Focus On

Flipping lawyers to design thinking

Friday, May 12, 2017 @ 11:48 AM | By Margaret Hagan

Margaret Hagan %>
Margaret Hagan
Lawyers are expected to do more than legal research and writing now. The pressure is on law firm lawyers and corporate legal department lawyers to be more efficient, to improve the level of service and user satisfaction and to provide more holistic, business-oriented guidance.

Much of this pressure comes back to one big challenge to lawyers: how do we make new things? How do we not just create text-based memos, e-mails, or presentations — but deliver new types of services, create new staffing or pricing models, craft new technology or automations, or devise new revenue models?

Most lawyers haven’t been trained to scope new initiatives or to see them through. That said, more of us are interested in taking on this role — to be innovators. And there are many other professions to be learning from, to be more innovative and to guide new initiatives and products from idea to pilot to scale.

Design thinking is particularly relevant to any lawyer who wants to deliver better services. This innovation method was born out of consumer product design — in which engineers, designers and business people focus on how do we make things that people most want and that serve them in the best way. Design thinking takes the principles and methods from professional designers and engineers and adapts them to apply to other wicked problems in service industries, like finance, management, health care, education and law.

At the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School, I have been experimenting over the past four years with how design thinking can work best with legal organizations. We all know the truisms, that lawyers are resistant to change. That lawyers love to shoot down new ideas for sport. That the legal industry is stuck in the 19th century, and that it shows no signs of wanting to catch up to 2017. On the contrary, I have found many organizations — courts, corporate legal departments, law firms, legal aid groups, government agencies and legal tech startups — are hungry for new ways of serving their clients and new ways of working in their legal orgs.

Using design methodologies, my lab runs workshops, hackathons and sprints with these various orgs to begin scoping out where there are ripe opportunities of innovation and how to launch pilot experiments. In this work, I’ve been honing how best design thinking can work in legal services.

There are three main brain-flips for a lawyer to learn how to solve problems like a designer.

First, the lawyer must identify: who is my customer? Who is my user? This is the person that they should be focused on understanding, shadowing and serving. What are this person’s frustrations with the status quo? Each of these frustrations is an opportunity point for an innovation. Improving user experience should be a cardinal metric for lawyers’ quality of work.

Second, the lawyer must think about process when considering how to make something better for their customer. Rather than assuming that they can think, write, or talk themselves to a breakthrough solution — they instead should be following a designer’s process. They should be going "into the field" to talk to their customers, shadow them and learn about their values, needs and preferences on their own terms. They should work with other professionals — engineers, designers, business people — to brainstorm new ideas, test them with customers and run short pilots.

Third, the lawyer must think about new initiatives in terms of experiments. This can be difficult for people who have an acute sense of risks. But the goal is to expose new concepts and rough, imperfect versions of a new initiative to critical feedback as early as possible. As soon as you have a new idea for a new product or service, test it with the people who you would want to use it or support it. Rather than hide ideas from others until they are perfect and ready, early testing and feedback will make new initiatives stronger and more likely to succeed.

Lawyers and designers have a lot of natural common ground — they are both problem-solvers, who work to serve their clients. Lawyers can adapt designers’ very different problem-solving methods to their own work, to open up new paths for innovation and to get from promising idea to actual pilot.

Design thinking should be a tool for any "innovative" lawyers, to get them in tune with their clients’ needs and to empower them to devise breakthrough, feasible solutions for them.

Margaret Hagan directs the Legal Design Lab, an R&D lab for more accessible, intuitive and engaging legal services at Stanford Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession. She is a lawyer with a juris doctor degree from Stanford and a lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design (the She will be a speaker at Lawyering in the 21st century: How to succeed through innovation, in Toronto on Monday, May 15. For more information about this event visit the conference website.

LexisNexis Canada has entered into partnership with Ryerson University's Legal Innovation Zone with the intention of charting and evaluating important emerging trends in legal innovation in Canada and around the globe. The content of this page is not subject to approval by LexisNexis Canada or Ryerson University's Legal Innovation Zone.