Leah Molatseli has been named as one of South Africa’s most inspiring young leaders. She is on the council of the University of the Free State and an attorney, legal technology and innovation specialist and business woman. In this column she reflects on Legal Design thinking.
In the famous words of Game of Thrones’ Little Finger ‘Chaos is a Ladder’.
Sometimes it takes a pandemic of magnificent proportions to force us to make changes and be innovative in the way that we do things to survive. The impact of Covid-19 on the legal profession is yet to be fully measured and assessed but, what is clear, is that many have been forced to look at new ways to do what we have to do and sometimes perform legal tasks differently.
What follows is a brief look at Legal Design Thinking as a basic but necessary framework in fostering innovation in the legal industry.
What is Legal Design Thinking?
Zena Applebaum, Director: Customer Insights and Engagement from Thomson Reuters Canada Legal Tax and Accounting in Chapter 5: Design Thinking – A Legal Industry Imperative of the Design Thinking for the Legal Profession book defines Legal Design Thinking as “an iterative process that begins with empathy for the end user in defining a problem before moving on to finding all the solutions in the world without any limitations.”
It is more than just a way of thinking, but a process that can be framed into five key action steps: (1) Empathize; (2) Define; (3) Ideate; (4) Prototype and (5) Test.
Empathize: This step includes the process of understanding problems by conducting interviews, shadowing, seeking to understand the end-user (in our case our clients) in a non-judgemental manner;
Define: This step entails mapping out the different client personas, different objectives in the role that we play in solving their problems, how they make decisions, the challenges they face when faced with legal problems and their pain points;
Ideate: During this step ideas are shared and teams should immerse themselves in this step with the attitude that no idea is stupid, that all ideas are worthy, have a “Yes and” thinking approach when it comes to ideas and prioritizing them according to identified parameters ( e.g. prioritizing ideas which focus on the biggest pain points from the client as defined in step 2 above);
Prototype: In this second last step mock-ups are made, storyboards created, keeping it simple with a fail fast mentality as the team iterates quickly based on the collective thought process and user input;
Test: The step is characterized by ensuring that impediments to the use of the prototype are understood and dealt with decisively, making sure to understand what works and what doesn’t, placing yourself in the client personas created in step 2 to understand further understand the end-user experience and most importantly this is where client input is key in order to allow for the quick iteration of the solution created by the team.
The legal industry is there for solving problems. People come to lawyers to solve their legal problems and, in some instances, lawyers are compensated to prevent a problem from occurring through advising and drafting contracts.
Legal Design Thinking, as a process, is a challenge to implement in the industry. This is because at its core it requires a human-centred approach, one which goes squarely against the typical lawyer archetype that, to function at their optimum, a lawyer must not become emotionally involved in their clients’ problems, but rather focus on the problem itself.
One of the challenges of Legal Design Thinking is the collaborative nature of the process. As lawyers we often function in silos, wanting perfection for fear of e.g. our papers being thrown out of court for a mistake. Another challenge is the hourly fee billing model which obviously begs the question, “Who has time for Legal Design Thinking?”
Some of the benefits of Legal Design Thinking can be seen in different industries in the form of Business Value and more on this can be seen in the following reports from different industries such as IDEO (Creative Difference Model)and via McKinsey (Business Value of Design). These benefits include better product or service quality, greater levels of efficiency, faster speed to market and greater profitability, to name a few.
Much like most of what I write, the hope truly is that in the legal industry we be forced to look into different ways of doing law in the pursuit of making the law more accessible, this is in line with one of the objectives in the Legal Practice Act, the act which governs the South African legal profession.
With the advent of innovative African startups springing up in the legal industry, there continues to be a need to remain relevant and have competitive advantage and one of those ways is by finding innovative ways in performing legal tasks and addressing client needs.
Yours in Innovation,
Co-founder and CEO of #lenomalegal
Admitted Attorney of the High Court SA and Legal Technology & Innovation Specialist
Council Member of the University of the Free State
2016 Top 5 QuickBooks Mompreneur Finalist of the Year
2017 University of the Free State Young Alumnus of the Year
2018 Inspiring Fifty Women in STEM Winner
2019 Mandela Washington Fellow
2019 Total SA Top 15 StartUpper of the Year
2019 WOZA-Women in Law Awards Runner Up for Best Woman Technology Lawyer of the Year
2020 Top 100 Most Influential Young South Africans
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