It’s one of those business buzz phrases you hear often, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important: thinking outside the box. There are many qualities that go into successfully practicing law but one of the most important and most overlooked is creativity. If you can regularly find novel ways for your clients to achieve more, or reach outcomes at lower costs, the world may beat a path to your office. Thinking creatively to help your client may be just what is needed.

Matthew Swyers wrote in Inc. magazine about a difficult trademark case he handled. His client’s opponent was large and well-funded as was their legal team. Swyers couldn’t match their resources so he tried to find a way to outwit them. The case involved a trademark dispute and both the facts and law appeared to support the opponent’s claim.

After reviewing the situation he considered priority of use, which is an important factor in trademark cases.

  • The entity that used the mark first normally wins the case, especially if the trademarks, goods or services of the parties involved are very similar.
  • The opposing party had priority of use compared to his client, but with some research he found there was a third entity that had priority of use over the opposing party.
  • That company had been using the trademark for more than fifty years, was considering closing and it sold their rights to the trademark to Swyers’ client for a fraction of the cost of litigation.
  • The parties settled the litigation shortly afterward.

Swyers has these suggestions for finding an abnormal way out of a situation.

  • Identify the issue.
  • Decide whether you can use a regular or typical solution to solve the problem. If so, use it to resolve the issue.
  • If not map out everything that lead to creating the issue. Be expansive and include everything possible.
  • Once you start mapping out the issue look for how to address the problem through one of the more outlying areas that may have been overlooked.
  • Even if you think a means is impossible, consider it anyway. Go through every possibility until you know it can or can’t be done.

Writer Tony Schwartz provides some broader tips to help the more creative, deeper thinking, right side of your brain take over some of the problem solving in the Harvard Business Review.

  • Define the problem.
  • Saturation: Schwartz calls this “…absorbing one’s self in what’s already known…For me, it involves reading widely and deeply, and then sorting, evaluating, organizing, outlining, and prioritizing.”
  • Incubation: Walk away from the problem. Think about the information while exercising or simply being in a different environment.
  • Illumination: Those spontaneous and intuitive thoughts that may lead to, if not produce, a resolution. You’re probably not at your desk when this happens and it may come to you while you’re asleep.
  • Verification: The more analytic, left part of your brain gets involved again, challenging and testing your creative breakthrough.

Whether the problem you face is one in a client’s case or a professional or personal issue being creative may be the difference between success and failure.