Do lawyers need to “unlearn” their lawyerly skills to embrace legal design thinking? No.
We are still lawyers. The law is still the law.
But we are lawyers using a design thinking mindset.
What does that mean, exactly?
When we use design thinking, we think about the problem from a human perspective, rather than a lawyer’s perspective. We might not be able to change the law itself, but we can change how we provide our legal services and communicate our complex legal information and services in ways most suitable for the human on the receiving end.
Doing that means using a different mindset.
What is a mindset?
When I talk about mindset, I’m talking about the set of beliefs, notions and attitudes you have that shape the way you look and think about yourself and the world. Your mindset affects how you respond to situations and your worldview.
Some humans believe they have a limited set of skills and abilities, and it’s their lot in life. In my experience, they are less likely to move out of their comfort zone, preferring to do what they’ve always done because it feels right for them.
Some will give anything a try because they are on a journey, a work in progress. Again, in my experience, these humans are more likely to stretch, explore and ask “why”.
Let me ask you. If you had all the time in the world and could learn or try something new, say: painting, learning a new language, cooking a different style of cuisine, would you do it?
People with a more fixed mindset might be reluctant, finding reasons to avoid it, saying: “I won’t be good at it.”
People with a more open, curious mindset might jump in and say: “When can I start? I’ll try anything once.”
Where do you sit on the spectrum?
You already know I’m a big believer in the power of the brain, and people can achieve anything.
And you can change your mindset if you are open to it.
In life, we are constantly learning, and if you are willing to explore your curiosity, it offers endless potential for learning, growth and joy.
Especially in your legal work.
The reason I advocate so fiercely for legal design is that it is transformative. It offers meaning in your legal work, and your user receives revolutionary legal practice. Allowing yourself to free your mind and embrace curiosity is liberating.
For me, it was life-changing.
Moving from a lawyer to a design thinking lawyer involves four mindset shifts
The first mindset shift is collaboration
When was the last time you sought help from a colleague?
Lawyers are clever people. We worked bloody hard to get to law school. More hard work to graduate and then pass the bar. And to land the dream in-house role or big law career where we are still working hard.
But it’s a competitive environment with little room for trust. In our quest for success, we learn to compete for assignments, try and one-up our colleagues, sit on valuable information and even take credit for work done by others. Because our value is billable hours, we work alone. There’s no room for collaboration or asking for advice. It’s a mindset. We believe the road to success means competing and withholding.
And It’s a lonely, soul-sapping mindset.
The legal system perpetuates the mindset.
Lawyers teach lawyers to replicate the “lawyer way”. We believe the “lawyer way” is the only way. We think we are outside the realm of innovation, change and growth because we are a special breed.
I call it the snowflake syndrome, and it results in an echo chamber. Lawyers talk lawyerly, continuing to do what they’ve always done, unable to see and adapt any fresh ideas from other industries.
Legal design offers a transformation
From solo competitor to multidisciplinary collaborator
All design thinking has its foundations in empathy, collaboration and information sharing. It turns what we are used to doing on its head.
In law, working with others is seen as innovative. In design, it’s crucial.
Legal design allows us to create cultures where lawyers are free to collaborate, vent, explore and produce new outcomes for their users (and meaningful work for the lawyers, too).
It can be challenging, especially for specialist lawyers seen as the go-to expert. Learning to shift the mindset from “achieving alone” to being one who supplements the skills of others takes time.
But there lies the value of collaboration. When people bring different perspectives to the table, share ideas, the result is something one person could not achieve alone. Together we can go so much further.
A collaborative environment embraces diversity, inclusion and values humans who might otherwise be “too messy”, “too slow”, “too loud” or “too quiet”. It requires people from different disciplines to add to the discussion.
These differences are great treasures (even if they feel uncomfortable at first). It’s the differences and not similarities that are key to finding novel solutions. The solutions you would never even think of by yourself.
See the difference in mindset?
How to create an environment of multidisciplinary collaboration
If you manage a team of lawyers or even a firm, we must create an environment of trust. An environment where lawyers are encouraged to try new things without fear of recrimination. Jump in and participate. It’s fun.
Our schedules, and often the corporate culture, allow little time for lawyers to interact as people. To share, to talk and get to know each other. Sure, we have drinks on a Friday afternoon, but it’s the lawyerly way to end a long working week.
I encourage leaders like you to create safe places for dialogue and building trust. It will involve an investment in time and money, but when your team feels safe to open up and seek input from colleagues, the mindset shift is happening.
You might not believe me, but I’m amazed by the lawyers at every workshop I run at the Lawyers Design School.
They want to open up, share their experiences and their frustrations. They are eager to discuss things they want to do and where they see opportunities for change. Often the most important takeaway is the chance to have meaningful conversations about your work with your team.
As you get going, recognize that collaboration and the inevitable inefficiencies are important, even if nothing tangible comes out. Transformation lies in the small “aha” moments in between the work and little-by-little changes everything. This is a long game.
Here’s one thing you could try
Conduct user/client interviews in pairs because no two people hear the same story the same way. If budget is an issue, record the interview and have the second person listen to it. Two unique perspectives and thought processes mean they will focus on different parts of the story. The conclusions will be different. Get them to start researching ways to solve the user problem and deliver the legal information the way they think the user will digest most easily. By working together, the breadth of ideas and potential solutions grow.
You could then involve the team to look at the ideas because it brings more perspectives and questions. Grab those post-it notes and start scribbling on the whiteboard, sprinkling them with post-its as you work together to find the best way to deliver your legal services to your user.
It’s not an all-day job. You may find your team sharing more openly than they ever have before. As a group, there is no pressure on one person to perform, so creativity flows.
Before long, you may have a firm idea, so make it, test it, scrap it if it doesn’t work and try the next one.
(I’m getting more into the “how” of the design process now when I want to talk about mindset, so I won’t go on. But I’m sure you see what I mean).
If that sounds a bit too much
Start by talking to your colleagues. Pick up the phone or walk to their office and ask their advice. Share a problem and see if they can help. Maybe tomorrow they’ll do the same with you. It’s how it starts.
Offer new opportunities for learning
Allow your team to experience new learning. Transformation requires quality fuel for the brain. The workshops at The Lawyers Design School are a great way to start.
Remember, design thinking in law is about innovation and finding better ways to share complicated legal information in new ways. New ways everyday humans can understand.
Staying stuck in lawyer land, doing things the same way over and over again is not the answer. Lawyers need to change because our customers (and our lawyers) are demanding it.
You’re surrounded by big brains, working alone. Imagine what could happen to your team, your business and your customers if you harnessed their collective brainpower for collaboration?
If you’re interested in talking more about adding design thinking to the legal toolbox, feel free to get in touch. I’m working with teams across the globe. You need to be part of the revolution. It’s the future of law.
Grab a virtual coffee with me and let’s figure out the next step!