Design Thinking

Visit DesignThinkingLegal.com for more information.

Why do we need to innovate in the legal profession?

The legal industry is in the midst of disruptive change.  Clients are looking for new ways to reduce their risk and legal spend.  Law firms are faced with new competition by alternative service providers and traditional accounting/advisory firms.  Artificial intelligence and technology are providing new ways to do some legal tasks at a fraction of the cost and time it takes humans.  Clients are constantly changing how they select, manage and evaluate outside counsel performance.  

Firms and legal departments that embrace client-focused innovation and change leadership will be more likely to succeed in times of disruptive change. 

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a creative process for innovation.  In the same way successful lawyers use a process for preparing for a court case or going about business development, Design Thinking is a process with five distinct steps to develop a better way to deliver legal services or solve a challenging problem.  The five steps are:

Empathize:  Through interviews, direct observation and research, one gains an intimate understanding of the user’s situation, need and context.  

Define:  A thoughtfully articulated definition of the challenge, or “point of view” directs the design effort.  The “problem definition” is a clear statement of what the user wants to achieve through the process.  This may be increased efficiency, lower cost, faster turnaround time, better communication or an improved result.

Ideate:  This is the “brainstorm” step, where many varied ideas are generated, tested with the user, refined through an iterative process and several ideas are selected for the next step.  Often we consider non-traditional ideas in order to get to the creative and unique solutions we desire.

Prototype:  A physical representation of the top ideas are “mocked-up” for the user to try them out.  We prototype to better understand and refine our understanding of  the user’s needs as well as to test our ideas for viability.   Prototyping is also an iterative process that helps narrow down the ideas to a single concept to test.

Test:  Once a single concept is selected for development, we test it with real-life users to find ways to improve the idea before rolling out the program.

The outcome of design thinking is a user-centered solution that may have not been apparent before.  Both the designer and the user gain experience and commitment to the solution because both have invested in its development.  

What are some ways to use Legal Design Thinking ?

Design Thinking has been used develop new models of access to the justice system.  The Legal Design Lab (legaltechdesign.com) of Stanford University has been a leader in this initiative.  

Our efforts, however, are focused on how to re-design the delivery of legal services and improving the relationships between law firms and legal departments.   Legal Design Thinking (LDT) can be applied to develop new ways to combine human-centered design and technology to meet the ever-changing demands of the legal profession.  For example, consider how LDT can be applied to:

  • How a legal department can find efficiencies by re-designing a legal process to automate contracts.
  • How a law firm can develop a new way to track matter costs and communicate spend-to-budget progress to a client.
  • How a law firm can re-design internal processes to be more effective, such as attorney on-boarding, conflict-checking, or associate training.
  • How, together, a client and outside counsel can collaborate to find ways to manage a legal project using alternative service providers and new technology to reduce cost and improve turn-around time. 


Legal Design Thinking results in not only more creative and effective solutions, but also a closer relationship and collaboration between law firms and their clients, the legal departments.  

How do you learn Legal Design Thinking?

The best way to learn LDT is to do it.  Like most leadership skills and management techniques, LDT takes hands-on practice, not something that is easily picked up from a book or webinar.   In our interactive Design Thinking for Legal Workshops, we focus on:

  • Why we need to innovate (and where to start today)
  • The client’s perspective on innovation and design thinking
  • What Design Thinking is (and is not)
  • Design Thinking Mindsets, Skills, Tools, and Processes


Once participants get the idea, we spend the rest of the workshop in a Hackathon.  The Hackathon gives every participant to act as both designer and user.  Participants go through the entire Design Thinking process, from user interviews to developing a final physical prototype (think pipe-cleaners and construction paper) in a fast-paced exercise.  

At the end, we award prizes to the best ideas and talk about how to use the Design Thinking for Legal process at your firm, department or organization.  


Legal Design Thinking Workshops have these goals:  

  • To equip participants with the tools and skills to lead an innovation initiative using the Design Thinking Process 
  • To engage participants with hands-on experience in using the tools, including a hackathon that takes the participant through the Design Thinking stages in a real-life scenario.
  • To encourage dialogue among participants so that they learn from each other and gain a vision for how to apply the tools to lead innovation in their firms and departments.


Delivery Options

Private – Law firms, legal departments, associations and networks host a workshop for their lawyers and staff.  Contact us for more information.  

Open Enrollment – We offer open enrollment programs several times a year for individuals or small groups.   See upcoming programs here.


Some firms host LDT workshops for their partners and business professionals to encourage LDT and innovation.  Some legal departments host LDT workshops for their in-house legal staff and operations staff.   The most powerful and productive workshops occur when both in-house and outside counsel participate together.  This creates a common purpose and vocabulary when it comes to innovation and builds collaborative partnerships between client and outside counsel.  


Most programs are either one or two day events.  A one day event gives the participants time to learn the concepts and practice them in the hackathon.  A two day event gives participants an opportunity to learn change management and leadership tools that help in the adoption and sustainability of the change initiative.    Sometimes firms only have time for a three to four hour introduction course, which is suitable for firm and law department retreats or as part of a management curriculum.  We will work with you to find the format that is best for your organization.


Each workshop has these main components:

  1. Design Thinking process and tools.
  2. Hackathon – practical application of the process.
  3. Debrief – forum and discussion about how to apply what you learned to real-life design challenges you face in your organization and in designing legal service delivery.  
  4. When time and budget allow, we add a fourth component: Change management and leadership skills for leading innovation and change initiatives.