The legal industry is grappling with lagging productivity, increased competition for core services from new alternative providers, accelerated deadlines, intensifying client demands, increasing complexity and budget constraints.
The traditional models of delivering legal services just don’t seem to make the cut anymore. We seem to be playing catch-up to the fast-paced and efficient changes happening across other industries. Our clients, therefore, no longer want to indulge us with our old ways of working, having experienced delivery of other services become remarkably more effective, convenient and consumer-focused. We must give them what they need to stay relevant.
Design thinking has recently started gaining traction in our profession. While this concept might be novel to law firm lawyers, it is not new to clients. The most profitable and successful businesses have been using these techniques in every function of their business, from R&D and product design to marketing, processes and customer experiences.
The obvious question is, how will design thinking help us solve our problems? To put it simply:
It will considerably improve how you service your clients and help your firm build a competitive advantage. The core methodology of design thinking is driven by empathy and a deep focus on client needs. While the core application of corporate law is focused on corporations, design thinking is “human-centric”.
The law is at the core of it a client service business. In order to excel, lawyers should constantly be considering their clients’ needs, taking time to understand their businesses and trying to alleviate their pain points. In short, they should be empathising. Clients are desperately looking for this. They are exasperated with legal services and documents being designed and drafted for legal professionals. They want their needs and concerns to take centre stage. If you can’t provide this, they will find someone who will.
Clients want lawyers to understand the commercial implications of the legal decisions they are suggesting. They want firms to collaborate with multi-disciplinary professionals who may understand these business implications.
Design thinking helps develop the skill to listen. The methodology requires us to actually speak with the client and to employ open-ended questions.
McKinsey in its comprehensive study, The Business Value of Design, found a correlation between design focus and financial performance. Over a five-year period, the organisations having the highest score in the McKinsey design focus measure had considerably increased their revenues and shareholder value compared to their peers – a 32% higher revenue growth and 56% greater increase in shareholder value. This is true across industries, whether the company’s products are physical things, digital products, services, or a combination of these.
From my own experience, I am confident that design thinking can accelerate the trajectory of forward-thinking law firms that are focused on innovation and technology. It is not surprising that we, as professionals, are resistant to change and innovation. But unfortunately, any future-focused law firm can only do so much without getting a buy-in from its lawyers. Design thinking will help build an environment that will foster a change in mindset and give way to a culture that embraces more efficient processes and models of working, and adoption of new technology and tools. This cultural shift is inevitable, though gradual – design thinking will help expedite this process. We have to start doing things differently to meet the challenges of the new reality and compete in a changing market. Design thinking is here to stay.
Legal and strategy lead – founder’s office at Algo Legal