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Legal Design in Practice

By Jasmin Bejaoui and Sebastian Schaub.

Digitization continues to drive change in the legal profession. Clients, both internally and externally, are looking for lean processes, innovative solutions and the right technology. Resulting from this, the ‘New Generation Lawyer’ is increasingly concerned with merging legal knowledge with other competencies in order to better serve the clients’ needs. Legal careers nowadays require a much broader skill set and new ways of thinking. Being in projects with project managers or data analysts requires a different approach of working and thinking than before. Focus, however, lies on collaboration and on meeting the real needs of clients by evaluating a specific problem and developing sustainable and scalable solutions.

”The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic” - Peter Drucker.

But how can we overcome yesterday's logic and develop user-centred solutions? A discipline called Legal Design can provide a path. Legal Design is an innovation technique, putting the human in the center of the legal system to understand where the crucial breakdowns in the system exist and to make the creative leap to define what a better system might be. Legal Design allows design that focuses on users, embeds solutions in a broader context and thus creates as much added value as possible. It is not just about the technically perfect performance, but also about interaction and human needs. Since our society is getting used to new ways of working due to the constantly developing technical progress, this is getting extremely important. It is a symbiosis of the lawyer’s legal expertise with the designer’s mindset and methodologies and technological potential to create legal systems, services, processes, training, and environments that are more useful, understandable, and engaging for all stakeholders. However, this approach can lead to a mindset change in the way law firms and legal departments are thinking about digital transformation: not as a short-term fixed-dated project but as a longer process that requires special investments. Tools that have been bought once, for example, must be integrated into existing processes and human environments, with analog aspects always having to be considered.

Legal design borrows design thinking – and doing. It majors on user research, lateral and visual thinking, ideation, prototyping, testing, and validating. Its ultimate goal is preventing legal problems from arising and empowering the end-user. One can use it to:

  • Improve and redesign Legal Services,

  • Improve Legal Products and

  • Integrate Legal issues at an early stage of product and service development.

When putting the legal design methodology into practice, particularly information-, service-, and interaction-design skills are required to rethink the complexity of legal processes, services, and documents.

But how to initiate a Legal Design Thinking session?

The need as a central starting point

Identifying a suitable problem is the first hurdle to take. Suitable in this context means not only identifying an issue as difficult, but also to determine whether the Design Thinking approach can be applied for this issue. So called “wicked problems”, which means highly complex questions that are often complicated and diffuse, are suitable for applying Design Thinking. Hence, the core question should be neither too concrete nor too narrow. This is related to the idea of so-called divergent thinking i.e. dealing with one’s own cognitive processes, breaking out of known patterns of thinking, or thinking in unknown areas.

As these kinds of questions are not clearly defined, solutions have to be found in a more creative manner.

As a first step, a process map can prove to be very helpful to cluster the problems and related sub-issues. The second step might be so-called “How might we questions” which reduce complexity and enable the participants to focus easily.

The following sample demonstrates how different questions can be used to examine a problem situation from different perspectives, thus changing the direction and therefore the focus of the solution.

  • How might the role of legal services change, if smart contracts are adopted into mainstream business transactions?

  • How might legal services change, as organizations look to increase automation, machine learning and AI into their operations and/or services?

  • How might legal services serve more emergent players (e.g. startups or early stage tech companies)?

Encourage and leverage diverse minds and skillsets

The Design Thinking methodology merges each participant’s knowledge in order to explore the yet unknown problem area. A variety of participants with various backgrounds is not only a nice-to-have, a team must have different characteristics, such as a deep subject-specific knowledge, analytical skills, and a range of fundamental soft skills, such as the urge and motivation to drive change, intrinsic curiosity and, above all, openness towards other disciplines. To think outside the box, one must get rid of it.

A stakeholder map may provide clarity as it guides you to participants which are relevant to the project. In each project, there are stakeholders either directly affected by the given problem or related to or only influenced by it. This provides a deeper understanding of the persona cosmos, a better identification of the involvement of respective stakeholders as well as an insight who needs to be managed in what way in order for the project to achieve the best results.

Releasing creative energies

As already mentioned, the legal market today is confronted with radical changes to face multiple daunting challenges including complexity of legal work and pressure to reduce costs. Digitization continues to drive change in the legal profession. As a result, not only the demand for innovative ideas increases, but also for unconventional approaches. But good ideas cannot be bred, and creativity cannot be learned in the same way as science or a language. This is where Design Thinking comes in: It is not creativity per se that should be taught; but everyone can learn to release their creative energies.

The Design Thinking approach leads through a well-structured path and enables the moderator to initiate creative and interactive thought processes in a rather non-linear and iterative way. This innovative perspective on a “from problem to solution journey” helps the participants to focus on the user and their underlying needs.

Starting with ice breaker games (f.i. “Me, in images” or “Two truths and a lie”) help creativity to flourish. Instead of just following a meeting agenda, coming up with fun stories sets the tone for the rest of the meeting.

Participants are more likely to come up with good ideas, be more creatively confident, and express themselves without fear. This creates a special open-minded atmosphere where each of the participants can develop their own creativity. But be careful: Creative processes can quickly go in the wrong direction. The user / client often gets lost within an overwhelming number of options in particular when one comes up with many different functions which are redundant towards solving the actual problem. Throughout the session, the moderator must therefore always ensure that the participants are brought back to the core of the session as well as reduce complexity.

Unearthing pain points

To trigger pain point is key within each session as the customer often does not know where exactly the shoe pinches. An activity to unearth pain points can be the “Five Whys”. Within this activity, participants are confronted with their work environment or processes by triggering their thoughts with certain questions. Slightly like peeling an onion, these questions help to identify the underlying problem, its underlying reasons, and sub-reasons. In order to streamline processes as well as identify bottlenecks and varieties of scenarios before aiming to digitize, making use of a process and stakeholder map might be of high value.

Choosing between the format

When using Legal Design Thinking, the question of the format in which this methodology can be applied always arises immediately. There are three possible formats, but some of the activities can also be implemented in projects independently of the overall approach:

  • a 1–4 hours workshop: suitable for a rather simple scenario with the team in a short amount of time. Going through the whole

  • Design Thinking process is not necessary.

  • a 1–3 days workshop: provides an opportunity to explore the entire Design Thinking process (“Fast Forward”) and is inviting for new topics. The aim of this is to come up with initial assumptions and ideas which need to be tested and validated.

  • a 1–12 weeks project : offers great insight to get to grips with the challenge in depth, interview people, come up with more solid ideas and to build prototypes. Provides the possibility to properly deal with a topic and to take iteration loops for validation, which otherwise only occur on paper.

Of course, Legal Design is not a one fits all approach. The so-called “wicked problems” are often the starting point to innovation related projects which often imply a higher level of uncertainty and therefore experimental and exploratory procedures are used, which rarely follow strict linear guidelines. As with any new way and non-traditional way of working, some early adopters of the design thinking approach are needed. It is essential to have these pioneering colleagues who are willing to work collaboratively and also be prepared to fail. From there, gaining traction through positive client feedback, successful workshop results lead to use cases delivering a proof of concept.


About the Authors

Jasmin Bejaoui | Reinvent Law

Jasmin works as an Innovation Manager at Reinvent Law, the first legal innovation hub in Continental Europe. With legal teams, she works on projects and initiatives on the digitisation of the law practice. Building a bridge between economy, technology, communication, and creativity is one of her main tasks when it comes to collaboration with several stakeholders on innovation projects. Her expertise lies in managing the development of innovation ideas with respect to identifying the client’s needs of a global law firm, streamlining processes on the client and firm side as well as the design and development of user-centric solutions with the necessary technologies. Therefore, she conceptualises, organises and hosts (virtual) design thinking and innovation workshops. Jasmin studied Economics and developed herself working for leading international law firms for more than 8 years in the field of project management, business development and marketing as well as client relationship management. Further, Jasmin is a Legal Project Associate (LPA), accredited by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM).

Sebastian Schaub | Baker McKenzie

Sebastian works as a Senior Product Development Manager at Baker McKenzie focusing upon the digitalisation of the Law Practice including the development and design of innovative products in co-creation with clients. His activity covers all areas of agile product development, while supporting legal teams with respect to identifying the clients’ needs, streamlining processes and the design and development of user-centric solutions with the necessary technologies. Sebastian studied International Business as well as Strategic Marketing and developed his skillset over the past four years working for one of the leading international law firms as well as for another eight years working in the renewable energies and specialty chemicals area. Further, Sebastian conceptualises and hosts (virtual) design thinking and data visualisation workshops. He as well guest lectures at various universities on a regional and global scale and lectures regularly at the Baker McKenzie Inhouse University.

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