Brainstorming Techniques to Unlock A Second Career for Lawyers

brainstorming techniques

Why your lawyer brain makes thinking about changing careers tough, and a great way to overcome it

Some of the traits that make you a good (but perhaps unfulfilled) lawyer are also those that make it hard for you to see how you can make a successful career change.

It’s a Brain Thing

Many lawyers are so-called “left-brain” thinkers. We’re methodical and careful. We care about accuracy and we value certainty.

We’re trained to avoid ambiguity and to carefully assess risk – and in many cases to avoid or minimise it.

These are all fantastic for our clients, but when it comes to helping us decide if a career change will give us what we really want they are far more of a hindrance than a help.

What does help is trying to tap into the more creative parts of our thinking – we need to engage our “right-brain”, which will allow us to widen our horizon, embrace possibilities, and bring a touch of emotion into our deliberations.

Just a Jump to the Right

Putting ourselves into a “right-brain” pattern of thinking can be difficult for many. However, I’ve found a method that has been successful for many of my career change coaching clients – brainstorming.

Brainstorming, using a variety of techniques, is useful throughout the career change process, but invaluable at certain key points.

Today, we’ll look at three of those key times when engaging the right-hand side of your brain can help to provide you with both clarity and possibility.

Then I’ll give you one simple brainstorming exercise you can try for yourself.

What do you Actually Want?

Now there’s a million-dollar question!

But in our context, you need to give yourself complete freedom to think about, and research, possible alternative roles or careers without self-editing, self-judgement, or building any barriers.

We can use brainstorming to arrive at the answers to several key questions in this regard, such as:

  • What do your perfect life and perfect job look like?
  • What do you want from life? What do you want from work?
  • What are you prepared to do to pursue these?
  • What’s stopping you from achieving these?
  • Without filters or limits, what are ALL the options open to you?
  • Forget money – if it wasn’t important what would you want to do with your time?

Many lawyers find it hard to start answering these questions.

Sometimes, it can even cause discomfort to think like this.

That’s where brainstorming techniques can work wonders.

What would your Perfect Day Look Like?

On the surface, a fairly innocent question.

Most of us might think about how we currently spend our weekends, or what we like to do when we’re on leave.

But that’s a very left-brain way of thinking!

By brainstorming, we can help to build a detailed picture of this perfect day – from the moment you wake up until you collapse into bed, exhausted but happy, at its end.

We’ll be picturing our personal time as well as our work time.

Who we’re working with, what skills and competencies we’ll be enjoying using, what results we achieve.

It’s this detail, this creative process, that helps us to define what is going to start to make us happier.

Analyse your Fears

Verbalising and facing fears can be another thing that left-brain thinkers find difficult.

Brainstorming is a great way to get to the bottom of what’s really holding us back, why we are justifying staying in a career that’s not making us happy.

You need to build a list of the fears that you have about all of the potential options open to you. Be it moving roles, moving firms, moving practice areas, or even making a complete career change.

The other side of fear analysis is thinking about the worst things that could happen.

Not only if you made changes, but also if you just stay put and carry on as you are.

Brainstorming allows you to be open to more possibilities, but also to see more downsides, giving you a much rounder view of the pros and cons of all the options open to you.

Try This Creative Brainstorming Technique

When you ask yourself these and other key questions you should try and let your mind roam at will, and consider (and discover) all the possibilities you can without judgement or analysis.

That comes later.

Find yourself space where you can feel relaxed and undisturbed, preferably somewhere you find inspirational or comforting, and try this freewriting exercise.

Pick the subject or questions you want to brainstorm, and then set a countdown timer for a short amount of time, say 10 minutes.

Start the timer.

Your goal is now to write or type constantly about the subject or the questions until the countdown hits zero and then stop.

The key to accessing the right-hand side of your brain with freewriting is that you must continue to type or write even when you can’t think of anything specific to say.

In which case, write that down!

Even if you have to write “I can’t think of anything else” or “blah, blah, blah!”, you must not put that pen down or stop moving those fingers over the keyboard.

You must keep writing something, anything.

Once the countdown comes to an end save what you’ve written and then leave it for at least 24 hours.

Then you can come back to your document, re-read it, and begin to edit and organise those creative thoughts.

There’s a science behind this freewriting process that determines each specific part of the technique so be sure to follow the instructions to the letter.

Free Your Mind

At the heart of this and other brainstorming techniques is the fact that your brain will produce great ideas and thoughts if forced to continue working without stopping and without filtering – those come afterwards.

Brainstorming like this can be particularly helpful for “left-brain” lawyers who have found themselves stuck when trying to ‘think’ their way to what it is that will help them feel more fulfilled.

Career Coaching for Lawyers

  • Get unstuck and start taking action on your career change.
  • Gain clarity around what you want.
  • Generate ideas and explore career options.
  • Get support and guidance from an experienced career coach and former lawyer with 25+ years experience of the legal profession.

Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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