomson West High Court Case Summaries series, and many of his cartoons are available at his website, Stu’s Views (www.stus.com). The Harvard Law Record caught up with Stu to talk about how his interests in law and cartooning have been intertwined throughout his career.

Which did you want to be first, a lawyer or a cartoonist?

I was always interested in cartoons, and while I was at Harvard I was a cartoonist for the Record. I wasn’t that great though, and I dropped it after school. I worked at a firm (now Bingham McCutcheon) in Boston for a few years after school, and then moved to San Diego and started a solo practice focussed on cartoonists. After I had been working with cartoonists for a while, people who were being picked up for syndication, I saw what worked and what didn’t.

So you were able to combine your creative and professional interests through solo practice?

One of the enormous benefits of having a Harvard Law School degree is instant credibility. It is easier to set up a solo practice as an HLS grad than being from another school without the name cachet. Being a lawyer also made me a better cartoonist, because, although they are very different careers, both share an absolute intense focus on words, all their subtle meanings, and the need to be concise. It’s natural for me to consider every possible perspective on the words I write, because, just like with a contract, I have to be sure there isn’t an alternate interpretation of each cartoon. Words are so powerful that you just don’t get a full appreciation for them until you are in a career where you are making your money by choosing them very carefully.

How do you find that solo practice is different from firm practice?

It all comes down to how much money you need to make. Law firm life results in you making a lot of money but having an enormous amount of stress and never getting to see your kids. I couldn’t imagine leaving my kids at 7 o’clock in the morning and coming back at 7 at night to tuck them in.

You don’t get law-firm lawyer hours when you work from home. In a basic day, I get all my legal work done, then take care of family needs, and split the rest of the time between family and cartooning. For someone like me who puts an absolutely high value on family, it’s an unparalleled situation. Since my stress level stays low and I can put my cartooning on hold if I have too much legal work, I rarely fall behind and the quality of my work stays high.

What advice do you have for law students today?

Piggyback your interests, artistic or otherwise, on top of your interest in the law. One of my classmates was interested in space and set out to become a space lawyer, an area in which there are maybe fifty to a hundred people practicing. [But] whatever your interest, you can [enter] that field as an HLS graduate.

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