Design Thinking as a Lawyer
“What business needs now is design. What design needs now is business.” — Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE.
One of the last professions people think of when you say design thinking is probably the law. Let’s face it — it’s dry. Statutes, precedent, people in suits, black robes and gavels — these are just some of the images conjured up when people think of the world of law. Just 20 years ago (when I was a young associate) email was still not permitted as a method of communicating with clients. Hey, law schools still teach using the Socratic method…
So, we’ve established law isn’t the most progressive business sector. Then why am I talking about design thinking? Because I believe every business in every industry needs to adopt a new way of thinking to compete while technology and innovation are moving at what seems to be light speed. As artificial intelligence continues to develop, many more core functions of lawyers will become automated beyond the ones handled by current LegalTech sites.
If you don’t know what design thinking is — it can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and how a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. It’s a process that requires the “designer” to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test to go to market with a new product or service.
The traditional law firm model revolves around lawyers being experts and clients paying them a pre-set billing rate for however long it takes to resolve an issue or guide them. I personally do not believe this is sustainable, nor do I believe it’s the answer. So, I applied design thinking to the model to develop my own practice.
· Empathize — having been a General Counsel and a consumer of outside legal services for more than a decade I understand what clients want from their outside counsel. Clients want value add and reasonable costs for services rendered.
· Define — I defined the problem clearly as (i) costs which are too high, in particular for work which can and will at some point be replaced by software, and (ii) no predictability in cost.
· Ideate — In starting my firm, I adopted the concept that I would keep my overhead and billing rates extremely low and provide high-value services at lower costs, mostly on a flat retainer basis to provide predictability in costs to clients and value add.
· Prototype — I developed and continue to iterate on a value add methodology of legal services.
· Test — For over 6 months I’ve been testing the marketplace and finding positive results.
The bottom line is design isn’t just for designers — it’s for all businesses looking to strategically grow and define an industry in an ever-changing technology economy.