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Conventional Wisdom Be Damned!

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

This Friday, let’s clear the decks and lay down some fresh thinking. You know, the kind that changes up the way you do things, results in better service to your clients, makes people in the office happier and gets you out of that rut. There’s a fresh breeze of innovation blowing through the legal business today and it’s time you got some for yourself.

So, You Need a Few Good Ideas

Where do people come up with new ideas, anyway? For anyone who isn’t, by their nature, an idea hamster, I suggest you go anywhere interesting ideas hang out. Creative thinking can be a communicable condition, actually inspiring more creative thinking. Here are a few easily accessible places to look.

1. Kids say the darndest things! A child will come up with the wackiest stuff. Think back to your own imaginative creations — before you learned to edit your thinking. The chocolate potato chip delivery service. The automatic Lego loader. That thing that hit people in the nose if they knocked on your bedroom door. Kids are fabulous non-cynical problem-solvers. And, yes, that trippy kid you used to be does still live inside you somewhere. So get in touch with that part of yourself — sit down and chat with a kid, yours or one who agrees to help you, the next time you’re puzzling over a tough problem. Lay out the facts as simply as you can. Identify what you’re trying to do. In all seriousness, ask for advice. Chances are she’ll go right for the nut of the problem.

2. Take a Kickstarter tour. Surely you’re familiar with Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site for great new ideas. Since the site’s launch in 2009, 8.1 million people have pledged more than $1.6 billion, funding 79,000 creative projects. Thousands of creative ideas are raising funds on Kickstarter right now. (Yes, some of them are really stupid. But do remember, a guy once proposed selling a rock in a box as the perfect pet and made $15 million in the first six months.) Take a couple of hours to virtually wander around the site. You can watch self-produced videos of people pitching their ideas and asking for funding. Check to see which ideas are funded two and three times over the initial requested amount. See who in your geographic area is cooking up creative concepts. Get inspired. Get involved.

3. Tap into other industries. One of the simplest ways to come up with a business innovation is to take that new thing another business or industry is doing and re-imagine it in the context of your business. Online bank account access might inspire you to build a client portal to keep people in the loop about their legal matters. The concierge function at your hotel could foster a client experience manager in your firm, crossing all functions — billing, lawyers, scheduling, secretarial, etc. — to make sure clients are getting what they need. How do you track other industries or professions? Subscribe to their publications, online or paper. Reading them regularly could actually serve a dual purpose for you: keeping you up to speed on an industry you serve as a lawyer and showing you what’s going on in that industry that you might cobble into an innovation for your own.

4. Be in your own head. A lot of creative thinkers get that way, not by being wild and crazy, but by applying rigor to the process. James Altucher, for example, is a self-help guru who believes the creative mind is like any other muscle in the body — it requires an exercise regimen to keep it supple and functioning. Late in his popular blog post The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine, Altucher lists 24 different little exercises you can try to keep your creativity humming along. (I’m particularly fond of the “idea sex” concept and apply it frequently when I’m really stuck.) Or, if the thought of an idea machine sounds entertaining, take a two-minute break to watch a cute video, The Idea Machine, by digital filmmaking studio Mr. Kaplin.

 5. Attorney at Work. You don’t think we could let this opportunity pass us by, do you? If you’re a regular reader of Attorney at Work, you know we pride ourselves on delivering “one really good idea every day.” (And if you’re not, shame on you! Get over here and subscribe.) We provide solutions to the problems lawyers have that relate to time management, client service, billing, burnout, marketing, personal technologies, apps, setting fees, business development, fitness, social media … the list is endless. And, of course, you get ideas about how to get good ideas! Every day is full of information and inspiration.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Innovation, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published March 13, 2015
Last updated October 26, 2022
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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