Legal design is a new way of thinking about legal services and end-products and using design disciplines to make the law more useful and humane.
In this article, I tackle two influential ideas from a legal design viewpoint:
1. lawyers are not client-centric; and
2. lawyers should listen to their clients.
Both ideas have gained wide acceptance, and they have essentially become truisms. Contrary to the foregoing, I argue that lawyers are rather client-centric and eager to listen to their clients – they are just lacking in tools and methods in converting their empathy to measurable client value.
What lawyers are lacking are the skills and tools to convert empathy into value for the client.
Legal Design. Why Listening To Your Client Is Not Enough
Legal design is a new way of thinking about legal services and end-products, along with design disciplines to make the law more useful and humane. Legal design combines different design disciplines. It can be described as cross-pollination between law, technology and design. Legal design encourages external and internal collaboration and creates a structure to allow people to work better together.
The key to all design processes is having a deep empathy with the people that you are designing for. Modern psychology defines empathy as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Empathy is the ability to place oneself in another’s position.
Lawyers are often criticized for lacking empathy and being a bit tone-deaf. Lawyers should listen to their clients and be more client-centric! Listening to your client is the key to being innovative and producing client-friendly solutions, right?
However, from my personal experience, lawyers are exceptionally client-centric, and they are often interested in the actual business of the client. Lawyers are known to go to unhealthy lengths to please their clients, working long hours, and pulling all-nighters at the office. I would argue that most lawyers are emphatic – and they would love to build meaningful and long-lasting client relationships and bring value to their clients.
Empathy is also being responsive: we notice you, we listen to you, and most importantly, we act with you. What lawyers are lacking are the skills and tools to convert empathy into value for the client. In addition to listening to clients, lawyers need to deliver. In this sense, we are listening to our clients, but we are not hearing them. There exists a significant gap between what our clients are demanding and what we are delivering to them. So how might we change this? How can lawyers convert empathy into something tangible?
One solution is to look for different methods of performing legal work. The practice of law has traditionally been a top-down, hierarchic and expert-led. Top-down work is done based on previous experience of professionals, in relative isolation. The focus is on efficiency.
Top-down work is closely connected with the most-used billing method of the law firms, hourly billing. Hourly billing forces lawyers to be efficient and quick – to spend minimum time on the revisions of the documentation.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong about the top-down approach to legal services. In some cases, it might even be the correct mindset for delivering legal advice. The top-down process might be quick, cost-effective, and reliable in some situations. However, the top-down method generally suits only cases where the problems are relatively tame and soluble, and the answers are off-the-shelf.
Iterative work is more focused on value. Iterations work towards the goal – the implementation of the service or release of the product. These stages usually result in a prototype, that is then tested, analyzed, and improved. The client feedback can be collected, interpreted, and implemented into future products and services. It gives us the possibility to explore different options, test our ideas, and measure the results.
Instead of focusing on getting something right the first time, iterative processes emphasize continuous improvement. If the goal is to do something innovative or radically different, we must accept the fact that the possibilities of getting it right the first time are very slim. We need to have some room for exploration and failure when aiming high.
The second solution might be to increase collaboration and diversity. Lawyers look at law from a single viewpoint. If you draft a contract with a team of 3 lawyers, you will get a legally reliable end-product. But if you have a team of three that includes a lawyer, a service designer, and an economist working together, using iterative processes, the outcome will be substantially different. Working in diverse teams and collaborating with people that have different experiences leads to designs that are more innovative and appeal to a broader audience.
Future work will be based on communication and collaboration, more than perspiration. The perspiration phase will get automated – it is just a matter of time. To paraphrase the late, great thinker Esko Kilpi: ”If you can do it alone, it will be automated”. Collaboration is an excellent way of ensuring that lawyers will still be relevant in the age of artificial intelligence.
Listening to your client is a great thing. But converting listening to significant value might require us to consider empathy also as a call of action. Collaboration and iterative methods may enable us to transform empathy into something that consistently exceeds the expectations of our clients.