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Design Thinking in Law Firms: Q&A with Kate White and Andy Peterson of Design Build Legal on Upcoming Workshop at LSSO RainDance Conference

The Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO) and the RainDance Conference were started 15 years ago to provide the legal industry with a venue to grow and explore new trends in sales and service. Over the years, RainDance has become known for introducing new approaches to generating revenue and delivering value. This year, we are excited to bring you our first Design Thinking Workshop at RainDance 2018 on June 6 & 7 in Chicago, IL.  

Design thinking is a method for creative generation of practical ideas that can be applied to architectural, engineering and business problems in a way that is focused on the users, customers or clients.   Unlike analytical thinking, to which law firms are so accustomed, design thinking includes "building up" ideas, with few, or no, limits during a "brainstorming" phase that is driven by user-focused empathy. The following Q&A with the workshop leaders, Kate White and Andy Peterson of Design Build Legal, offers a peak into the world of design thinking:

What is legal design thinking?

Design thinking, at its core, is about gaining empathy for the users of your product or service, identifying a challenge they are facing, and rapidly designing a solution. This is how the first Apple mouse was invented. It’s how many of those companies selling you new technology are identifying what you care about, and building you things you didn’t even know you needed. In fact, it’s a practice being used in most major industries, from retail to financial services.

The steps in design thinking include: empathize, define the problem, ideate, prototype, and test. The process is best done as a cross-functional team, bringing together designers, subject matter experts, technologists, data analysts, administrators, etc.

We teach and facilitate a version of this that we call “legal design thinking.” It’s not just “design thinking plus lawyers,” but rather we’ve adapted the model to fit the culture of law firms and legal departments -- namely, to ensure that we’re using the audience’s time wisely by focusing on designing client-centered solutions to real-world legal and business challenges. Our workshops can run anywhere from two hours to a full day and leave the audience, whether it’s law firm lawyers and staff or corporate legal teams, with concrete prototypes that they can take back to their organizations and further develop with clients.

How are law firms using it?

Law firms are starting to see the opportunity to develop “productized services” - services that are priced on a fixed fee, scalable, and highly valuable to clients. Leveraging legal design thinking to identify and launch these services ensures that they are based on client needs and that the firm’s resources will be used wisely to develop something in which clients are prepared to invest.

Firms are also aware that investing in solutions that help them gain greater client loyalty are some of the most worthwhile investments they can make. If a firm can bring something to a client that hits home by reducing the cost of compliance or managing risk, helps them better serve their business clients, or just simply makes their lives easier, they’ve just really deepened that relationship.

When we partner with law firms to facilitate legal design thinking workshops, we encourage them to find a client that is important to them, one with which they want to differentiate their firm from their competitors. The workshop generally provides a crash course in design thinking, but most importantly features a client listening session that helps the audience quickly gain empathy for the in-house counsel or legal operations professional, in most cases. Clients are nearly always willing to participate, and generally walk away with the impression that the firm cares about their experience, is thinking creatively about how to solve their problems, and is making investments in designing enhanced services that create more value. We’ve also facilitated workshops focused on improving service for internal clients, such as leading a group of law firm staff through an exercise to take on a challenge faced by partners, and this can be a good place to start for a firm that is curious, but skeptical.

How did you get started in this area?

We were introduced to the concept almost five years ago when a friend at Nordstrom invited us to join their design thinking boot camp. Over two days, we were immersed in the design thinking process, including developing prototypes based on our empathy interviews, and testing those prototypes with shoppers in downtown Seattle. Design, prototype, test, incorporate feedback. Multiple times through the cycle. Our boot camp culminated in a presentation of our prototypes to the president of the Nordstrom Rack and other executives. By the end, we were exhausted, frankly, but also energized by the potential of design thinking. The question was: how do we apply this in law firms?

Following that, we visited one of the original homes of design thinking, the Stanford Design School. Kate completed Stanford’s Legal Design Thinking Bootcamp, offered by fellows bridging the gap between the law school and d.school there. We then spent many years reading as much as we could about design thinking and running experiments in the law firm setting when we were in-house. These experiments have resulted in multiple useful solutions - ranging from one firm’s first ever client dashboard to a regulatory audit tool that can save clients six-figures in government agency fines.  

So why should law firms be interested in it?

Law firms have an opportunity to truly set themselves apart by designing services with clients at the center.

What is the workshop you are doing at RainDance?

Our RainDance workshop will give people a two-hour introduction to legal design thinking. We will tee up the idea, and then get straight into it, starting with an empathy interview. After that, it will be hands-on, small-group activities intended to get you out of your seat, stretch your mind, and teach you legal design thinking techniques that you can take back to your firm.

What can attendees expect to walk away with?

As mentioned, when we work with law firms or legal departments, we are keenly focused on creating solutions to real client or firm challenges. But at RainDance, with an audience from a diverse group of firms, our goals are to educate attendees about legal design thinking, and energize them to try it. It’s not exactly a “train the trainer” event, but you’ll know just enough about legal design thinking to be dangerous! (Which, in a law firm means to “go back and challenge assumptions.”) And you’ll know to call us when you want help implementing these techniques more robustly to design client-centered products or services.

RainDance 2018 will be held on June 6 & 7 in Chicago, IL.  

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About this Author

Eilene Spear legal news editor and writer at the National Law Review
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 from prominent law firms who publish on the NLR 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...

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