3 Law Firms That Have Successfully Applied Design Thinking


Shay Namdarian

Design Thinking is not a new concept but there are still many law firms that are yet to embrace this modern-day mindset and methodology. Baker McKenzie became the first law firm to invest in design thinking on a global scale, after identifying the need to provide legal services that their clients actually want. Erik Scheer, Baker McKenzie Executive Committee member, explained the drive behind it, “we need to re-design how we deliver legal advice in a way that makes sense for our clients”. 

In a recent study on the problem solving methodology, it was found that 75% of organisations self-report that they are engaged in design thinking

Law firms may be applying the approach but are any of them actually seeing results? 

Success stories are generally the easiest way to demonstrate the value of an approach. Here are three law firms that have successfully applied design thinking.

1. Hogan Lovells - Redesigning the Associate Review Process

Employee performance reviews at large organisations have long been dated and not applicable to this day and age. However, companies tend to stick with what they are comfortable with and law firms are no exception. In a recent Adobe Survey, it was found that a staggering four out of ten employees would switch jobs to a company that didn’t have a formal performance review process even if the pay and job level were the same.

With the help of IDEO, Hogan Lovells applied design thinking to improve their associate review process and drive talent development. The problem faced by the firm was that associates were not getting regular feedback on performance and when they did receive any it lacked substance. Starting with empathy (the first stage of design thinking), the firm gained an understanding from associates on what they wanted from their reviews, as well as insights from reviewers on how they found the existing process. Taking these learnings through the remaining four stages of the design thinking methodology, the end solution was simpler than anyone expected. 

The solution was a physical note card that had specific questions to ensure regular conversations between associates and reviewers stayed on track. Review sessions became more engaging and formalised, while the process ensured more tangible feedback for associates and allowed conversations to flow more naturally rather than being an awkward formal process. 

Rochael Soper Adranly, IDEO partner on the project, explained the lack of technology with the solution: “When we did our research, we thought we could go the tech route, but it’d probably reinforce the behaviors they were trying to change. If you’re trying to encourage direct in-person feedback, and you give someone an app to deliver it, they’re going to hide behind the app.”

2. Linklaters - Improving Due Diligence Activities

Law firms are starting to use design thinking to improve service delivery and make legal jargon more digestible for clients. Linklaters, a leading global law firm, applied design thinking to improve their due diligence activities in structured finance transactions. The Structured Finance Group at Linklaters transformed the often complex and traditionally wordy output of legal due diligence into structured data. They transferred lengthy word tables into carefully arranged Excel reports that could slot seamlessly into a clients’ financial models. What was the outcome? Their clients now have the ability to build legal due diligence into their own processes and use the data to support their negotiating positions in real-time. 

Managing Associate at Linklaters, Peter Hudson, elaborated on the solution: "For any deal where legal issues on the underlying business or assets are critical for price and contract negotiations, we’ve seen that there can be a significant commercial advantage if you have the legal DD as a dataset because you can rapidly re-analyse it and update for new information. By embracing legal design, we are adding real value to our clients’ business and helping them achieve their core objectives.

3. Seyfarth Shaw - Enhancing Service Model

The final example of the power of design thinking in the legal industry comes from Seyfarth Shaw. The Chicago-based firm applied design thinking to revamp their service model and provide a better experience for their clients. Using the design thinking approach, they developed a how might we statement outlining the problem: “How do we design a new service model that can be nurtured within the current business model whilst extending value to the client?”

During the empathy stage, one key insight discovered was that the costs of legal services are a key factor in a client deciding which law firm they work with. More importantly, the team found that every client is different and wanted to be treated as such. The final solution developed by Seyfarth Shaw was a Client Playbook that mapped out the individual needs of clients, interests and touchpoints. Josh Kubicki, Seyfarth Shaw Chief Strategy Officer, said that “each of our clients has a different culture and different touchpoints, and sometimes we’re dealing with different roles within the organisation. We map those relationships and find out the client’s perspective around the most effective methods of communicating with them.”

This new playbook has led to Seyfarth Shaw employees being able to reframe the relationship with clients as more of a journey than a transaction. 

about the author

Shay Namdarian is GM of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus and the author of Stop Talking, Start Making - A Guide to Design Thinking. Shay has over ten years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience and design thinking. He is a regular speaker and facilitator on design thinking and has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture. Shay has supported global organisations to embed customer-centric culture, working closely with law firms such as Clifford Chance, Pinsent Masons and ClaytonUtz