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What is Design Thinking for Lawyers?

Design thinking: why it is important, how it works, what legal teams already use it for.

Global health and economic crisis have changed globally the perspective of how we work and communicate as well as the expectations on the speed and delivery of goods and services.

Covid-19 is the catalysator for leaving behind many traditional outdated processes and methods the legal world has been stuck with. The focus for the next months will be on cost optimization and efficiency, therefore, it is hard to keep advocating for billable hours, and staying patient with the long waiting times for an email response or meeting schedule.

Isn’t it the perfect time to slow down and take the time to evaluate and analyse what is the job you are actually doing, what is the value you are creating and how satisfied you are with your schedule, clients and results. What if you start now with strategizing and visualizing your new better service model and use design thinking as a method?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a method that can help lawyers analyse their legal service delivery and find the best solution on what to change such as increasing their personal productivity or clients’ satisfaction. 

It is an iterative process used to understand specific problems, come up with new ideas to solve these problems, prototype the solution, test the solution as many times as needed and iterate until the problem is solved.

The five steps of the design thinking process are:

1. Empathise

What’s the problem?

Collecting feedback and gathering as much information as needed to understand the user’s situation, need and context:

  • Discuss available information about clients with your legal team – what problems clients have mentioned and what they want to improve;
  • Reach out to your existing clients for more details – ask what they need right now and what their challenges are, how you can help, what jobs they are trying to get done now.
  • Conduct direct observation of your clients’ behaviour and daily routine for more insights to understand who is that person who is using your services.

2. Define

Why is it important?

Visualising all the needs you’ve found out to understand what is exactly the problem you will solve:

  • Is it cutting the cost, getting clear with pricing and packages? This means you have to eliminate non-working service lines and focus on the quality and efficiency of your offering. This means your product content and delivery has to be polished and automated and your product unit cost has to be clear and measured.
  • Is it creating value for the clients that would stand out on the market? This means you offer the exact same thing as all the other firms do – with the same hourly rates and clients do not see why they should choose you. This means you do not have a unique value proposition and you do not differentiate, so you have to innovate your service delivery and/or methods.

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3. Ideate

How do we solve it?

Focus on specific types of clients and their specific problems. Brainstorm solutions without selecting, judging or jumping to the solution stage. 

  • Map your customer segments and personas, existing processes and tech solutions, see what’s not working anymore;
  • Experiment with brainstorming ideas and methods such as using post-its or mind maps and use business model canvas as a base.
  • Categorise all the generated ideas and models.

4. Prototype

How do we create it? 

Mapping out new processes or services – it doesn’t have to be perfect and complete, it’s rather a baseline for future improvements. 

  • Prioritise possible solutions based on “the biggest value for clients” and “the easiest to implement” criteria;
  • Outline your new service or process and customer journey;
  • Review your business model and make necessary changes;
  • Use minimum resources to build it, test and collect feedback.

5. Test

Does it work? 

Rolling out your prototyped solution to the clients for testing and getting feedback. This process is iterative meaning that you’d need to implement feedback immediately, come back for polishing your prototype and then reach out to your clients again until you succeed:

  • Does your solution work with these specific clients?
  • What’s uber-important for your clients and what’s missing?
  • Would your clients use it already today?

Design thinking might look like an unusual process for legal teams especially because it’s all about failure on the way to success and lawyers can’t really afford failures or mistakes. However, this method is still crucial to understanding what your clients’ pains are so that it will help you to become that responsive, collaborative and flexible lawyer as clients need during these challenging times. 

How do legal professionals use design thinking?

Let’s look at some examples of how legal teams world-wide use design thinking method to improve their legal services:

  1. Herbert Smith Freehills law firm “applied cutting-edge Design Thinking and Legal Project Management services to help a significant client re-design the legal process for acquisitions, generating greater efficiencies and an ability for the in-house team to better demonstrate value-add. This resulted in great client satisfaction, and a stronger partnership between the two legal teams and the business”.
  2. “Global law firm, Linklaters, is embracing legal design and has started by rethinking its trainee lawyer contract offer letters as part of what could become a broader roll-out of the design-based approach to contracting, including client work documents.”
  3. Baker McKenzie uses Design Thinking-based client co-creation model for Services: “We need to re-design how we deliver legal advice in a way that makes sense for our clients. Our Innovation framework enables us to do exactly that.”

Read more about design thinking for legal profession: 

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