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FORTUNE Small Business:

Jazzy relaxation: A lawyer and his office piano

Riffing on a keyboard in my office helps me manage the stress of my legal practice and bond with clients.

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At work, Kulawitz shifts between jazz and jurisprudence.

RIDGEFIELD, CONN. (FORTUNE Small Business) -- I took up piano when I was 8 years old, after my father suggested that I use my spare time for music lessons instead of a paper route. By junior high I was joining bands. I kept at it, playing throughout college, in law school - and now in my Ridgefield, Conn., law office.

I'm a sole practitioner, specializing in personal-injury law. I handle about 150 cases a year - mostly for individuals suing insurance companies - and my 2007 revenue was six figures. I like to play piano, and I keep a full-sized, 88-key Casio Privia electronic keyboard on a stand behind my desk chair.

It has a weighted-action keyboard, so it feels like the Yamaha grand piano in my home, but it also has options that can make it sound like a harpsichord or a violin. I grew up playing the music of the '60s - the Beatles, Yes, Led Zeppelin - but now I play only jazz.

In my law practice, I deal with adversarial situations, and it can be very unpleasant. Any time I need to reduce stress or just take a break, I turn away from my desk and start playing piano.

I often play after a difficult phone call - even a break of a few minutes helps me escape from the pressure. It also changes my frame of mind. If I'm in a bad mood, I listen to a Miles Davis CD and my outlook is altered; playing piano does the same thing. If I'm having a stressful day I'll play some blues.

I also play familiar songs in different keys, which is tricky, so while I'm doing that I can't think about anything else. It's like meditation. Playing jazz, which is intensely improvisational, boosts my creativity and keeps me on my toes. That helps me find new approaches to my cases.

The piano also relaxes clients, who sometimes ask me to play. People tend to find the law intimidating, so the fact that I'm also a musician is humanizing and gives us common ground. A few years ago a client and I started discussing music, and he told me he played bass. I play in a jazz quintet and we needed a bassist, so I asked him to join us. His case was over more than two years ago, but we're still playing together.

- As told to Eilene Zimmerman  To top of page

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