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What’s Your Legal Team’s Brand - Part 3

Written by Laura J. Greenberg on . About #optimizing in-house legal.

In examining a legal team’s brand, Part 1 explored “what” and Part 2 examined “how”. Now, we’re taking a detour to look at Legal Design thinking and user personas before tackling “why”.

According to Margaret Hagan, “Legal Design is the application of human-centered design to the world of law, to make legal systems and services more human-centered, usable, and satisfying.” Simply put, it is applying Design principles and practices to legal services.

Design thinking is about crafting solutions that are intuitive, engaging, valuable, and beloved to the people that use them.[1] Wouldn’t it be amazing if your clients loved using your legal services!? That possibility is why I am excited to apply Design principles to legal services.

What I like about Design is that it empathizes with the user. The first step of any Design process is understanding the user - the person who is the main target of your service. Applying Design methodology means we need to understand who is using our legal services and why.

What is a User Persona and Why Should I Care?

Too often we assume we know our users’ needs and wants. One way to uncover your users’ needs is through the development of “user personas”. A user persona is a semi-fictional character based on your current customers. [2]

Providing legal services poses unique challenges because there are a wide array of users with diverse: (1) needs, (2) legal sophistication, and (3) competing priorities.

Before establishing user personas, I’ve found it is helpful to focus on the known user needs. What legal services are currently being provided? You can refer back to the brainstorm list in Part 1 exploring “what”.

With the refresher of “what” legal services are being provided, it’s time to brainstorm who is using these services. Often, it’s helpful to list the different types of users for each of the products and services.

Once that’s done, it’s time for another grouping exercise. Here, it can be challenging to determine how to group users - this will depend on your company, legal team, industry, size, etc.

I like to look for commonalities between users, which can be grouped in a variety of ways:

  • By business unit or department (sales, finance, human resources, product, etc.)
  • By title or seniority (do managers have different needs than the C-suite?)
  • By frequency of use or volume (usually sales teams are high touch and high volume)
  • By complexity (do the users need simple NDAs or IPR co-development agreements?)
  • By how they are receiving their services (through an automated system or email request)

Once you’ve gathered your users into different groups, it’s time to build user personas.

Building and Validating User Personas

Up until this point, you’ve made assumptions about your users’ needs by looking at what services are currently being provided. You’ve made another set of assumptions about the users of those services and grouped them together based on commonalities.

Now it’s time for validation, which is a key component of Design thinking. Take your assumptions about services and clients, and validate it with your users. Involving users directly in this process will give you data about your users’ needs and how best to provide legal services to them. Rather than acting as the expert who will solve their problems, this participatory approach means deferring to your users - their voice should drive your work.[3]

Here it is important to have a judgment-free discussion, full of active listening, so you can contextualize users’ behavior. These conversations are not about legal compliance or the legal teams’ needs - they are solely focused on the user.

The goal is to understand:

  • What users can do
  • What users want to do
  • Why users want to do that and
  • The effects of these actions

If done correctly, this process can unlock bias that are often built from not understanding and empathizing with users. For example, understanding the context and needs of sales team members can help re-humanize them from the cliche sales people characterizations.

After talking with your users to better understand their needs, your team can create user personas - fictional characters based on a typical user of legal services. Recently, I took a free online course from Canva, which provided two great user persona templates. These can be used to lead a team through a developing user personas exercise or leveraged to make the final product look pretty.

To build a user persona, document the user’s:

  • Goals
  • Motivations
  • Personality
  • Interests
  • Frustrations

When completed, each legal team member should be able to look at each user persona and explain why that user would make certain choices. Again, ask your actual users for feedback on the personas. Did the legal team get it right or are they way off? If you’re way off, then you have an opportunity to build a closer relationship with those users to more fully understand their needs.

Here, you may want to consider whether the level of service should vary for different users. I’ve found individuals with more seniority generally receive a greater level of responsiveness and service from the legal team. For example, do the CEO and a junior salesperson have the same legal needs? The answer will depend on your company, how it functions, and what type of legal service the legal team provides.

Benefits of User Personas

Once these personas are complete, the team should become comfortable placing each user persona in different scenarios and predicting how they will behave. Using user personas is a great way to remove personal opinions and emotions from discussions. Focusing on the user and their needs enables all legal team members to contribute perspectives. Ultimately, this leads to a richer discussion that is inclusive of more opinions and ideas.

As the legal team comes up with new solutions, go back to the user personas and analyze how your users would react to the solution or changes. Building this into the day-to-day operations of your legal team can be a game changer.

Part of Legal Design is constantly iterating and seeking feedback from users. If your team can make the mental shift to Design thinking, it will lead to better outcomes for the legal team and the business.

Now, you’ve established your “what”, “how” and defined your user personas. Up next is the ultimate challenge of defining your “why”.


[1]Law by Design by Margaret Hagan.

[2]How to create a simple, accurate user persona in 4 steps without leaving your desk - Hotjar Blog

[3]Law by Design by Margaret Hagan.

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