5 Ways Design Thinking Can Help Law Firms Gain an Edge on the Competition


Shay Namdarian

Creating a culture of creativity is becoming a priority for organisations all across the globe, with 82% of companies believing that there is a strong connection between creativity and business results. In recent years, there has been an evident push from law firms to develop lawyers that are human-centred. IDEO partner, Rochael Soper Adranly, coined the term “human-centred lawyers” and describes them as “those who can treat legal problems as human problems, translate legal complexity into relatable frameworks, and navigate tension and conflict with skill, patience, and respect for all stakeholders involved”.

To develop these human-centred lawyers, law firms are starting to upskill their lawyers in design thinking, a popular process for creative problem-solving.  

Here are five ways design thinking can help law firms get an edge on the competition.

1.Align to Changing Client Expectations

In a report developed by Jordan Furlong, he dives into the millennial effect and how traditional legal practices need to change to accommodate. In the coming years, the client population of legal services will dramatically change. Below are three of the millennial features outlined in the report:

  • Choice: Millennial clients will show no favouritism to law firms. They will select from a diverse menu of suppliers.
  • Convenience: Millennial clients will default to legal providers that are available 24/7 or that respond to enquiries with dispatch.
  • Operations: Millennial clients will reject the billable hour, require project management and routinely inquire into process improvement efforts.

Client expectations are changing and so should the way law firms deals with clients. Law firms can use design thinking to better understand the end to ended client journey and ultimately the needs of their clients. Seyfarth Shaw showed how this can be possible by applying design thinking to create their Client Playbook. This playbook mapped out the individual needs, interests and touchpoints of clients

2. Redesign Internal Processes

It is common for internal processes to be created, implemented and then never looked at again. One such internal process is the employee performance review. Often conducted annually, employee performance reviews generally have a negative stigma attached to them (specifically at large organisations). Traditional review processes have been described as time-consuming, cumbersome, demotivating and painful.

The design thinking methodology can be used to redesign internal processes linked to performance reviews, training and employee development. Leading law firm Hogan Lovells used design thinking to revamp their whole associate review process to ensure maximum impact for associates as well as reviewers.

3. Improve Legal Products and Services

Design thinking has the power to make legal services less ambiguous and more easily understandable for the average person. It can be used to improve existing products and services for clients or even build brand new offerings that were not available previously.  

Linklaters, a leading global law firm, applied design thinking to transform 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. 

4. Recruitment and Employee Development

For a law firm to continue to grow and bring in the best talent, they need to constantly evolve with changing times. Design thinking can be used to improve existing recruitment processes and enhance employee development. 

Do lawyers still want to be recruited through traditional channels? 

Are there better ways to find the best talent for your law firm?

Can we improve the way we develop our lawyers?

Design thinking can be used to answer all these questions and surprisingly for many, it doesn’t take very long to see real outcomes. Maddocks, a leading Australian law firm, wanted to identify innovative solutions to recruitment and employee development problems. The team identified over 60 ideas using the ideation method within design thinking. From these 60 ideas, the top two ideas were prototyped. All this progress was made in a couple of hours.

5. Reimagine Ways of Working

Design thinking can be used to reimagine legal services and that includes traditional ways of working. Just because something has been done a certain way for the last 20 years, does not mean it is the right way. This has never been more evident than in 2021, given COVID-19 has disrupted the way companies and employees operate. 

By applying design thinking, Law firms can identify solutions to improve collaboration and strengthen the connection between lawyers. A recent article in the Financial Times highlighted the struggles faced by “the lockdown cohort” when it comes to training, networks and confidence. Laura Hinton, UK head of people at PwC, elaborated on the challenge faced due to the global pandemic, “I’m very conscious that those people who have joined us in the last year have missed out on some important interactions . . . A lot of that is about the network and the feeling of being part of a cohort beyond your immediate team.”

It is time for more law firms to apply the design thinking methodology and build solutions to tackle these new challenges and reimagine the ways of working in 2021 and beyond.


Leading firms have spoken about the importance of embedding design thinking into business as usual, including Caryn Sandler (Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer) at Gilbert & Tobin, “it is so standard for us now, that we don’t even label it.”  There is no better time for law firms to start upskilling lawyers in design thinking and in turn grow their firms to become more relevant in this era of rapid disruption.

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

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