Creative Thinking for Lawyers & Law Firms

As another new year begins and start you thinking about your new year’s resolutions  (or goals, if you prefer), it may also be time to think about how you can innovate and think more creatively about the challenges in your law practice and about new ways to solve problems for your clients.

Dan Kennedy advocates what he calls “creative cheating” in a post on his blog called Creative Thinking for Small Business Owners, and his #1 tip is “steal and adapt what’s already built.”

Kennedy also says:

“Whatever you’re trying to do, somebody has already figured out and built — just not in your business or industry or in an application you might ordinarily, easily think of in connection with your business.”

According to Kennedy, the key is: every time you see anything, go anywhere, or experience anything, to ask yourself, “How can I use that?”

I recommend that lawyers look to other industries as a source of innovation and ideas for marketing and for running their law practice better for two reasons: first, looking at what other industries are doing gives you a unique perspective on how to run your law practice, and as Kennedy points out, you may get an idea from an unrelated industry that you can apply in a completely new way to your practice or your clients. Lawyers tend to focus only on the legal industry and what other lawyers are doing, and that limits the possibility for innovation.

The second reason is that by looking to other industries (and specifically the industries your clients work in), you can give them something that is familiar to them and that might help them to see the value of the services you provide in a different light. The law is often confusing and can be foreign territory for those who have not had experience with it before. Giving your clients information in a form that they are used to might make it easier for them to make the connection between the services you are providing to them and the outcome they want to reach. This is another form of ‘speaking your clients’ language.

One great example is creating a one-sheet for your law firm, which Kate Battle wrote about on Lawyerist this past October. Kate’s idea of creating a one sheet for law firms came from the music industry. A one sheet is a one page “resume” or overview of your firm which includes the highlights of your firm’s attorneys, practice areas and benefits. Kate’s post includes some great tips for what to include in your one sheet, and to make it even easier, try using the free one sheet generator at MyShingle.

Another example is the use of surgical checklists, borrowed from the airline industry and popularized by Atul Gawande, M.D. Incidentally, checklists are another great idea for attorneys for the process-oriented work that must be done in firms to conform with deadlines, ethical constraints and court rules.

If you want more ideas about creative thinking and problem solving, I highly recommend the book Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. One of the techniques in the book is the “scamper” technique. Scamper is based on the idea that everything new is really just a modification of something that already exists. It is, in some ways, an expansion of Dan Kennedy’s notion of looking at something and trying to figure out how you can use it in another context; the scamper technique just gives you a blueprint for doing that.

Scamper stands for:

  • S = Substitute
  • C = Combine
  • A = Adapt
  • M = Magnify
  • P = Put to Other Uses
  • E = Eliminate (or Minify)
  • R = Rearrange (or Reverse)

Try it out. Start by looking at the industries your clients are in and the norms of how they do business. Using the scamper technique, see if you can transform that idea to work for your law practice and make something great happen in 2012.

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Shenandoah Chefalo says:

    Great blog post! This is something I try and teach attorney’s each day. Sometimes, lawyers tend to focus on teh law end, and forget that they are still running a business. You have to be creative, not just in marketing but it all areas of running a law practice. I have successfully helped numerous attorneys implement non-traditional legal practices, but very common business practicies into their firms with great results. My first tip. . .don’t think you have to have the scales of justice in all of your marketing!!

  2. Great post, Allison – I really liked the advice about viewing the world through a lens of “how might I use that in my practice.” And of course, thanks for the mention of the one sheet generator. Here’s to a creative 2012!

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