Among the themes that have emerged at this year’s ILTACON is the notion of “deconstruction” of the legal industry. It was a point Dan Katz, associate professor of Law at Chicago Kent College of Law, touched on in his keynote, particularly as a precursor of change in the space. After all, unleashing big data or technology is impossible without a fundamental shift in thinking.

But why is this so important?

As John Alber, ILTA futurist, noted in an excellent session, “Empathetic Design in Legal: Redesigning Law for Clients,” the US legal system ranks the lowest among developed nations in access to justice. Whether it’s the low income population that can’t afford legal services or a middle class population that doesn’t have the time or understanding to engage the law, the industry is inefficient and complex.

From software design to simple processes for interacting with a firm, design thinking starts with a mindset, Michelle Mahoney, executive director of Innovation at King & Wood Mallesons, noted at the start of the session. Among the keys are to shift focus on human values, craft clarity and embrace experimentation.

Observing the client and looking at human behavior is a critical piece. And you have to deeply care about the user. “They are the end user of what you are creating,” Mahoney noted.

Among the strategies Mahoney employed at her firm was to create an imagined “persona” of a client to help better understand a client’s a journey through the firm. Her name was Pauline, and they crafted a storyline of who she was: how old she is, what she does, and other variables as detailed as what she drinks. The idea was to imagine how Pauline would experience working with the firm and come up with strategies to best serve her needs. As Mahoney noted, knowing Pauline became an integral piece to understanding the firm at a fundamental level.

Michael Callier, legal process strategist with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, pushed this concept further adding that a deep understanding of your users can better lead to creating a point of view for your firm.

Ryan Nier, director and Assistant General Counsel with Capital One legal department, emphasized that this can open up a prototyping phase that enables you to say “what if.” In one example, Nier noted that clients hate signing documents, which led to a discussion and several questions, including the radical question, “do clients need to sign anything?” Saying this to a room full of legal professionals got a good laugh, but it was a poignant moment of the talk.

Callier reminded attendees that idea generation should be visual and simple; rudimentary designs like writing on a napkin can both be a conversation starter and a learning opportunity. Nier noted that this is the perfect opportunity to prototype a process and decide what works and what doesn’t.