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5 November 20225 minute read

DLA Design Thinking in context of the law

Written by: Jana Blount 

If design thinking methodology and the accompanying mindsets were applied throughout the legal system it would create a system that people could understand, engage with. 

Ultimately better serving its purpose of providing justice and fairness to everyone in the community. Contracts would serve their purpose of enabling secure business, people would understand their rights, duties and obligations, dispute processes would be more accessible and easier to navigate, and the courts could have better purpose built systems. 

Perhaps even more important, lawyers would be armed with a new way of engaging with their clients to provide legal advice that is more holistic and has their clients’ needs at the heart.  

This article outlines what design thinking is and how it has been implemented to the benefit of its users.

The four key stages of innovation:

  1. Ideation – finding and creating ideas to solve a problem or harness an opportunity
  2. Selection- narrowing down to a few ideas to further develop and invest
  3. Prototype or product development through experimentation
  4. Implementation or Commercialisation 

The stages of innovation utilise different techniques and measurements of success with design thinking sitting within the ideation and selection stages of the innovation lifecycle and partially through prototyping. 

Design thinking methodology includes key activities, such as: 

  1. identifying opportunities;
  2. creative idea generation; and 
  3. rapid experimentation.  

These steps should be done before creating a minimal viable product to ensure the proposed change or solution actually addresses the user(s) needs. 


Who is using Design Thinking?

Design Thinking has been used for decades with the term coined in 1969 by Nobel Prize laureate Herber A. Simon in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial.  Since then, design thinking has been used as a process and way of tackling complex, multidimensional problems. Companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google quickly adopted the methodology. Stanford, Harvard and Imperial College London are leading universities teaching the methodology in classes and offering graduate degrees in this space.  


Design Thinking, in a nutshell

Design Thinking is a human-centric methodology for creative problem solving.  The process is iterative and involves rapid prototyping and experimentation with the end-users’ needs always at the heart.  

The methodology consists of five key stages: 

  1. empathize
  2. define
  3. ideate
  4. prototype; and
  5. test.   

“The structure of design thinking creates a natural flow from research to rollout. Immersion in the customer experience produces data, which is transformed into insights, which help teams agree on design criteria they use to brainstorm solutions.”

Harvard Business Review

Changing mindsets to solve problems and innovate

The design thinking process involves approaches, techniques, and methods that not only enable human centred innovation, but encourage and create a shift in the problem solvers’ mindsets.

The design thinking process enables true innovation to occur. It dismantles prejudice, encourages more diverse and divergent thinking, it ensures ideas are tested quickly and most importantly ensures that all the ideas contain the customer or user at their centre. 


Prioritising your clients or users in the idea process

Desirability is a key element to design thinking. It comes before feasibility or viability.  Too often when groups come together to brainstorm a problem or leverage an opportunity, they start with what they’ve done in the past (feasible) or what they know they can afford (viable), leaving the potential users’ needs and desires to the end when they attempt to “sell” the new solution.

The design thinking process forces that prioritisation on its head with the early stages dedicated solely to understanding at a deep level what is needed and desired by people facing the challenge or who could take advantage of the opportunity at hand. 

“Its focus on the user, the client, the customer — in essence, the human, is key to its success. Not only does this mindset generate creative and highly valuable insight into how to address problems and opportunities, it also helps address the change management burden.”

Joshua Kubicki

Design thinking in Law

Design thinking methodology can be applied to create a new legal process, to create a new legal tech product, or to enhance the user experience of an existing process. 

Several law firms and law schools have begun utilising design thinking to enhance client experience, rethink legal processes and create new legal solutions. Perhaps the most prominent institution applying design thinking to the legal industry is Stanford D.School. Margaret Hagan runs the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School which focuses on the intersection of design, technology and law to create products providing more/wider access to justice and better legal systems.  

When redesigning legal products or processes it’s essential to put the people in need of justice at the heart of the work.  Design thinking methods ensure this is done at every step of the way.  


  • Wise Messenger, a tool that sends automated text messages to remind people of upcoming court appearances or important legal appointments. 
  • National legal help website for renters’ rights during COVID-19 provided, in plain English, renters’ rights around eviction, time to pay rent and any state protections they may have. 
Design thinking in law firms

Law firms are beginning to utilise design thinking processes as well.  We have rolled out design thinking training throughout the international firm to shift the culture and mindsets of our professionals.

Design thinking techniques and mindset empowers our people to engage in different conversations with our clients, to explore different areas of opportunities and promotes creative problem solving.  We can then leverage those conversations as a way of co-creating solutions to create value to their businesses.   

“By involving customers and other stakeholders in the definition of the problem and the development of solutions, design thinking garners a broad commitment to change.”

Harvard Business Review