Four legal design thinking mindsets lawyers need to know. Part two.

Creativity. There’s a big word. Ever considered that creativity could be part of your everyday work?

What about innovation? Do you believe you could be the one improving people’s lives with new ideas one experiment at a time?

Or are you too busy? Don’t consider yourself creative? Are you the one that crosses the t’s and dots the i’s before sending anything out and could not imagine being any other way?

In this Part Two of the legal design mindset series I talk about the mindset shift from perfectionism and busyness to creativity, experimentation and innovation. Another mindset shift of legal design that will transform your life.

The how to part of this shift is surprising, revolutionary even. At least for me it was.

But since I know this one is a tough pill to swallow, let me start by explaining why this is important. 

Wait. There’s nothing wrong with my mindset

Besides, I’m too busy to think about legal design

Why do I need to change my mindset? I have a good job, the work is coming in, and I’m hitting targets.

I hear this regularly.

And it captures the problem beautifully: lawyers talking about work from a lawyer’s perspective. What about your customers? Are they happy, singing your praises and telling all their friends? 

Or are they silently frustrated, ready to jump ship when they find a legal service that works for them? 

As I mentioned in Part One of the legal design mindset series, we lawyers don’t need to unlearn our lawyerly ways to embrace legal design thinking. We need to open our minds to new ideas and new perspectives. Our mindset is our world view: the set of attitudes and beliefs we rely on to react to events and situations we face.

Here’s one challenge lawyers’ face 

Gen Z is here, the people born after 1995. The oldest is 26, working, studying, voting and buying. Born in the full internet era, smartphones, the digital economy and technology are normal. Gen Z thinks productizing services and automating the routine are part of life. 

We think it’s innovative. They expect it.

Studies have found Gen Z is inclusive, strives for the truth and believes in the innate power of dialogue over confrontation. They harness technology to make informed purchasing decisions and align themselves with brands who walk their talk. These folks are true to themselves and the community.

Why does a legal design mindset have anything to do with Gen Z?

Gen Z represents the consumers and potential legal practitioners who will make or break the legal system.

In 2021 the United States Law School Admission Council noted law school admissions increased by almost 13% in the fall intake. The number of applicants in the highest band of admission scores was double 2020. The Council noted domestic issues like the death of George Floyd and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg propelled discussion about the rule of law and the role lawyers play in producing a more equitable society.  They were contributing factors in the increase in admissions.  These humans want to make a difference. 

(Remember that feeling?)

We now have law students born in the “service on demand” era, actively seeking the truth, dialogue, inclusion and equity. How will they cope with the secretive, institutional ways of law, as either lawyers or consumers?

Not to mention your existing clients who see lawyers as an unnecessary evil.

Do you see what I’m doing here? 

Change is here. Ignore it at your peril

Legal design offers lawyers a powerful way to manage innovation and change in our broken profession. Legal design is a concrete, measurable way for lawyers to start responding to the needs of our consumers and bring new meaning to legal work.

Legal design mindset number two: creativity

From busy perfectionist to a creative experimenter

Lawyers I work with always talk about how busy they are. Busy is like a badge of honor. 

And lawyer life is set up that way:

  • Full calendars are great
  • We run from meeting to meeting
  • We think analytically and systematically in our problem solving
  • We provide routine expertise, quick and accurate solutions to familiar problems
  • We follow rules, formulas, processes for predictable outcomes
  • And we do it over and over

We’re busy perfectionists with little time for a personal life, let alone idle time for our brains to wander. 

Do you relate? 

Want the bad news? 

We can teach machines to follow rules, provide speedy, regular and routine outcomes. 

They’re doing it now and doing it much better than humans. We cannot compete with tech for the regular and routine stuff keeping us chained to the desk.  

Why not invite them in so you can focus on the good stuff? Like legal design and creativity.

Who can be creative?

Everyone (except machines). Well, at this stage, anyway. 

We’re born creative. Some people pursue their creativity, live a life of curiosity and always doubt the default.

Our brain is a strange thing.  Neuroscience has shown that we live in our subconscious, allowing our brains to make decisions using our existing mindset, keeping things simple, minimizing discomfort and energy use. As we grow and take a few knocks in life, it gets harder to move outside the subconscious and explore new ways of thinking.

But our brain is a muscle, if we exercise it more, it will grow.

Creativity is not about art

It’s a way of thinking: looking at alternatives and exploring new solutions.

Creativity is about using the right side of the brain, where intuition and imagination live, rather than the right side, or analytical side, where traditional lawyer work lies.

Daniel Pink puts it beautifully in his book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future new right brain abilities are:

  • design (not only function)
  • story (not only argument)
  • symphony (not only focus)
  • empathy (not only logic)
  • play (not only seriousness)
  • meaning (not only accumulation)

Legal design introduces the right brain into lawyers’ thinking to find the real problem and deliver the best solution. It encourages idle time, where our brains can rest, get curious and allow more conscious thinking. 

You’re moving from busy perfectionist to creative experimenter.  

Left brain vs Right brain

Ready to grapple with the alternatives?

Routine expert vs creative problem solver

Imagine a problem has landed on your desk.

Many lawyers look at the problem and give it scant thought. Going through the motions, quickly analyzing it, and delivering an outcome.  The routine expert, relying on the subconscious mind, sticking to a process.

Another lawyer might invest more cognitive (right brain) thinking in the problem. They might question or challenge themselves to think about a better solution and may not find it.

Lawyers using design thinking use their right brain and empathy for a deep understanding of the user’s real problem. Then generate a lot of (bad) ideas while collaborating with different people. 

Creative expertise is creating new knowledge, directing actions and resources for creative problem-solving. It’s about novelty, combining ingredients in unexpected ways. Looking at familiar things and seeing them in a new way.

Think about the last time you saw a new invention that looked obvious. It took someone to look at a problem with fresh eyes to create a better way to do the same thing. It’s creativity in action.

We run on autopilot most of the time, almost blindfolded. Our daily routines are so entrenched we go through the motions without too much effort or energy. Our brains like to conserve our energy and don’t encourage exploration. We pay no attention to the little things.

We need creativity in the chaos of life.

 “As good as excellent performance in routine projects may feel as lawyers, it won’t develop your creative skills nor future proof your legal career.” 

Be the knower vs be the learner

This one might be challenging. 

The law is about knowledge and having all the answers. People respect lawyers, view us as experts and seek our advice.

Are you still an expert if you say you don’t know the answer? Yes, you are, and you should.

When you apply legal design thinking, your existing knowledge is not enough. You challenge what you already know and ask new questions. You become the learner.

Design thinking (and the best innovations) is at the fore here. It’s finding questions no one else is asking yet.

You’re a better expert when you dare to admit you don’t know everything. It frees you up to find new creative solutions. 

Perfectionism vs experimental prototyping

We, lawyers, want to be perfect at everything we do. There’s no room for failure or mistakes. They are too costly to our billable hours and our ego.

We can be harsh on ourselves. We don’t allow the slightest missteps. We need to be in control. And if we at some point make mistakes (as everyone does), our inner critic goes crazy.

Design in action involves a lot of experimentation and trial and error. To make and learn from mistakes. 

From a lawyer’s perspective, it sounds pretty wild.

Test solutions as early as possible, even if you know you don’t have the solution yet. Experiment often and iterate.

Legal design encourages you to start somewhere and see what happens. Once you get started, you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Legal design invites you to trust the process.

It’s a new approach to failure as well. There is no failure, only experiments and learning from them. Not all of them are going to work, and failure is part of the process.

Using legal design to solve problems takes a weight off because there’s no need for ready-made answers, and you’ll be more successful when you embark on a journey with an open mind. 

Cynicism vs optimism

Cynical and critical voices are everywhere in the legal space. I hear it every day. Any new solution or idea can’t work because things don’t work that way. Or it may work somewhere, but not for lawyers. We’re different. We’re special.

If you listen carefully, this is fear speaking. Cynicism and criticism protect the critic and allow her to stay in her subconscious. 

A designer mindset is an optimistic one that embraces the possibility of finding the right solution to the most challenging problems. 

Everyone has the innate skills to find the answer. It just takes practice.

The mindset shift

Creativity is so transformational in law because it is about doing less, allowing idle time for your brain. Making white space for new ideas to pop in. And in a world overwhelmed with busyness and exhaustion, daring to do less brings profound change.

The hidden treasures very often lie in plain sight, the everyday things no one bothers to notice. 

Yet, to get ideas about everyday little things, you need to strengthen your ability to notice them. To slow down, listen and observe. 

Legal design is about challenging the routines and the default, replacing them with creativity, curiosity and experimentation.  Leave perfectionism and fear of failure at the door.

As an expert, you can constantly develop your ability to solve more challenging problems and put all your free capacity into development. 

Your creative mindset is at the core of your humanity, yet you need to make room for it.  No magic tricks are required. 

How to grow your creative mindset

To tap into your creativity, you’ll need to free your capacity and create space for it. 

As a leader, this means giving your team some idle time, mental white space. This takes courage and deliberate unlearning of an unhealthy work culture that rewards busyness. What appears unproductive is necessary to make room for creativity and innovation.

It requires scheduling time for white space and then relaxing, refueling, reflecting and coming up for air. This will feel very weird and you’ll want to send emails or return calls or other routine things. Do not do this.

Look at your calendar at work and home and build time for white space. Never, ever give it up. (You’ll thank me for it later.) It might be walking (without a podcast in your ears), meditating or simply learning to live with your thoughts. This takes time. 

Be gentle with your creative self. Be mindful of your feedback and watch for criticism originating in fear. Build on the positives, replace “yes, but” with “yes, and.”

Create an atmosphere of psychological safety to explore new things. Creativity is sensitive and needs positivity, kindness and care, rather than punishment and criticism. Creativity and ideation require action, yet you can’t force them.

Dare to be a novice, even a bad one and test your limits. Success will be measured by how you can tolerate not knowing, the uncertainty and finding ways to overcome it.

Creativity starts with curiosity. Look around you. Look at the most mundane things you see in your office or on your way to work. Can you see them differently? Take time with this, practice observing things you normally don’t. 

Get started

If you’re unsure where to start, we offer a safe place for lawyers to explore creativity and other areas of legal design at the Lawyers Design School.  You’re welcome to bring your real-life legal problem, and we can workshop the process, and you and your team can learn together.

There is a new, rewarding legal career waiting for you. All you need to do is take the first step. Feel free to drop me a line.

Grab a virtual coffee with me and let’s figure out the next step!

Image of Hannele Korhonen Legal Designer

Who’s writing?

Hi, I’m Hannele. I am an ex-corporate lawyer, legal designer, pioneer in legal tech, serial entrepreneur and blogger.  I am the founder and teacher in Lawyer’s Design School.

I’m here to teach you new skills and mindset of legal design to thrive in the future of law.

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