Human-centered Design and the Law
A conversation between Seyfarth and IDEO
Design and the law — a hot topic in the legal industry if ever there was one. As such, there are many recent adopters trying to apply design thinking to legal work. While I applaud this interest, I am also a bit skeptical. It takes more than sticky notes and brainstorm sessions (known as “design jams”) to become a designer.
Having been at the intersection of design and the law for a decade now, I know from personal experience that doing “design theater” and actually executing a design-informed strategy are worlds apart. With this in mind, I wanted to seek out other pioneers in the design and law space to share their story and learn from their experiences.
Meet Rochael Soper Adranly, the General Counsel and Legal Design Lead at design firm IDEO. I mean this in all sincerity: Rochael has the most fun, interesting job in the legal industry. IDEO was created in the early 1990s as a design and innovation firm — its early products include the first mouse for Apple. Today, IDEO has 650 people and 10 offices, giving Rochael a unique job at a unique company.
When we sat down, I wanted to learn how she blends the world of law and the world of design, and how the two interact with each other. I learned that, and a whole lot more.
JOSH: Walk us through the legal design idea at IDEO. What has brought IDEO and specifically you to look at applying design and design thinking to the legal space?
ROCHAEL: Eleven years ago, IDEO had no internal legal or operations functions. They decided to hire their first general counsel, my predecessor Paul Livesay. Pretty quickly there was frustration on all sides about trying to embed an internal legal function where there hadn’t been one before.
In the early days of IDEO, founder David Kelley wanted to have a place to work with his friends and make cool things. But as IDEO grew, it became important to try to build structure that would support that growth, some of which included having an internal legal structure. I was working with Paul at the time in an outside counsel capacity, and asked Paul if IDEO helps other clients think about their internal organizational structures, their behaviors, and their capacities — could IDEO do that for itself with respect to how legal would operate?
We found that we could. We ran an internal project to design the legal function for IDEO. That was 11 years ago. And the principles that came out of that project still define us today. Those principles have allowed us to grow from 300, 350 people to 650 people with 10 offices worldwide with a few subsidiaries and different business units without having to dramatically change the size or orientation of the legal group.
I think that is because we intentionally designed how the legal function would work, as opposed to getting big and then imposing it on the culture, and then wondering why people are skirting it, or don’t know about it or are just trying to get around it all day.
People are still running fast, trying to get work done. But legal is a very integrated function at IDEO.
Now, when I talk to other general counsel, a lot of them want to find out what we did, and then do it in their own organizations. I always caution that you can’t just replicate our design. You can replicate the process by which we got there, but you can’t necessarily replicate the outcome, because we are designing for the humans at this organization, and what those humans are tasked with on a day-to-day basis, what their values are, what our culture is. And that might look very different at a public company or one in a highly regulated industry. It can certainly be designed — it just would probably look different.
There might be some similarities too. People often want autonomy. People often want to know what’s going on. People often want to be included in decisions. They often want to understand why things are done the way they are. Some of those things would be replicable, but I think exactly how you create those functions would look different depending on the client.
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