The legal industry is a very competitive environment and law helps shape that environment. In fact, law affects the five forces (Porters, 2008) by developing and determining industry competitors, buyer and supplier power, new entrants, and substitutes. In order to stay competitive law firms need to better understand and characterize the industry environment. Therefore, they need to innovate to compete and adapt to socioeconomic factors. Innovation, begins by thinking of solutions that are challenging your business. This means law firms must collaborate with and create a legal design that will improve its internal and external strategy. Where do law firms start? Design thinking.
Despite popular opinion design thinking is nothing new. Design thinking has been in existence for generations creating some of the most innovative products through human-centric approaches. For example, in the twentieth century, Henry Ford used design thinking to create the Model-T car in 1908. Ten years later he introduced the world to the first moving assembly line (Britannica, 2018). Henry Ford was an innovator of his time as he understood how to move beyond the constraints of standardized industry methods and meet end user needs. At its core design thinking is a creative problem solving process used to break down barriers between itself and its end users by creating valuable new products. In order for this to be effective firms must develop an interest in observing the environment they are in and in its consumers that the products are designed for.
This applies to the legal industry now more than ever. Due to the current social conditions it could be argued that the legal industry is not currently equipped or astute enough to deal with the unpredictable social environment. Meaning, that within the field of law, managers have to communicate effectively with attorneys to solve complicated cases and business affairs. That does not mean that managers are not currently managing that task, however managers and lawyers must be proactive in making informed judgments. Informed judgments will help identify and address the strengths and weaknesses of a firm to become more effective and efficient to create valuable products.
Design Thinking and the Legal Industry
That said, law firms can apply design thinking to build stronger client relationships, create economic value, and attract new clients. Lawyers have to think differently business wise because lets face it, even lawyers get it wrong sometimes. By thinking differently law firms can employ outside business consultants to analyze the current industry environment. In other words, assess the market and integrate new ideas. For example, four years ago Rebecca L. Sandefur did a civil justice study (Sanderfur, 2014) on the American public that revealed most people that have a legal problem do not know that they actually have one. That means law firms are failing to meet the needs of the end user and meet people where they are. Moreover, that study revealed the systemic problem within the American legal system.
Design thinking can help law firms collaborate with experts from other industries to design a way to better understand human behavior and meet the needs of the end user. One way for law firms to do this is by assessing their internal alignment with external needs by asking, what are our capabilities and are we reaching our target market? What does our target market want? Are we offering the products and services to that market? Are we testing the market? Regardless of the answers to those questions evaluate yourself and the market. Be innovative and leverage your firm to be successful like Ford.