[Ed. Note: We’ve talked a lot recently about innovation, design thinking, creativity, and curiosity. If you are wondering where you can go to do some hands-on learning, then the American Association of Law Libraries’ Innovation Bootcamp might be for you. I asked Celeste Smith from AALL to write up a description of the bootcamp so that I could share it here. – GL]

Creative problem solving is everybody’s business. New ways to address problems, create value,  and meet the demands of a changing information landscape is on the menu at your workplace, at every workplace.

American Association of Law Libraries is on the move and eager to share  a new wave of thinking. They’re looking to reach people with ideas—seasoned leaders and energetic newcomers alike–who are  ready to sharpen the skills that will take their organizations to a new level. AALL’s Innovation Bootcamp: Add+Venture Initiative  is designed specifically for legal information professionals.   Hear from experts in  design thinking, library service design, and technology on topics such as:

  • Design Thinking: A Strategy for Creative Problem Solving
  • Using Service Design to Connect and Innovate
    Access to Justice Tech in the Trenches
    And
    more

The Innovation Bootcamp will be held on April 25-26 in Chicago. Sign-up by April 2.

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit with 15 members of a large law firm’s administrative team for about 2 hours as I facilitated a Design Thinking workshop. Design Thinking is thoughtful as well as free flowing, a bit different for law firms. Once the domain of software development, it has been appropriated by law firms, sales, knowledge management, marketing and all kinds of disciplines and professionals with process problems to solve. Design Thinking, like its close friend, Agile Methodology should be considered whenever problems arise and need to be solved  I walked into the room expecting everyone to be familiar with the concept, and ready to dig into the work and the lunch. I assumed (and of course we all know what happens when you assume) that everyone knew what design thinking is and how it works. I was wrong. Very wrong.

The people in the room did enjoy a delicious lunch, but that did not take away from the fact that people were all also very engaged, eager to understand what design think is and how it applies in the legal industry. I opened the session by asking each participant to share with everyone  their expectations for the session, I could tell we were going to have a good discussion and maybe even a little healthy banter. The two hours I had been allotted while very short, felt even shorter when I was forced to stop conversations and group work long before the participants had completed a task.   It took a while to define an issue, and then articulate for whom the issue was really a problem.  Are law firm process problems an issue for clients, associates, partners, or others?  The ideas were flowing as the group came up with various prototypes to solve one of their problems, with each of the four groups in the room choosing a different path to  resolution – each with a unique approach. Design Thinking is about changing perspectives and solving problems in a faster more creative way, testing theories and then moving to another option (the process od Design Thinking should generate many solutions) if the first one didn’t meet the needs.

I had many take aways from the session, I will highlight a few:

  1. Don’t take Design Thinking methodology for granted. Not everyone knows what it is or how and why it works; and even when they do, they need facilitation to support them and help apply it to their own work; this is critical. Giving people an opportunity to apply Design Thinking to their own work is an experience worth the time, especially when they are able to collaborate with colleagues from different areas in the same firm or business.
  2. When looking to solve a problem using empathy, your audience or the person with the problem is often not who you think it is – especially in law firms; your problem may not be the problem of an associate or a partner and their issues may not be issues for administration. Being able to articulate who has the problem is the first step to empathy and problem resolution.
  3. The concepts of problem solving using empathy and “Agile” methodology, like failing fast,  can be difficult in the traditionally slow moving, plan-for-every-contingency risk averse legal market; this is mindset we need to break if we are going to truly innovate in legal;
  4. Shifting cultures and perspectives is hard but necessary. Start small, share incremental wins even amongst your own teams;
  5. Any law firm, legal alternative or legal services company that struggles with issues of scale, finding new clients, process inefficiencies, employee retention or any other business issue can benefit from using Design Thinking to explore new ways to solve the problem using empathy, quick solution iteration and failing fast to build out all kinds of answers. If you need more convincing, check out this article from Canadian Lawyer Magazine and my beloved former colleague Kate Simpson on the topic.

Despite my initial misgivings, the Design Thinking workshop was a huge success, the clients learned how to think differently, one participant even commented that she didn’t realize how rigid she had become in her reaction to solving problems at the firm.   The session, she said, helped her recognize why she needed to explore alternative ways of thinking and solving problems.    I will therefore, put a challenge out to all of you in the legal market and encourage everyone in the legal industry from Partner to Law Librarians to make 2019 the year of Design Thinking, the year of customer empathy and thinking differently. By stepping outside of our comfort zones and learning to approach problems differently, we can achieve client centered success and true innovation faster. We might even have a little fun along the way.  I am committed to the challenge. Who is with me??

Ed. Note: Please welcome our guest blogger, Susan Kostal, San Francisco based legal affairs journalist and consultant.
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One of the most fascinating ideas out of this year’s LMA Legal Tech West conference was a workshop on design thinking.

Design thinking has taken the corporate world by storm. Intended to build a culture of free exchange of ideas, constant iteration and learning from failure, it is sacred credo in Silicon Valley and at the heart of almost all innovation.

Law is one of the slowest, if not the slowest, industry to evolve, but design thinking has a good chance of changing that.

Design thinking has many definitions, but at its core, whether designing a product or business process, it comes down this: instead of a designer-led process, it’s a user-led process. This concept comes out of the Institute for Design at Stanford (d.school), and launched its most popular course, Designing Your Life.

Mark Beese of Leadership for Lawyers led attendees, myself included, in a design-thinking exercise to improve the onboarding process for lawyers and staff at a law firm. We were paired in teams and assigned to learn as much about our partner’s onboarding process, what they liked, what they didn’t, and then in rapid-fire mode come up with as many ideas as possible to solve their issues, whether they seemed feasible or not.

We were instructed to sketch these out, which, for someone used to working with words like me, unleashed a creativity and excitement about solving the problem that felt fresh and new.

Pipe Cleaner Breakthrough

With 10+ ideas in hand, we went back to interviewing, really digging into our partner’s experience, and then narrowed down our solutions to three. Then, we were given Post-Its, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, paper clips, markers, paper tubes, etc., and asked to build a prototype.

My partner was overwhelmed with the amount of information thrown at her on her first day, and wanted more personal, warmer touch points. One of the offerings I came up with was a branded mug. Sure, lots of people give out branded material to new hires. But along with my mug came a supply of coffee or tea—whichever beverage the new hire had accepted when offered a hot beverage in the interview process. I’m not sure that would have occurred to me absent me taking the time to craft a mug from pipe cleaners. My onboarding solution, while small, told my partner she was welcomed, that the firm wanted her to be happy at work. More importantly, it told her she was valued, and that her needs were noticed and were as important as corporate goals.

Some teams had unworkable ideas, such as a corporate jet to squire new hires for a tour of the firm’s offices. But that prompted me to think about giving each new employee a modest transit or parking voucher. The message the employee gets is that we are so excited you’ve joined us that we want to pay for your commute for your first few days with us.

How It Works In The Real World

Davis Wright Tremaine has embraced design thinking, is using it with clients to find legal process solutions, and has created DWT De Novo, an internal consulting firm to help its lawyers develop more client-centric ways of solving problems.

Jay Hull, DWT’s Chief Innovation Partner, told me that there are about 20 DWT staff and lawyers actively involved and 10 full-time people dedicated to the initiative. Hull, a former transactional lawyer, said the key is multi-disciplinary teams that feel free to pitch ideas, can iterate quickly, and who are confident enough to show clients prototyped options that aren’t yet fully baked, so team members can learn during the design process what features appeal to the client and which aren’t working and need improvement.

“To me, it starts with empathy for the client,” Hull said “and burrowing into what it’s like for them to engage with the product or process.”

Hull’s time in-house helped tremendously, he said, where he struggled with existing processes. “There was a huge transaction, and on the 42nd draft of the agreement, it hit me. What were we thinking? Couldn’t we have done this in 20 revisions? There has got to be a better way.”

Studying the Giants of Customer Service

At the launch of the effort, two DWT professionals participated in a two-day design-thinking workshop hosted by Nordstrom, well known for its top-notch customer service. Then several lawyers, Hull included, visited the dSchool and met with Margaret Hagan, a fellow at Stanford Law’s Center on the Legal Profession. She launched the Legal Design Lab, experimenting in how design can make legal services more usable, useful and engaging.

DWT debuted the concept with a large public company. “They needed thousands of documents reviewed, knew they couldn’t do it efficiently in-house, and didn’t want to pay for a traditional review by a law firm,” Hull said.

Using software DWT already owned, the firm conducted an automated review of the contracts, with human beings doing post-automation quality control, for a fixed set-up fee of $15,000. The audit singled out several hundred contracts that needed further review, for which DWT charged a per-contract flat rate.

Note that this is a process- and solution-oriented approach, rather than a pricing- model approach, although the firm billed the client on a flat-fee basis. It hatched a single-point solution and provided the model for other contract review projects.

Clients “Want a Different Model”

Microsoft, a longtime client, is a big proponent of design thinking. In-house lawyer Lucy Bassli needed thousands of procurement contracts reviewed so she could free up her department’s lawyers for higher-level work. She wanted it structured as an annual flat-fee engagement. She asked for RFPs and “made it clear she wanted a different model,” Hull said.

DWT more directly applied design thinking principles, including empathizing with the client and crafting an MVP (minimum viable product) with rapid iterations based on client feedback. The process analysis included details I’ve heard many in-house counsel complain about, such as how documents are managed, how communication with the client and related firms should be structured, and how projects will be assigned.

“We are ‘all in’ on this concept, and the firm is behind it,” Hull said. Now, DWT partners are coming to Hull and his team for help. “I’ve had lawyers come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’m not exactly sure what you guys are doing, but the client says it takes way too long and costs too much. Can you help me?’”

Design thinking “opens up pathways to better solutions, where there isn’t this constraint so common in the legal industry that everything that comes out of your mouth better be perfect, and you better be prepared to defend it at all costs,” Hull said.

“That’s just dumb, and very self-limiting.”

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Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter at @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.


Technology is cool. There is no disputing that fact. Last month, while travelling for work, I had a video conversation with my kid, while I was 3500 kms away in a relatively remote mountain resort, and he was in a moving vehicle. Last week, while doing some research I came across a data visualization of all of the spells used in all seven books of Harry Potter on a scatter chart, and when you hovered over the data points you learned when the spell was used, by whom and why. That’s cool, that’s technology. Whether we are looking at the vast amounts of data in the world and how we can use that data, make it visible, pretty and useful, or whether we are talking about “smart” technology, machine learning or artificial intelligence as it applies to daily work tasks that can be automated, made better and or make our work lives and products more efficient.

And yet, as I sit here at ARK KM 2016, in NYC, the themes I keep hearing coming out of every session, are around audience engagement, adoption, clarity of purpose, how do we encourage people to share, and clear or shared communication. Fundamentally “soft skills” that technology can’t really impact have been a part of every presentation. Like it or not, while some of us may prefer to engage with robots, as people working in law firms for legal clients, we are dealing with people, clients are people. Implementation of strategically sound KM programs, social for enterprise, efficiency in data visualization, noise reduction, cross firm collaboration, data integrity, whatever it is – people are at the centre and people are necessarily complex. When we talk about getting people to collaborate, share data, engage on client matters together and so forth, we are discussing changing cultures with in individual firms and within the legal industry as a whole. Changing legal and law firm culture, (and related initiatives such as KM – however you define it) start, in my opinion with putting clients first.

I have written here and else where about how clients are or should be at the centre of any significant initiative by firms. Putting clients first to my mind means using a design thinking approach to new initiatives. Design thinking as explained in a recent Lexpert article is “also known as “human-centred design” — an approach that, at its core, is about structured problem-solving with a design flair.” The first step in design thinking that runs through every stage of the process is empathy. Empathy is knowing how someone else feels, whether as a lawyer knowing how a client feels or as an allied professional in a firm knowing how your lawyers feel. Feelings are not always used in the same discussion as law firms or lawyers, but therein, lies the change that needs to happen. In order to successfully innovate and move culturally sensitive initiatives forward we need to think like our clients, we need to feel like our clients. We need to understand our clients pain – their difficulty in solving problems and then very quickly try various solutions in solving those problems or assuage any ill feelings.

Technology can be a tool in helping to achieve resolution, but the tech itself could never replace empathy. The ability to think like others, to feel what they feel and to really understand their challenges and how to address those challenges is really about people connecting with people regardless of roles or capabilities. This is the heart of design thinking – the human element. The EI or emotional intelligence that is required to make AI, KM, BD/Marketing and other projects a success. On the surface it seems simple, and maybe it is, but all too often we are distracted by the technology and the crazy capabilities they afford us. Blinded by the possibilities of the technology, we present solutions to problems people don’t have or we aggregate data sets and taxonomies that make sense to only a few and confuse everyone else. We then push these technology solutions on a varied group of people and expect them to be as excited and ready for the impact of the technology as we are. Who wouldn’t want to know every spell Harry and his friends ever used to defeat He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named. But if those capabilities add nothing productive to my day, or solve no real world issues, then any real value the technology tools provide gets lost. Tie solutions back people. Start prototying solutions only after actually talking to people, all the people, with all the same problems. Use technology to aid in solving real world issues or frustrations and eliminate the pain that real people are feeling. To do that, we need to be sensitive to the human element every step of the way. Once you can do that, the prototyping and ideation gets far easier, but empathy especially in law firm processes can be a fickle friend.

Who wants to take on that session at ARK KM next year???