Design Thinking for the Legal Profession

The fundamentals of design thinking, identifying both challenges and opportunities for including design in the delivery of legal services.

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  • Publication date: November, 2019
  • Pages: 100
  • ISBN: 978-1-78358-384-3


There has never been a more exciting time to practice law.

While artificial intelligence promises to minimize mundane tasks, clients’ legal issues are becoming more complex. But, to successfully navigate these changes, legal professionals must better develop and exercise their creative problem-solving skills. For decades, companies in other industries have

refined techniques to better understand their customers’ needs, uncover insights, and develop new-to-the-world ideas, which are now products and services we use every day.

Organizations have concluded that successfully adopting these methods, known as Design Thinking, have greater financial returns than pursuing more traditional ways of operating.

As the legal industry grapples with increased complexity, accelerated market deadlines, and budget constraints, design thinking holds promise to create a more delightful client experience while also increasing profitability.


Chapter 1: What is Design Thinking?

By Lann Wasson, associate director of legal project management, and Rebecca Holdredge, innovations manager, Husch Blackwell

Chapter 2: Designing lawyers down from their ivory tower

By John Alber, futurist

Chapter 3: Using emotional empathy and design thinking to define user-centered service needs

By Meghann Barloewen and Jason Dirkx, Littler Mendelson

Chapter 4: Why design thinking in law?

By Nicola Shaver, managing director, innovation and knowledge, Paul Hastings LLP

Chapter 5: Design thinking – a legal industry imperative

By Zena Applebaum, director of customer insights and engagement, Thomson Reuters Canada Legal Tax and Accounting

Chapter 6: Legal Lean Sigma® Design

By Catherine Alman MacDonagh, CEO and founder, Legal Lean Sigma® Institute LLC

Chapter 7: From enthusiasm to execution: the growing legal design community

By Josh Kubicki, founder, Bold Duck Studio

Chapter 8: Learning to see – how to develop new insights for services

By Lann Wasson, associate director of legal project management, Husch Blackwell

Chapter 9: The legal design jam

By Tess Blair, litigator and legal entrepreneur, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Chapter 10: How design thinking makes for good business development

By Mark Beese, president, Leadership for Lawyers

Chapter 11: When the customer isn’t always right – designing for user needs, rather than asks

By Amani Smathers, senior legal solutions architect at Davis Wright Tremaine, and Amy Monaghan, practice innovations manager at Perkins Coie

Chapter 12: Quick and dirty – tactics for leveraging design thinking in your daily work

By Andy Peterson and Kate White, Design Build Legal

Chapter 13: Counter-intuitive practices: how to master the design thinking mindset

By Mark Beese, president, Leadership for Lawyers

Chapter 14: Practical approaches for making service design work in a global law firm

By Alex Smith, global product lead, iManage RAVN

Chapter 15: The designer’s dilemma

By Duncan Hart, Duncan Hart Consulting

Full Overview


Catherine Alman MacDonagh, JD
Catherine is a former corporate counsel and law firm executive. She now teaches and provides training and consulting services with a focus on marketing and business development, strategy, process improvement, project management, and operational and process excellence. In her practice, FIRM Guidance, she serves as “trusted advisor to the trusted advisors,” whether training, coaching, or developing competitive advantages. She is also Chief Enthusiasm Officer of Mocktails LLC, which offers experiential networking training programs, including The Legal Mocktail. A Legal Lean Sigma® Black Belt and a certified Six Sigma Green Belt, Catherine is the CEO and a Founder of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute, which offers consulting and the first and only process improvement and project management certifications, courses, and workshops designed specifically for the legal profession. Catherine is an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law School and at George Washington University (Master’s in Law Firm Management) and a frequent guest lecturer at other academic institutions. She is the author of Lean Six Sigma for Law Firms and the co-author of The Woman Lawyer's Rainmaking Game and The Law Firm Associate's Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills. She is a contributing author to six books: Redefining Matter Management: A Best Practice Guide to Improving Processes and Profitability; The Lawyer’s Guide to Project Management; The Bigger Picture: Driving Client Value Through Collaboration; The Lawyer’s Guide to Process Improvement; and The Procurement Handbook. Catherine is a founder of both the Coalition of Professional Services Providers and the Legal Sales and Service Organization, which presents the annual LSSO’s RainDance Conference. Honors and awards Catherine has received include: Fellow, College of Law Practice Management; Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame (the association’s highest honor); Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40; two years on the prestigious MLF 50 (Marketing the Law Firm Top 50) List; and several Legal Marketing Association Your Honor Awards. 
Zena Applebaum
Zena Applebaum is a competitive intelligence strategist, legal blogger, personal brand advocate, and trying to change the legal industry one design thinking workshop at a time. Having been one of the early pioneers of law firm competitive intelligence nearly 20 years ago, and authoring Business Intelligence for Law Firms published in November 2012, Zena shares her passion for the industry as a speaker, writer, and a contributor to blogs, including 3 Geeks and a Law Blog with topics ranging from competitive intelligence to change management, qualitative data analysis and personal branding. In 2015, Zena was inducted as a Fellow of the Council of CI Fellows and has been a sessional instructor at the University of Toronto iSchool, Rutgers University and a guest lecturer at law schools across North America. Zena honed her CI skills as the director of competitive intelligence at Bennett Jones LLP for over a decade prior to taking on her current role as national director, market insights and engagement at Thomson Reuters in Canada. In her role, Zena is responsible for client feedback and intelligence, market insights, and sales enablement.
Tess Blair
Tess Blair is a litigator and legal entrepreneur who has practiced at the intersection of law, technology, and design for more than two decades. Tess is the founder and leader of Morgan Lewis’s eData practice, a About the authors x About the authors data-driven practice that combines great lawyering with technology and design to enhance the delivery of legal services. A practicing litigator, Tess serves as national discovery counsel to some of the world’s largest organizations alongside her client’s trial counsel, and as a core member of the litigation team, she develops and executes all aspects of the client’s discovery strategy as well as optimizes her client’s evidence gathering, analysis, and presentation. Tess counsels a host of Fortune 500 companies, conducting risk assessments and guiding her clients as they develop internal information governance policies and controls to address privacy, security, retention, and disposition of information and data. As leader of eData, Tess works with her team, her colleagues, and clients to design and develop tools and techniques to improve the delivery of legal services. The eData team uses process design, automation, UX, product design, application development, machine learning, and augmented intelligence tools to develop technology, process, and service solutions built to meet our clients’ needs. Tess lectures regularly on civil procedure, eDiscovery, and data privacy – including cross-border discovery and data minimization – and writes frequently on eDiscovery, information governance, and data privacy for a variety of legal publications. She is the lead author of the eData Deskbook, currently in its third edition. Tess also serves as Special Discovery Master to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Rebecca Holdredge
Rebecca  Holdredge  is  the  innovations  manager  at  Husch  Blackwell  and  an  experienced  data  scientist,  attorney  and  Six  Sigma  Black  Belt.  Rebecca  leads  the  firm’s  innovation  advisory  team  and  the  associates  legal  innovation  team  and  encourages  attorneys  to  create  a  culture  of  innovation,  efficiency,  and  quality  by  developing  best  practices  and  leveraging  technology.    She  also  engages  with  clients  and  in-house  counsel  to  better  understand  their  needs,  develop  relationships,  and  collaborate on innovative and effective solutions.  Rebecca is well versed in  the  approach  and  techniques  of  design  sprints  to  encourage  more  collaborative ideation and experimentation. 
Nicola Shaver
Nicola Shaver is the managing director of innovation and knowledge at Paul Hastings, LLP. Her interest in design thinking was sparked in 2015 when she participated in one of Margaret Hagan’s workshops and witnessed the power of empathy and user-centric design to solve problems in a more meaningful way. Since then, Nicola has introduced design thinking at two major law firms, both as an internal driver of change and as an external tool for improving client service and xi Design Thinking for the Legal Profession engagement. Nicola is an IDEO-trained design thinking facilitator, and a 2019 graduate of the Helsinki Brainfactory Legal Design Workshop (in association with the Legal Design Summit). She is also the founder of the Legal Innovation and Design Association (LID), a support and education network for innovation professionals in US law firms with an interest in service design methodologies.  
Lann Wasson
Lann Wasson is the associate director of legal project management at Husch Blackwell LLP and is both a certified project management professional and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. For the past 18 years he has worked closely with client teams and practice groups in their use of technology, legal project management and approaches to business model and product design. Over the years, Lann has also worked with in-house counsel to discuss how to adapt the firm’s technology platforms to their needs, as well as suggest how legal project management could augment law department programs and strategies. In 2017 and 2018 the ACC recognized two of these client projects as Value Champions.
John Alber
John Alber serves as Futurist for the International Legal Technology Association and for the Institute for the Future of Law Practice. He writes, speaks and consults on the need to reshape the delivery of legal services to suit a future demanding excellence far beyond substantive legal skills.  John has served as a transportation industry CEO, as a practicing attorney and as a law firm leader. During his 16 year tenure as Bryan Cave’s Strategic Innovation Partner, that firm came to be recognized as one of the most innovative law firms in the world. While at Bryan Cave, he also served for 7 years on the firm's Operating Group (its management committee). At Bryan Cave, John created one of the first practice economics consulting groups, one of the first client facing software development groups, and one of the first in-firm legal process outsourcing (LPO) organizations. The groups he created developed innovative web-based, client-centric applications that delivered legal advice to clients, managed complex workflows and even created pleadings automatically. They also developed client-facing knowledge management, project management, project estimation and business intelligence systems and highly technology- leveraged alternative staffing solutions for engagements of all types.  John is an Emeritus fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He has received a number of awards, both in the legal field and in information technology generally. Among other awards, he received ILTA's first ever Premiership Award, was named American Lawyer Media’s first ever ‘Champion of Technology', was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Law Technology News and recognized as one of the ‘Top 25 CTOs’ in the world by Infoworld. In addition, while under his leadership, Bryan Cave received recognition as a CIO Magazine ‘Top 100 Company' and was twice recognized as ILTA’s Most Innovative Firm
Josh Kubicki
Chief Strategy Officer, Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Duncan Hart
Duncan Hart practiced as a barrister and solicitor for over 20 years before becoming the regional managing director of one of Australasia’s largest firms with over 2,000 employees. He became a full-time consultant in 2002. His various consultancies have taken him from Silicon Valley to Shanghai, and his clients include not only law firms, but a wide cross-section of industry groups, including manufacturing, health, education, and IT. Duncan’s first book, The Strategic Law Firm (Ark Group, 2010), argued the case for a more strategic approach to law firm management, and in particular the adoption of the types of strategic planning tools and methodologies that he had seen in operation in many of his clients’ industry sectors. More recently, his background in intellectual property has led him to explore more closely the role of disruptive technologies and business models in various sectors, including law, patent attorney, and other professions. Many of his recent assignments involve the so-called “start-up” sector, and larger more mature industries where clients are seeking to develop innovation-based strategies in fields as diverse as bio-tech and logistics. In all his assignments, Duncan draws from a rich palette of industry and professional experience, and he is committed to the belief that law firms, like any other business, have much to learn from other sectors, particularly in the area of innovation-based strategy. In short, they should be encouraged to experiment to find new, and hopefully better, solutions for both the firm and their clients. Duncan can be contacted via email at
Mark Beese
Mark Beese is president of Leadership for Lawyers, LLC, a consultancy focused on helping lawyers become better leaders and business developers. He provides training, coaching and consultation to firms in the areas of leadership development, business development and marketing with law firms across North America. His clients range from small, single office firms to global Amlaw 100 firms. Mark serves as on-call faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, primarily involved in the design and delivery of bespoke and open enrolment leadership development programs for professionals, including lawyers, accountants, consultants and executives. He focuses on issues of change leadership, team development, influence, cross-generation issues, collaboration, innovation and design thinking. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. In 2014 he was inducted into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame, one of only 25 leaders to have received this honor.
Meghann Barloewen
An attorney in Littler Mendelson's Knowledge Management department, Meghann Barloewen collaborates with subject matter experts, practice groups and other firm departments in the creation and management of innovative client services in all areas of labor and employment law. Significant areas of focus include new development and content sustainment of the HR applications for Littler's award-winning joint venture, ComplianceHR. Meghann also leads the development of other technology solutions, including risk analysis and document automation applications, workflow processing tools, and other educational materials.  As Knowledge Management counsel, Meghann frequently draws upon her prior experience in advice and counsel work and litigation experience defending employers in a broad range of employment matters.
Jason Dirkx
Jason Dirkx, knowledge management counsel at Littler Mendelson, focuses on identifying and integrating new knowledge management technologies with the firm's legal work processes. He works with attorneys, practice groups, other knowledge management attorneys and clients in an effort to provide innovative client services in all areas of labor and employment law. Jason has worked for several other law firms, developing and globally deploying legal technologies and services. Prior to law school, he worked as a software engineer, developing military planning and readiness software for US Strategic Command (US STRATCOM) and the Department of Defense.
Amy Monaghan
Amy Monaghan is practice innovations manager at Perkins Coie. As a member of the Knowledge Management team, Amy works side-by-side with practice groups and clients to design, develop, and implement innovative solutions, particularly those involving artificial intelligence, document automation tools, and logical reasoning systems. Amy is responsible for educating the firm and its clients on the availability and capabilities of legal technology and is a frequent speaker on these topics.
Andy Peterson
Andy Peterson has spent a decade throwing himself into designing better experiences for law firm clients – more transparent, more collaborative, and more efficient, where decision-making is driven by data as much as by gut feeling. One of the original contributors to Davis Wright Tremaine’s De Novo effort, Andy is proud of how he and his peers took innovation at that firm from a collection of grassroots projects, to a firm-supported initiative for internal improvement, and finally to a client-focused effort to drive revenue, client loyalty, and brand awareness. Andy thrives on working directly with clients to design technology and staffing initiatives that solve some of their most difficult legal and business challenges.
R. Amani Smathers
R. Amani Smathers is the senior legal solutions architect at Davis Wright Tremaine. Amani works directly with clients and partners to design solutions to legal business challenges. She specializes in process improvement methods, document automation tools, and developing simple systems to manage workflows and turn data into actionable insights. Her favorite projects are those where she sees her work make a real, positive impact on a team’s workloads and outcomes.
Alex Smith
Alex Smith is global product lead for iManage RAVN, delivering search, next generation legal data and using AI techniques to extract insight from data used in legal work. He heads up the product team, working closely with customers. Alex previously worked at Reed Smith LLP, leading the firm’s Innovation Hub program. He headed up a physical and virtual program of client-centric ideas-generation and rethinking of legal service design. Based in London, he managed activities in the Innovation Hub, Reed Smith’s unique space for co-creation with clients using service design and innovation techniques. As a user-centric design practitioner, Alex puts the client at the heart of everything he does. He has two decades of experience interacting with lawyers in law firms and inhouse teams to design new products and technologies, primarily as innovation and new product lead at LexisNexis.
Kate White
Kate White trained as a lawyer, with a background in leading business development efforts in AmLaw 100 firms. She now works with law firm leaders to gather client insights to inform their firms’ business and investment strategies. Her experience supporting corporate legal teams in developing Outside Counsel Management Programs and updated Outside Counsel Guidelines allows Kate to serve as a bridge between what clients want and what their law firms can provide. Kate has served as "chief of staff" to several law firm leaders, advising them on strategy, internal messaging, external marketing, launching and growing new practice areas, and delivering value-added services. She thrives at helping client teams seize opportunities to design client-centered solutions and secure new work. Kate was a founding member of Davis Wright Tremaine’s innovation effort, DWT De Novo, having helped shape the investment and marketing strategy that led to the firm’s recognition as ILTA’s Innovative Law Firm of the Year two years in a row.

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