[Ed. Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Casandra M. Laskowski from FirebrandLib blog. Cas is a Reference Librarian and Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law, and a total geek – so she fits in well here! I was happy that she reached out to talk about how UX design facilitates discrimination and inhibits legal tech from achieving ethical goals. – GL]

In 2015, Google faced a scandal with its image-tagging feature on its photo app. Despite promising to “work on long-term fixes,” Wired revealed earlier this year that the “fix” was to remove gorillas from its image recognition system, and the system remains blind to this day. This chain of events seems almost cliché at this point: software is released with a predictably offensive or impactful implementation, the company expresses shock and shame, and a hasty patch is made that fails to address the cause of the issue.

Continue Reading Legal Tech Needs to Abandon UX

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.

This post originally appeared on the LexisNexis UK Future of Law Blog under the title Stealing the market: The degree that now has infinite value.

Image [cc] – doozle

On 17 October I saw Daniel B. Rodriguez, Dean of the Northwestern University School of Law, speak at the ARK Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference.  His presentation explained how some of the challenges that we are experiencing in law firms have trickled down to the law schools, and he gave some examples of how they are adjusting their approach and curricula to better prepare their students for the “new normal”.  One of the solutions he described was partnering with other schools to provide joint degrees. Since the economic downturn, Northwestern has reduced the number of traditional JD-only students, but has increased the size of their JD/MBA dual degree program. He also expressed an interest in partnering with a medical school to develop a JD/MD curriculum, and he made a passing mention of possibly doing something with “the humanities”.

I wholeheartedly applaud the joint degree approach. In my opinion, there is a severe lack of basic business understanding among lawyers. The fact that the phrase “not all revenue is profitable” often requires a lengthy explanation is a good indication that attorneys need more business training.  The JD/MD seems a little less immediately applicable, except of course to medical and health care law, but anything that gets attorneys to see how other people think is probably a good thing.  Which brings me to “the humanities”.  As a former music major, I can say the JD/MFA in vocal performance, or piano pedagogy, will probably have limited application; however, there is joint degree program that I believe could provide infinite value to attorneys, firms, and clients: a JD/MA in Design.

In BigLaw, the phrase “Who else is doing this?” is so common a response to any new idea, that it has officially become cliché.  We have a tendency to focus heavily on what our competitors are doing. Unfortunately, we only perceive other BigLaw firms as our direct competitors.  We benchmark our businesses against similarly sized firms that think, act, and are run, very much like we are.  Meanwhile, there are a number of firms, and non-firms, providing legal services that are so far beneath our radar that they might as well be underground and they are beginning to get traction with our client base.  Unless we are careful, they will eat away at that base from the bottom, until we are fighting over the last scraps of global legal work that these smaller firms can’t handle.  But of course, by that point, they’ll be able to handle the big global work too.
There are numerous precedents for this kind of race to the top of the ladder, while an unexpected or unrecognized competitor dismantles the ladder from the bottom up.  Most famously in the US airline industry, where traditional airlines bench-marked exclusively against each other while low cost airlines like Southwest and JetBlue stole their market from the bottom.  

Incidentally, the epithet “low cost airline” is a bit of a misnomer.  While these companies do indeed offer lower priced tickets than traditional airlines, they have stolen much of the market by out-designing their predecessors. They designed new customer experiences, and new business models, while the old guard was focused on what all of other big airlines were doing.  Frankly, these “low cost” airlines have a better product that many consumers prefer, and they happen to deliver it at a much better price. And today, there are only two US airlines bigger than Southwest. They are the last two standing after a series of bankruptcies and mergers.

I think BigLaw faces a similar fate – not tomorrow, or next week, or next year, but that future is out there waiting for us – unless we begin to design new legal products, new customer experiences, and new business models that make those products and experiences profitable. We need to fight for the bottom and the middle of the market, if we hope to continue to provide our premium services at the top. I would probably start by hiring people with joint JD and design degrees, or even, maybe just the design degrees.

Are you thinking about launching a law firm web site or redesigning your current one?Let me impart one tiny bit of wisdom that I have learned over the last 15 years in this business–wait, it’s been that long?! Oh, my. I am old …Anywhoo, back to my sage self: whether you are the designer, the project manager, the approving attorney or the outside consultant, please remember one very important thing.You are designing your law firm site for site visitors.Yes, this may seem like a no-brainer and should go without saying.But I cannot over-emphasize this point. Because there always comes a time when you are designing a site when you begin designing to please those who are approving the site rather than those who are visiting the site.Please remember, the law firm is not the client. The client is the client. Too many times I have seen law firm sites built to satisfy lawyers’ needs, ambitions and desires rather than considering what the site visitor needs.Think of it this way: what if you went on a hardware web site like Lowes or Home Depot and you were looking for latex paint. So you drill down to the paint category and there are all the paints listed in alphabetical order. Not by type, not by brand, not by size. Just in a huge list of paint numbers all jumbled together.You wouldn’t stay on that site for more than 5 seconds before you went on to the next hardware web site.Site visitors feel the same way when they go to a law firm web site and see befuddling lists, endless columns and streams of bullet points. I know it may sometimes seem easier to just please the approver but who really suffers in the end? That’s right: your business and your web traffic.So do the right thing and design it right. It is, in fact, what they are paying you to do.

Some of the best and brightest people in the legal research world will be presenting a live podcast on the “Future of Interface Design today at 3 PM Eastern Time – oh, and Jason Wilson will be there too.  (Sorry, Jason… couldn’t resist that one!)

So, take a minute and register for the podcast by going to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/537047386, while the podcast is going on, you can follow along in the chat room http://lawlibcon.classcaster.net/chat. If, for some reason (like happy hour started at 3:00 and) you can’t make it live, you can listen to the recorded episode through the LawLibCon’s iTunes channel http://u.cali.org/2jwf.

I’ll wait while you go ahead and register…

Back?

Rich Leiter from University of Nebraska Law School is hosting this podcast and has pulled together my fellow Houstonian Jason Wilson, VP at Jones McClure Publishing, along with Loyola Law School, and blogger Tom Boone, and Fastcase’s Ed Walters – both of whom I consider friends (I hope they feel the same about me!!)

This group will cover what they see as the future of how legal research and information products will look, feel, and react to the end-user. To help prep you for the podcast, Jason and Tom have both put out blog posts this week to help get you started on the concepts they’ll discuss today.

Jason put out a post that discusses the future of interface design and breaks it down into:

  • Interactive Search
  • Brief Packaging
  • The Knowledge Network
  • Visuals
  • Adaptive Networks
Tom put out the post entitled From interface to extinction: law school librarians beyond Thunderdome (I felt it should of had a subtitle of “Two Interfaces Enter, One Interface Leaves”), where Tom takes the academic view of interface and talks about the Native App vs. Browser-based future of interface.
Ed Walters also posted his preparatory highlights on his Fastcase Blog with a post titled Discovery Without Search, where he says the interface enhancements and changes in the way we do research is still in its infancy. Ed has discussed innovation and design before. You should go watch a very interesting presentation that Ed did with the DC Law.Gov meeting on how taking a different approach, and think of things in a different way helps shape the future for the better.
If you weren’t swayed by my initial argument to go sign up for today’s podcast, I’m hoping that you have now changed your mind. So, once again:
Follow and Chat along here – http://lawlibcon.classcaster.net/chat
iTunes recording (available sometime next week) here – http://u.cali.org/2jwf
See you there!

Do you know what I hate about movie reviews? Chick flicks. Yeah, that’s right. Chick flicks.

And do you know what I hate about book reviews? Romance novels. Yep.

And do you know what I hate about car reviews? Make-up mirrors. Uh-huh.

Are you sensing a theme here (pretend its the SAT/LSAT/MCAT/Dumb, generalized, multi- tests that allege to set standards)?

ANSWER: The reviewers are not of the same personality-type as the consumers.

So remember, when testing your web pages, don’t build them to please yourself or your boss.

As my boss told me when I first started, “we’ve fallen in love with our own artwork”.

I know it is hard to remember. I cannot tell you how many meetings I have been in and we all get caught up in how slick and gorgeous the page, the color, the design, the layout is. We forgot: we aren’t the ones who are looking at the pages once it is built.

Or we are worried that the approving partner won’t like it so we build it to get it approved.

Instead, think about your audience; your potential site visitors: what is the predominant personality type? What appeals to them?

I know that marketing people that I have worked with are the creative sort. We love to talk, like lots of colors, the prettier it is, the happier we are.

And IT, well, they like black and white, either/or kinds of choices. Plain, straight-forward, no-nonense pages are our designs of choice.

Now do you see why web sites should be built by both marketing and IT people?

So put on your thinking cap: envision your “jury”. Conduct voire dire. Once you’ve figured this out, you’ve done some good research and can start putting together a plan.

Oh.

And the chick flick/romance/car rant? Well, its just me being me. I saw “Ugly Truth” and loved it. The Chronicle book reviewer panned one of my favorite authors. And, well, you know, car reviewers NEVER mention make-up mirrors.

See?

Online marketing for professional services, and in particular law firms, is a difficult proposition. Not only do legal online marketers have the challenge of overcoming lawyers’ sensibilities about legal advertising, we have to contend with 50 states bar’s advertising rules.

Then after dodging these two bullets, we are called to measure what may, at first blush, seem to be immeasurable: reputation, influence and persuasiveness.

Neil Mason’s ClickZ article, “Metrics for Non-Transactional Web Sites” brought me back to the early days of my web’s development when I would ask lawyers, “why do you want a web site?”

In those days of yore (!), law firm web sites appeared to be knee-jerk reaction to what their peers were doing.

But, if lawyers wanted a successful web site (or in this day and age, a successful blog), we had to decide where we were going. If there is no end-game in mind, we will just be wandering around.

This is even more true in the vast wasteland of the web.

Many law firms and lawyers struggle with this question: why do we have a web site?

In a nutshell, the answer is one, or a combination, of the following:

  1. Sell a product
  2. Display an online brochure
  3. Generate leads

Once the decision, it will color a site’s lay-out, design and content. And it will determine how we measure a site’s success.