Design Thinking for Lawyers

Written by Elizabeth Layeni

May 3, 2021

We will agree that the market for legal services is changing. It is no longer sufficient to give great legal advice. It becomes imperative to reimagine how we practise law or how we build our law businesses to meet the ever-evolving needs of client. 

Design thinking for lawyers is how you intentionally craft your legal practice over time to deliver legal services simply, functionally, and beautifully. It is a system approach to innovation and problem-solving that is user-centered, experimental, responsive, intentional, and tolerant of failure. Creative problem-solving falls squarely in a lawyer’s wheelhouse and to successfully navigate current trends; legal professionals must better develop and exercise their creative problem-solving skills. Clients are looking for new ways to reduce their risk and legal spend. Design thinking will give you better results by combining the expertise of lawyers and designers by transferring patterns of thoughts and procedural models from designers to legal questions. With legal design methods, the question of how those involved in legal systems and providers of legal services should deal with digitization and how the legal industry must behave and develop in relation to the constantly changing expectations and behavior of legal consumers when using services is answered. 

How do Lawyers “do” design thinking? The key to any innovation is to start small. In its unique focus, legal design has its own set of guiding principles and patterns. What makes for a good product? How do we communicate effectively? What kind of services will suit our user? The answers in the legal sector can be narrower than those in the general design processes.

The task of legal designers is to find a balance between the legally necessary and the creative freedom of legal contents and tasks.

 Steps of legal design thinking process:

  • Discover, empathize, and understand the user’s situation, need and context through direct observation and research.
  • Synthesize and define a clear statement of the problems that users are faced with.
  • Brainstorm and ideate various unique solutions to identified problems and situations.
  • Prototype to test the viability/feasibility of the ideas developed. 
  • Test your prototype solution with the needs of potential users and ask for feedback.
  • Implement and launch your solution to the system and get everyone onboard. 

Legal design thinking focuses on how to re-design the delivery of legal services and improving the relationship between law firms and clients. It helps lawyers step back and envision their services delivery design using a client-centered process. That process starts with user data, creating or upgrading systems, tools, and processes that address real needs, and then providing a framework to test the prototypes and launch solutions with real users. Design thinking encourages innovation by systematically uncovering new ways to fix the same problem.

Legal design thinking can be applied to:

  • How a law firm can re-design internal processes to be more effective, such as attorney-onboarding, conflict-checking, or associate training. 
  • How, together, a client and outside counsel can collaborate to find ways to manage a legal project using alternative service providers and new technology to reduce cost and improve turn-around time.
  • How a law firm can develop a new way to track matter costs and communicate spend-to-budget progress to a client. 
  • AI and Machine Learning Solutions which can be used to predict the outcome of cases, find precedents, and automate workflow. 

  What are the objectives of Legal Design?

  • Helping the layperson understand the legal profession.
  • Help law firms understand the unique needs of their clients, and then design for their specific needs to create tailored legal solutions that actually work.
  • Help law firms achieve incremental short-term improvements and breakthrough long-term change. 

Embracing design thinking requires a mindset shift for legal professionals. It necessitates redesigning processes and current practices to focus on the ‘users’ of legal services and the legal system as a whole. Importantly, legal design thinking cultivates a culture of innovation in the legal profession that not only benefits clients, but can also pave the way towards building a better legal system for all stakeholders in the ecosystem. It will also go a long way to make law firms more efficient in the delivery of their services while at the same time improving accessibility and the understanding of key legal concepts for businesses and individuals.

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