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Design Thinking and Legal Marketing: A Win for Law Firms and their Clients

The Legal Marketing Technology conference in San Francisco will host an innovative workshop focusing on the Stanford Design school’s concept of “Design Thinking”: an innovative way to solve complicated problems.  Mark Beese of Leadership for Lawyers will be taking participants through a boot camp, a highly involved and interactive workshop designed to teach the principles of design thinking by solving a real world problem.  The workshop will go through a series of steps with the goal of turning a familiar problem inside out to find innovative solutions.  The process involves extensive interviews with various stakeholders in order to fully understand the issue, identify characterizing themes of the problem and developing several solutions to see which idea floats.  Participants will choose one idea to prototype--actually creating a physical representation of the idea to present to clients to gauge a reaction.  The idea is to go deeper and deeper into the issue in a way that breaks patterns and allows for crafty solutions.

Beese defines design thinking as “a process to creatively solve and understand problems; especially complex knotty, wicked problems.”  Developed by Stanford design school, this procedure is a way to creatively examine problems and their origins; looking at every angle and getting beyond the surface of the issue.  At the heart of the process is getting to what Beese calls  “a deep understanding of what those problems are--we call that empathy.”  Empathy is achieved by studying the problem, asking questions and making observations to get towards what is really going on.  This can be a very illuminating process, as Beese says, “Sometimes the problem isn’t what you think the problem is--it can be a question of framing.”

In design thinking, the prototype is an important piece of the puzzle.  Especially since many of the issues people take on with design thinking are processes, or in other ways intangible, creating something physical is a way to ground that experience in something you can touch.  Beese says, “A physical manifestation gives you a chance to react to something, and you can learn by observing interactions with it.  You can watch what they say, their body language, their tone of voice and their hands while they’re touching it.  The goal is greater empathy.  The more we understand, the more we can relate to the user the more efficiently we can design something that makes sense. We’re looking for more clues to see what works and what doesn’t work.” It’s very important in design thinking to gather as much information about the issue at hand from as many different angles as possible, and the physical manifestation is an important piece of that.  Many times, the clues are not straightforward, and to be successful one must pay attention to all the information and reactions available.  As Beese says, “The design process is very much focused on understanding the user’s experience of what really happens, not what we think happens.”

Mark Beese, Leadership for Lawyers
Mark Beese
Leadership for Lawyers

According to Beese, “Clients are asking for this.” Clients have the kind of wicked problems that design thinking was created to tackle.  There are various pressures on the legal industry that are making it harder and harder for law firms to continue in the traditional model. Design thinking is a way for law firms to meet the needs of their clients and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.   Beese  says, “In dealing with clients, legal marketers and business development professionals can bring a systematic process to their firms to better understand a client’s need and develop possible solutions.   Proposals, then, become a discussion of the client’s problem and an exploration of possible solutions rather than a phone-book sized tome of a firm’s experience. ”  It’s not hard to see how clients might find that valuable.

Beese points out several law firms have embraced aspects of design thinking.  He points to Davis Wright Tremaine’s DeNovo service, Seyfarth Shaw’s Seyfarth Lean initiative, and Denton’s NextLaw Labs as examples of design thinking in the legal industry.  Beese says these firms and their initiatives are demonstrations of an “ability to adapt to a dynamic marketplace, the changing role of technology and new competition.”

With that precedent in mind, design thinking may be a way for law firms to find solutions to their client’s problems while differentiating themselves in the legal services marketplace.  Beese says, “In many cases, marketers are the change agents on the staff side of law firms.  If we can become adept at using tools like design thinking, we can be more effective innovators in our firms and the profession.”

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About this Author

Eilene Spear, Publication Specialist, National Law Review, legal editor
Operations Project Manager & Lead Writer

Eilene Spear is the Operations and Projects Manager for the National Law Review.  She edits and formats author profiles, legal news content and legal event listings for the website.

As Lead Writer, Eilene writes extensively on a variety of legal topics; including legal marketing topics, interviews with top legal marketing professionals and the newest trends in legal marketing.  Additionally, Eilene writes on issues affecting the legal industry, such as women attorneys and the challenges they face, along with challenges related to a lack of...