LegalDesignGeek: doing it ourselves

Yesterday was day two of the three day LegalGeek London conference extravaganza. This was the Legal Design day. The venue was different; the numbers smaller; the style more participative; the energy as apparent; the subject as interesting and the value as great. LegalGeek have done us well.

The day was crisply organised. We began with an opening session of short presentations to set the scene. We were then taken through five linked group sessions and broken up into tables of five or six. A series of experts demonstrated various different practical approaches so that we could experience Legal Design from the inside. We had an overall problem to solve: how might we reorganise our firm to meet the challenge of  a large corporate client thinking of taking our work away. Since the point was to experience the process. Most of the participants, in my experience, were in-house counsel or private practice lawyers – somewhat different from the access to justice world that should get its moment today. 

I was impressed, though perhaps not particularly surprised, by the effectiveness of the approach. I have had enough experience of management training to appreciate the value of approaching issues visually rather than cognitively. I do remember a rather excruciating day near the bottom of one of my short times with an employer outside the not for profit sector. We had to draw them as an animal. My offering was rat. The consultant was a bit blindsided but I found it helpful: I departed soon afterwards.

The session that provided the paradigm for the day was, for me, that involving Lego. This was particularly attractive because I have reached an age when, once again, there are lego bits all over my living room – in the sofa, on the sofa, on top of the sofa – bearing witness to grandchildren making spaceships and guns. We were, however, being introduced to Lego Serious Play (trade marked). This is, by its own description, ‘a facilitation methodology developed by the Lego Group’. You can get special kits, watch instruction videos or buy instruction books. There is even an association of master trainers. Our trainer was Sean Blair of Serious Global. The session provided a taster of the crossover between general and legal design techniques.

We must have only had an hour but that was enough to see how it worked. My group were, I think. all lawyers. So, we were used to ordered, structured, logical thinking. You could see that in some of our early Lego models. Then, we began to open up and get a bit more imaginative. We began to appreciate the power of narrative. You might just see five lego blocks stuck randomly on a small platform. But we began to weave stories around them which were more important than the bits of plastic that we took as a basis. And, finally, we collaborated on a model of our ideal law firm in which we had to visualise in lego the qualities that we wanted to see: our emphasis was on progress, teamwork, fun and an outward-looking approach. You might not appreciate this from the photo that illustrates this piece: but all the bits meant something to us. We were on our way to delighting the recalcitrant client which had been planning to freeze us out.

And so the day went on in this participative way. One of the tweets summed up the experience well: ‘FIVE hours of doing … now that’s what I call time well spent. What an awesome, awesome day.’ Another observed, rather percipiently for a technology conference, ‘The best thing about LegalDesignGeek was the lack of tweets and social media about legal design geek … why … because everyone was too busy DOING stuff …’

This degree of participation carries its own dangers. The sense of empowerment of the team needs to be contained. Nicole Bradick of the Theory and Principle consultancy: ‘Everyone is not a designer’. Everyone can participate in design decisions but there is a real expertise in implementing those decisions. You could say the same of all the specialisms involved in the process. But, clearly, legal design has the capacity to unlock creativity. It was good to experience that.

So, another successful day for LegalGeek. Well done.

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