Why You Need to Become a Design-Led Law Firm

You have probably noticed that marketing your law firm effectively now is a lot more complex than what it was.

As a lawyer who had driven a number of award-winning innovations, I founded Fast Firms close to 10 years ago to respond to both the complexity of innovating within the legal industry generally.

Little did I know that 7 years on what was then principally a web design company would metamorphose into a complete, holistic integrated marketing company working with firms internationally of all sizes from those publicly listed to small firms in regional locations on every marketing touch-point.

While the growth of digital, in particular, mobile has been a major game-changer, coinciding with this has of course been the tectonic shift occurring within the legal industry generally. Nearly every other sector ranging from transportation, to finance to accounting to the music industry have had to accept and quickly adapt to the age of change, which colloquially has been referred to as the uberisation (thanks George Beaton)of an industry.

Traditionally, law firms were quite reticent that their industry was somewhat immune to the paradigm shifts occurring elsewhere, commonly responding with the sentiments of ‘Technology is unsustainable’, ‘People want human interaction’ and ‘There will always be a need for a lawyer.’

While the latter may still ring true, the fact that technology has significantly altered the business of law is undeniable, resulting in a significant spike of firms incorporating technology into their service propositions — from blockchain to e-signatures to arbitration to artificial intelligence to data security to even understanding legal documents etc etc. If you’re able to imagine some facet of legal practice that can be automated, outsourced or artificially achieved, then it’s more than likely that a start-up, somewhere is working on it.

Gadens chairman Paul Spiro said last year that since the GFC, law firms have had to pull their “heads out of the sand”.

“The law industry tends to think it’s special. Retail, banking, manufacturing — all industries are going through disruption; we’re responding the way others are,” he said.

“The law firms that respond to that are the ones who will succeed.”

Now, you might be thinking that how does this all relate to the topic of marketing?

Significantly! Because what digital disruption is really doing, is simply responding to the shifting habits, customs and experiences of consumers. In marketing speak, the unique value proposition that you once posed to the market is likely not to garner the same traction it did 5 years ago, or even 12 months ago.

Take for example the accounting platform, Xero. After personally using Xero, the value proposition that a book-keeper needs to pose to me has to seriously compete with a platform that has multiple value propositions all converging to ultimately enhance the ease and accessibility of managing my own books.

It is these types of experiences, including live chat, chat-bots etc that we customarily experience day after day in accessing the services of other industries that we similarly expect from a law firm.

Hence why a conversation about marketing has to arise from a more broader assessment of the the forces driving change in the industry, the changing habits of your legal consumers, the business models that are successfully harnessing the change in and outside the legal industry and of course, the cultural willingness and capacity within your firm to recalibrate it accordingly.

If you’re serious about it, then the fundamental first step is to take a deep-dive into your firm and apply a design-thinking methodology.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking starts with your client’s needs and problems rather than with your own business needs and problems. It challenges traditional ‘supply-push’ models of innovation which involve businesses developing new products and services in isolation and then forcing them on customers through traditional marketing and selling strategies.

A design-led firm engages in what’s commonly referred to as a ‘pull-led’ innovation by actively listening to their clients, engaging with them on a day-to-day basis in understanding their needs and aspirations and involving them in the co-creation of the services, or dare I say it, the legal products that they will consume. Being design-led just doesn’t apply to the legal work, but rather the whole continuum of how a potential client, hears, touches, observes, contacts, interacts and ultimately becomes a client of your law firm. In this context, of course, tracking the map of how existing clients interact across your firm’s touchpoints is similarly just as important. I’ve worked with firms who are simply oblivious to this!

In contrast to a number of other strategic frameworks, design thinking involves starting from the other end of the client experience, working backwards to intimately engage with your clients and consequently, re-orientating your entire business model to ensure this predominant focus.

Recently in Lawyers Weekly, Allens chief legal and technology services officer Beth Patterson advises legal professionals to look at it as a value-add.

“Lawyers and law firms need to be open to the changes new technologies will inevitably bring in delivering more efficient and innovative legal services to their clients,” she says.

“Technology on its own is not the holy grail, but it is an enabler for helping solve clients’ business problems.

“Law firms need to embrace some design thinking principles to build a culture that is flexible, accepts experimentation and supports some failures. They need to embrace multidisciplinary skills to assess technologies to distinguish the hype from the reality. They also need to move quicker than they are probably used to, listen to their clients and take some risks.”

King & Wood Mallesons executive director of innovation Michelle Mahoney agrees, saying that while technology has not taken away the traditional role of the lawyer, it has significantly enhanced it.

“It has enhanced the role of an expert, creating a series of tools which enable and support both the delivery of the work [and] product, and support the physical independence of a lawyer, allowing quality delivery to be provided from different locations, times or formats,” she says.

Ms Mahoney adds that lawyers and law firms should be embracing and experimenting with technology as it hits the legal market, rather than being afraid of it.

“[Lawyers and law firms should] actively be digital-ready and seize the new opportunities as they emerge,” she says.

“By exposing or liberating the ideas of all our people, together we can respond to new client problems, economic models and emerging business models. We need to be maximising the opportunities new technology gives us for our clients and our people.

“Embracing new ideas and technology at the same pace as our clients [helps us] remain business-relevant. The digital revolution is not restricted to law, it affects all our clients and we need to be ready and experimenting with them.”

Now, from a digital marketing perspective what ultimately derives from the deployment of a design thinking framework is the design of every marketing touch-point that fulfils the objectives that have emanated out of your firm’s client-focused business strategy.

In other words, along with your journey of examining your target demographic, their needs and aspirations and your corresponding client-focused services or products, you’ll assess every touch-point along the way that interacts with your client from their first to final touch to ensure they live up to your recalibrated business model and objectives.

Each step is unique (and has its own series of steps) in the contributing factors for how your potential clients discover, analyze, choose and share. Invariably it follows the following steps:

  1. Awareness (becoming aware of your firm)
  2. Consideration (all the factors relating to your value proposition)
  3. Evaluation (the evaluation and comparison of your value proposition with that of competitors, not only those geographically close, but every potential competitor, particularly start-ups )
  4. Signing a Retainer or Purchasing your Legal Product (the process of on-boarding and validating the decision of the person becoming a client)
  5. Experience (every touch-point the client has with your firm or product in having their legal problem solved)
  6. Loyalty (how your firm engenders and creates loyalty with this client, keeping them close)
  7. Advocacy (the ways, means or incentives deployed by your firm in giving a happy client the ability to spread the word).

Through understanding the importance of the foregoing, you will no doubt appreciate the common absurdity of the majority of your competitors, large and small who jump too readily to getting a new website, getting more likes on Facebook, running some Adwords, publishing another blog-post without ever appreciating that marketing is a sub-set of a very big challenge that cannot, if it is to work successfully, be tackled in isolation.


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