I recently gave a presentation on how lawyers can use design thinking to make their practice more client friendly. Design thinking is a practical methodology that helps us better understand complex issues and develop creative solutions—often with the goal of improving the experience of the end user.
The presentation covers why lawyers should care about the client experience in the first place, and it also emphasizes that using design thinking is as much about cultivating the right mindset as it is about following a specific process.
The Design-Thinking Mindset
To use design thinking successfully, you need to cultivate the right mindset. The process described below is flexible and will need to be adapted to each project, so it’s important to understand the principles underlying it. To start, focus on cultivating these five core attitudes in yourself and your team:
- Be curious. Adopt a beginner’s mindset and be eager to learn something new. Start questioning the status quo.
- Build to think. In other words, have a bias toward action. By making your ideas concrete earlier in the process, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Reframe the problem. Changing how you articulate the problem can help open up more possible solutions. To help with reframing, try identifying the ultimate goal(s).
- Stay aware of the process. Remember that this is a flexible process rather than a definitive checklist. It may feel messy and uncertain at times, but that is expected.
- Collaborate. Acknowledge that you can learn from others. By drawing on a diverse set of ideas and experiences, we can develop more creative and innovative solutions.
The Design-Thinking Process
Design thinking is an interative process, and it can and should be adapted to fit your specific challenge. That said, it can generally be summarized as a five-step process:
- Discover/empathize. Gather information about the problem you’re trying to solve by observing how things are currently working (or not). Learn to empathize with your clients; ask them questions to better understand the issue from their perspective.
- Synthesize/define. By studying the notes you took during your research and conversations, you’ll start to uncover insights about what the ultimate goal is and what the hidden roadblocks are. Identify who exactly you are trying to help and articulate what specifically you want to help them with.
- Brainstorm. Bring together a diverse team for a creative brainstorming session. Remember that you should be in divergent-thinking mode—it’s all about idea generation at this stage, not idea evaluation.
- Prototype. Prototyping simply means taking a brainstorm idea and making it tangible so that you can show it to your clients and ask for their feedback. You’ll use your convergent-thinking skills to select which brainstorm ideas to prototype, but avoid using overly conventional selection criteria.
- Test. Be open to hearing the feedback you receive. This is an iterative process. You’ll learn even more about your clients by really listening to them. Then take that feedback and incorporate it into the next version of your prototype.
This presentation was hosted by Sound Immigration in Tacoma, Washington, and they have generously made the recording available for free. Washington attorneys can receive CLE credit by registering here.
And if you’re interested in legal document design, skip ahead to 51:00 where I illustrate how lawyers can make their written work product more effective using design principles.