Note from Joshua Kubicki | Adjunct Professor: I believe in transparency and open networks where information flows freely. When I began designing this course I knew that I was starting a journey that would develop over time. For this class I knew it was vital to allow the students to express themselves and share their POVs with you the reader as I have done from the beginning. As this class comes to an end in the coming weeks, I wanted to learn from the students what they thought the usability and value of this class is. I wanted to know so that I could apply this learning to future instances of this class (which there will be) as well as share it openly - the good and the bad. I will share a few over the next week or so. As always I welcome reactions and thoughts on any of this.
Positive Personal Value
By Taylor Budnick
When I registered for this class I had no idea what “Design Thinking for Legal Services” meant, but I liked that the class was offered in the evenings so that I could continue working at a law firm on Tuesday afternoons. Basically, I walked into class that first Tuesday evening with no expectations, save for my enthusiasm for night classes and a sense of optimism that only law students who enroll in a law school course without a single casebook on the syllabus could relate to.
Looking back, my eager anticipation for a class on the completely foreign topic of Design Thinking was warranted. I have always been a person who thinks visually, enjoys any opportunity to be creative, and prioritizes the maintenance of my relationships. The legal profession is appealing to me because it is one of the few fields that is, in my opinion, wholly centered around human relationships. What I now know about Design Thinking is that it is user-centered, and that the relationships between each person involved in a given service matters. Why is this concept usable or valid in the legal profession? Because in my opinion, the legal profession is centered around human relationships, so it makes sense to approach the legal profession from a perspective that keeps in mind the various relationships involved and lives affected. Whether you are serving as a litigator, an advocate, a judge, jury, professor, or casebook author, it is nearly impossible to do your job without some degree of human interaction. Yet for many outsiders, the legal profession is regarded as something foreign, out of touch, or self-motivated. The legal profession can benefit from using the principles of design thinking as a way of identifying archaic practices and negative stereotypes and subsequently develop to become more in-line with the modern world.
In addition to usability, the validity of this course cannot be overlooked. This course served to not only validate my way of thinking as not being completely spastic, but also to validate in a broader sense the reality that there is not one single correct way of solving a problem, or even identifying a problem for that matter. Unlike my peers, with their twenty-page outlines typed in 12-point Times New Roman font and highlighted just so, my finals preparation has always been a bit more eclectic. I have an affinity for creating outline “trees” made up of post-it notes on my walls, and use flashcards in a way that is reminiscent of the childhood game, memory, so that I can visualize how different concepts literally stack up. What I have learned this semester is that there is a term of art to describe the way I have been thinking all along. Everyone says that you go to law school to “think like a lawyer,” but what I have learned, and what I think others should know, is that there isn’t just one way of thinking like a lawyer.
What I appreciated the most about this course and what I think law schools, students, and lawyers can all benefit from, is the idea that life is not compartmentalized, so why do we compartmentalize services in favor of taking a holistic perspective more in line with real life. Through the reading, and specifically the chapters that laid out countless tools to identify, reevaluate, and approach problems, and to hypothesize, measure, and implement solutions, using real-world examples, and through the course of the design project, the biggest take away for me is the importance of thinking outside of the box and not writing an idea, encounter, or method off as being irrelevant before taking the time to reflect on the big picture. In the legal profession especially, we are taught to focus on solving problems in a very specific way, through case studies and briefing casing and writing memos. We learn this specific roadmap/formula our first year of law school and are wired to think in terms of first identifying the holding, followed by the Court’s reasoning, and the applicable rule of law, so the issue with law school is that it teaches us to ignore all other information as irrelevant. We are taught to disregard these values entirely or if they are to be considered, only as an afterthought, so it is hard to fault practicing lawyers for a lack of empathy or not being in-tune with the emotions of their clients. Design thinking ideas are, therefore, an asset to the law school curriculum, so that future lawyers can get into the habit of approaching the law with more empathy and less rigidity, so that ultimately the legal profession can improve to be more effective and well regarded from the client’s perspective.
Neutral Personal Value
By Ryan Gomez
First off, I find a lot of value and practical application in design thinking as applied to law and law school. As applied to law school, I’ve found tremendous value in gaining an understanding of how law firms work as a business. I expect that it will pay dividends as a starting attorney when making decisions what action to take or not take, while keeping the client at the forefront of my decisiona process. Empathy for persons is easy, but empathy for business is more difficult, and this class helped me gain empathy for organizational clients and the business of law. Law students and lawyers tend to see the world as legal issues. Design thinking helps to break that pattern by providing a process-oriented framework for approaching problems; as a former professor use to say “there are no legal problems, only people problems.”
In the legal industry, design thinking concepts are already being implemented, although under the umbrella of LEAN. Design thinking and LEAN share almost identical processes, except that LEAN concerns itself more with operational efficiency and design thinking concerns itself with client service. Both put the client first to some degree, but I suspect the design thinker would be more willing to forgo short-term revenue for long-term client satisfaction. Design thinking is currently a harder sell to law firms, but I suspect it will win out in the long term.
I give short shrift to the benefits of design thinking because, while I find the process invaluable from a managerial and normative perspective, I doubt its usability as a starting attorney and law student in the current paradigm of the legal industry. Whatever law school is supposed to teach you—and as a 3L on law review, I’m still not sure—design thinking has little application to traditional course work. Sure, empathy with a defendant in criminal procedure is important, but I doubt you’ll score points on an exam by pointing out that the unconstitutional search was “unfair” to the defendant who probably never understood that the search was unlawful in the first place.
Obviously this class is not about traditional law school course work. It’s about bridging the gap between coursework and the practice of law. But, to the new attorney, I again doubt the usability design thinking given the current paradigm of the legal industry. Managing partners are not looking for fresh law school graduates to come into the firm and completely redesign the practice and culture that has made the firm successful. In fact, I suspect that would be quickest way to find oneself unemployed. Whatever heuristic managing partners have found successful in their practice is what they expect associate attorneys to emulate. Design thinking currently fits within 0% of the managing partner’s heuristic—save for Seyfarth Shaw, but even then it’s probably still too new to be called a heuristic—at best it is an approach that promises to provide value given the trajectory of the legal industry.
This poses the biggest challenge to students of Design Thinking for Lawyers. How does a new attorney, outfitted with managerial thinking that has not taken root in many law firms to date, exemplify those skills to a law firm that wants neither a managing partner nor a change in their practice? It’s a tough sell. Design thinking for lawyers is structured as a “big picture” class, and is comprised (I would imagine) with students who are likewise “big picture” thinkers. For those that plan on hanging their own shingle, design thinking is probably invaluable, but if you’re like most law students and plan on joining a firm, design thinking probably has little usability, at least initially.
Where do we go from here?
By Brandon McNeal
Unlike any other law school course, Design Thinking for Legal Services has allowed me to think in a completely different way. For the first time in law school, I was taught the real value of empathy and encouraged to explore creative solutions without limitations. It was also the first time that I was allowed to really approach a subject while keeping the big picture in mind. And while I appreciate the introduction to the design thinking discipline, I think that there is plenty of room for expansion and improvement. But I worry that our law school will be reluctant to expand this course since it is already one of the few law schools to even teach this material.
Coming into this course, I was pretty much a blank slate in terms of business knowledge. Each week, I learned some foundational material about design thinking principles and ideas. But our class only met once a week and there is only so much material that can be covered in that amount of time. Therefore, it felt like it took me five or six weeks to even appreciate and understand the basic design thinking ideas and how they all fit together. A main tenet of design thinking is that it encourages a hands-on approach that involves testing and retesting ideas. But you cannot begin applying these principles until you have a basic understanding of the terminology and principles.
That is why I believe that a two-day workshop before the semester is critical for this course to reach its full potential. If students are able to get a basic understanding of what design thinking is about during this workshop, it will allow class time to be used more productively. This would allow a design challenge to be introduced an earlier point in the semester.
Speaking of the design challenge, I think that is one of the best ways to actually get students to apply the skills that we are learning in this course. Our class was able to gain tremendous insight into the Insurance Defense world just by listening to representatives from the Insurance company as well as the defense law firm. However, it was difficult to truly get a sense of how specific processes were working just by hearing them described by the Insurance company or law firm. It would have been extremely helpful if we were actually able to shadow an insurance defense claim as it traveled throughout the entire process. Often times, spending time within the walls of an organization is the best way to develop a clear picture of what is and is not working. It is very difficult to improve or alter a process when you do not have a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of how that process works. Shadowing would also help us identify areas where the Insurance company and law firm say that they are doing one thing yet are doing something different in reality. But as a three-credit course, it would be unrealistic to expect our class to be able to have those types of experiences.
This is why I would advocate that our law school develop the first design-thinking clinic. This clinic could work in conjunction with small local law firms or new legal startups that are looking to improve how they deliver legal services and manage information. Additionally, student in these clinics could help them think of new ways to solve problems and connect with clients. Since the firms and startups would be local, it would allow the students to actually spend some time in their work environment and get a better gauge on how the current processes work. This clinical experience would also allow students to actually gain tangible experience and form personal connections with professionals in the legal field. The clinic should be worth 4-6 credits so that students could actually devote a substantial amount of time to implementing and testing their ideas. If these changes were actually implemented, I believe that our law school could become one of the pioneers for reforming law school curriculum for the 21st century.