How to create a service with legal design – don’t miss the first step

PSSST. Do you want to create a service using legal design? Don’t miss this essential first step.

Hey friend, you have heard the buzz: the future of law is in legal design. What is this design thing? Is it bullshit? You are here because you are over the current legal system. Considering if the design is something for you? Do you want to create a service using legal design? Or start to learn about how to do it because the old school thinking feels a bit like wearing a smelly old wig. Many barristers still wear smelly old wigs. Yet another example of how old school our industry is. No wonder you are wondering about your purpose.

It is time to turn this industry on its head, one small innovation at a time. We need you, my friend. It is your escape route from big law.

What is a service using legal design

Legal design is creating a service where the customer experience is the priority. Every time you create a document, a policy, a contract or process you’ll ask yourself a question. “Will the outcome improve the customer’s experience, understanding, useability and efficiency?”

You’ll stop looking at a document or problem as a lawyer: analyzing facts and finding a solution. Instead, your focus will be to dig and look at the problem wearing a design hat. Designers focus on the problem, then decide how best to solve it. Designers define success by the customer experience.

But why do I need legal design thinking I hear you ask? It is the future of law, my dear. Without it, we lawyers are a dying breed.

It offers:

  • The opportunity to find better ways to communicate with our customers
  • The opportunity to find customers who enjoy their interactions with lawyers. (We all know, most folks, dread the idea of dealing with a lawyer at the moment)
  • The opportunity to develop ideas and create better processes and products. (Both for our customers and internal systems for us as lawyers)
  • The opportunity to reinvent the entire legal industry
  • Best of all: the opportunity for you to deliver your legal services on your terms. Your way, as the boss.

So where do you start?

The essential first step – talk to customers first

There is an emerging market of services created by lawyers using legal design. Bubbling away like your grandma’s spaghetti bolognese. Some law firms have embraced it with open arms and driving their legal revolution.

But many lawyers skip the critical first step when they start. I know because I did it too. I called my first digital service “contract maintenance.” The excitement was too much, and I raced out and registered a trademark and a domain name. I never thought I should ask potential customers what was keeping them awake at night. Instead, I spent a lot of time and effort perfecting the service, function, brand and look. It was beautiful, and I launched the product in 2013, and the customer response was lukewarm, at best.

Now, I never start a new design project without extensive customer interviewing. Unless we understand the problem, how can we solve them effectively and efficiently?

Please, let me help you sidestep my horrors and use my experience.

Your legal design service starts with customer interviews, always

The legal design process starts and ends with the user or customer. What does the customer or user want? What is the real problem they have? As lawyers, our training requires us to find the solution, now. But a design process does not start with an outcome but with a problem. To understand the issue requiring a solution, you must first understand the customer. The challenges they are experiencing and the problems she needs your help to solve?

The problem is often something completely different than your lawyer brain thinks.

The double diamond

I will explain this with the help of the classic illustration of design thinking. Thanks to the British Design Council for the double diamond.

The double diamond has two aspects. One side is the problem, and on the other side, the solution. Both parts are important, and so is their order. Design thinking means you start with the problem first. You think about the solution second.

Traditional lawyers do not think this way. As usual, they jump over the first stage: the problem and discovery and head straight to the solution.

And what follows? Same old same old. You know, the musty old wig and all the usual crap.

Legal design thinking dares you to question what you already think you know and focus on what you do not know.

Where do you find customers to interview?

Customers are your living and breathing gold mine. But where do you find customers to interview? If you already have customers or colleagues, you can start there. But I recommend choosing a wide variety of interviewees. Diversity and views outside your bubble are vital at this point.

If you do not have customers or colleagues to interview yet, you are in the box seat. Free from allegiances or legacies to sway your thinking. It is a clean slate. Fantastic. You can tweak your plans according to the data supplied by your interviewees.

Your interviewees do not need to be your customers. They may be people who have used the industry. If you are nervous, start with friends and family until you feel confident. Everyone has had experience with the legal system or the outcome of it. When you start interviewing you will notice trends. Those trends could deliver an idea for your new service using legal design.

Here is a quick and easy example. Business people want to create simple contracts without visiting lawyers. It is the same with wills. Guess what, solutions based on legal design are already online. People can access the law without visiting a lawyer. They buy customizable contracts and wills on the internet.

When prompted with the right questions customers will share issues they experienced. There is a goldmine of problems for you to solve. And you can solve with your style, in a way the customer told you they would have preferred. They’ll surprise you how willing to share their wishes and needs. Often they are bursting to tell you their ideas about how to improve things. There’s also the “feel-good” factor. People like to feel you value their opinion. So don’t be afraid.

I start by making a list of the interviewees who interest me. Then approach them with coffee shaped interview invitation. A well-planned interview need only take the time for coffee. Think about the people who are interesting case studies? Pursue a particular area of law or industry of interest. Reach out and ask if they would have half an hour with you. PS: The offer of coffee always helps.

When you contact interviewees for it will feel scary or at least uncomfortable. At least it was for me. Asking always opens up the possibility of refusal, but you’ll never know if you never ask. It someone says no, easy, ask if they can think of anyone else who might be willing. Better yet, ask for an introduction. Dare to ask.

What do you talk about in the interview

In an interview related to a design process, the focus is on the customer’s stories. Your role is to help the telling of those stories. So leave the lawyer style interview questions at the door.

The goal is to dig beyond the surface and find the real emotion. Sure, listen to their experience, but probe until you uncover what pissed them off. If a trial went wrong or deal fell over because the lawyers’ made it hard, listen to the situation and facts. But what you need to do is dig. Dig to the emotion: what the customer felt was the problem? How would they have preferred it solved. Boom, you have found your problem.

For the most effective results, create a safe atmosphere for the interview. A coffee shop may not be ideal. But coffee in a private place could work. Start with some small talk, get to know each other a little and ease into it. The experience will help you find the right ways for you. If it isn’t seamless, it’s ok. It is all learning. Notice what works well and what does not. Think about what you can change next time. It can be even the smallest of things: word choices, or better rhythm to the questions. Tweak.

Our legal system and processes are so vast and out of date, there is a massive opportunity for re-design. And you are ready to start interviewing. Go you.

What happens after the interview

Once you have finished the interview reflect on what you have heard. It is important to get the feelings and insights documented while they are fresh. Do it immediately.

You may already start to notice emerging themes after several interviews. Remain open and curious until the end of the process. Once you have finished the interviews and written your notes, you will have the full picture. Then you are ready to move to the next stage of your journey to your new service.

I’d love to explore the themes you find with you. Please let me know what you discover? There is a service out there for you. It will inspire you, reinvigorate you and give meaning to your work. It’s a fabulous journey. Get started. I know you can do this. Please reach out at any time. It would be my pleasure to hear from you.

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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