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06 September 2017

The Rise of the Human-Centred Lawyer

Published on 06 September 2017

Lisa Leong and Tristan Forrester specialise in lawyers looking for a new way to work. As CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of Ohten APAC, Lisa and Tristan are constantly evolving new approaches to how lawyers work, driven by design thinking, innovation sprints and effective cross-team collaboration to achieve gains in productivity. These efforts do equate to solid results; their work with Telstra Legal saved 40,000 lawyer hours and won multiple innovation awards. Recently, Lisa and Tristan presented at the inaugural CLI Breakfast Series, held at The College of Law in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Insights presents highlights from the event. 

“We started working in the area of client-centred innovation within our law firm,” said Lisa. “In the last year, we’ve taken our little experiment and spun it out.”

The pair entered Telstra during a time of significant uncertainty.

“There were consultants in Telstra asking every team for efficiency; Telstra was under serious productivity pressure. Staff felt their budgets were being cut, year on year, to zero. Work spilled into evenings and weekends. Technology and change was happening, but staff didn’t quite know what to do with it. Fast forward to today, and Telstra Legal is leading the whole organisation in terms of innovation.” Indeed, Harvard has written a case study on what Telstra Legal did to change culture and push productivity, and how this was achieved. Much of these lessons form the core of what Lisa and Tristan do for lawyers and law firms.

“Design thinking is a problem-solving technique,” explained Tristan. “From a legal perspective, it is human-centred. Consider a door. How many doors have you walked up to and instinctively pushed when you need to pull? We shouldn’t as a user feel like we’re stupid – the design is flawed. Good design would mean the door was easy to use.

“As lawyers, we can sometimes do the same thing to our clients. We can make them feel stupid, and as a result, we can make it difficult for them to interact with us.

Having been a consultant for over a decade, Tristan admitted that he initially came to design thinking with a healthy scepticism. However, he has found it to achieve practical results from lawyers because of what he described as ‘the lawyer mindset.’

According to studies cited by Tristan and Lisa, the ‘lawyer mindset’ is reflected by the general strengths and traits of lawyers – abstract reasoning (82%), scepticism (90%), autonomy (89%), urgency (71%), sociability (7%) and resilience (30%).

“This is the general trend of what our legal training brings out in us as lawyers,” said Lisa. In terms of being a good lawyer, these are positive attributes – identifying risks, finding mistakes, working independently to perfect a document. However, in terms of determining what a client really wants, turning a one-time client into a repeat client, or extending client spend on legal services, these traits are not especially helpful.

“The challenges of working in our professional environment – working in teams, managing people, innovation, creative thinking, team work, experimentation – are not typical to the lawyer mindset,” said Lisa.

To help shift traits innate to ‘the lawyer mindset’, Lisa and Tristan ran a series of exercises with attendees designed to encourage positive, creative ideas built by a team, rather than one team member. This included a ‘plan a party’ exercise, in which attendees planned a party in pairs by each making a suggestion, to which the other would respond, ‘yes, and’, adding a suggestion which contributed to and expanded upon the original idea. Other exercises required participants to embrace, and even celebrate, failure, and engage in an empathy role play focused on a senior member of a law firm.

The benefits of this approach are highly tangible. For example, a team formed as part of the Telstra Innovation Forum were tasked with reducing meeting times - and cut meeting times by 52%.

“They tried moving things to email – this didn’t work. They wrote some guidelines around meetings – this didn’t work. So they set a meeting budget – a maximum of four hours for lawyer-only meetings. Restricting supply improved meeting discipline,” said Tristan. “People started doing things like sending agendas and explaining the purpose of meetings, because people calling meetings needed to persuade others to come. Telstra created a solution that worked for their culture.”

For more events and workshops run by the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI), or to find out more about what the CLI does, visit their website.