What would happen if the legal field became more humanised? What would be the benefits to society if lawyers and law professionals could enhance their work outcome by using techniques that promoted innovation and kept the people – their customers – always in the centre of every equation?
For this issue of the Echos newsletter, I had the pleasure of interviewing our Design Thinking Experience alumni and Associate Principal at Hive Legal, Melissa Lyon.
Melissa is an inspirational professional and a pioneer in her field, on a mission to incorporate and normalise Design Thinking techniques within the legal industry. With an impressive resume – she has won the Business Development Professional of the Year award in 2017 and was a finalist for the Legal Innovation Index in 2018 – she is the epitome of enthusiasm for a desirable future in Australian law.
RG- Melissa, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
ML – I had the wonderful experience of growing up on a farm in North East Tasmania, Australia. It was a small community, in fact, my mother was one of my teachers, and there were only 4 children in my year level. Weekends were taken up with the local football and netball in Winter and socialising at the town pool (filled with tannin river water) in Summer. I stopped playing netball a year or so ago (too many injuries!), and I now enjoy distance running and walking. I completed the 50km Oxfam trail walk last year and aiming for the 100km next year….let’s see how that goes!
RG- What about your career? Where did it all begin?
ML – Furthering my education meant leaving home to board at age 15. Being homesick is the worst feeling, but I had little choice, and I think in a way it made me more determined. I graduated with an Arts & Law degree and practised as a commercial litigation lawyer for fourteen years (including as a partner of a firm). Fifteen years ago I moved into a business development role at Minter Ellison Lawyers. This included client relationship management, pursuits, coaching and marketing. It was during this time that I developed a strong belief that law firms, in general, could do so much better in terms of creating better outcomes for their clients and their teams if there was a true commitment to collaborating across the multi-disciplinary skills sets they have available to them including BD, HR, talent management, technology, knowledge management, to name a few. Those were lost opportunities, in my view.
RG – What is your work life like today?
ML – I am now part of Hive Legal, one of the first NewLaw firms to be established in Australia. We have an innovative business model which includes truly flexible working practices – our entire team choose when and where they work, a focus on innovation and using technology as an enabler, value pricing as opposed to time-based billing. We do not have timesheets and have a commitment to collaboration. When I reflect on how Hive Legal came about it was very much by way of a Design Thinking approach (although the founders did not necessarily consciously apply it). Having all come from top-tier law firms, the founders started with a clean slate. Hive is a purpose-driven firm. Its vision includes ‘improving the experience for our clients and our team’ – an empathy-based approach. The firm was designed and built by pulling together ways of working that would promote its purpose – some might call it “experimental”. Collaboration and respect for skills ‘other than legal’ is a given at Hive. Nearly five years on and Hive continues to thrive with a happy and motivated team and a multitude of clients, many of which are key players within their sectors. My role includes Business Development, Marketing and Innovation within Hive – a fellow Hivester recently threw in ‘Chief Cheer Leader’ as well, and I am very happy with that! I also consult to firms on Design Thinking and developing and maintaining innovative mindsets.
RG – ‘Chief Cheer Leader’ is great, I like that. You’re a Business Development Specialist acting in the field of law. How would you describe the legal sector in Australia as it is today?
ML – In a state of change. Some commentators attribute this to client demands – I agree that clients are looking for more from their lawyers. In-house teams are being required to ‘do more with less’ and they are looking to firms to help them do this. Some firms are responding by using technology solutions to provide more price competitive services. The more innovative and progressive firms are working collaboratively with their clients to identify processes, services and products (not necessarily always tech based). I believe – and hope – that Design Thinking will be increasingly used to identify, develop and implement different ways for law firms to provide better results for their clients including bringing together the multi-disciplinary team approach which the legal profession has not always been good at achieving, but changes in the legal sector are not only client-driven, in fact, one of the ever-increasing reasons for change is coming from those working in the profession – and it is not all Millennial driven. Many in the profession are questioning outdated ways of working, mental health concerns, lack of diversity and questionable cultures. Let’s face it, traditionally the legal profession is not well known for showing empathy. On the plus side, this push for change is resulting in an ever-rising number of what I call ‘Designer Firms’ which have been designed and purpose-built to improve the experience for their lawyers as well as their clients.
RG- So the legal industry is changing in this country?
ML – Yes.
RG – You are a pioneer and have become an innovation reference in your field. I am curious to know how your journey with innovation started and when was the first time you heard of Design Thinking?
ML –I am the first to admit that my recent innovation journey has benefitted from the fact that I work in a firm that has had innovation and creative thinking at its core from the very start. That has meant that I have not been hampered by the need for change management. Innovation was and continues to be part of Hive’s DNA and culture. It is not a designated team or a program. It is something that everyone at Hive is encouraged to participate in. It pervades how we work internally, how we work with clients and how we work with our network and the profession. I first heard of design thinking when I attended a lecture on how it was being used in Europe to develop better access to justice programs, it was a light bulb moment!
RG – What motivated you to seek an approach for innovation?
ML – As a lawyer turned Business Development professional, client and user-centred approaches have always been key to what I do and for me, the challenge (in a good way) is to convince others that this approach works for them as well. Here was a way I could do that. I also loved the fact that Design Thinking provides a framework to encourage collaboration and make the most of the diverse skill sets (other than legal) that we have in law firms. I also quickly recognised the synergies between Design Thinking and Hive’s values of contemporary thinking, creativity, courage, character and collaboration and our purpose of ‘improving the experience for our clients and our team’. Design Thinking also appealed to me because it provides a clear linear approach, something that appeals to those who are legally trained and find comfort in a logical framework. I read everything I could on Design Thinking, did the Design Thinking Experience course with Echos School of Design Thinking, and talked to people in many different professions about how they were using Design Thinking to bring ideas to life.
Melissa Lyon, personal archive.
RG – You have attended Echos’ Design Thinking Experience course. How do you think the knowledge you brought back to your company can positively impact your industry as a whole?
ML – I got so much out of the Echos’ Design Thinking Experience course. You can read up on Design Thinking and talk to others about it, but there is no substitute for being immersed in a course where you are actually doing it. It challenged me, broadened my knowledge and inspired me to see how it could be used in the legal profession. I recall during the course speaking with Echos founder Juliana Proserpio about a plan to use design thinking as the basis for all of our innovative projects at Hive and to involve our entire team. That has now happened and we have developed our own Design Thinking framework – HiveThinkP – which we have used to identify, develop and implement a number of projects including designing our value pricing process (which includes an number of intuitive tools), designing a new service offering – HiveGC+ -, assisting a client to overcome a legal issue which also resulted in that client identifying a new business opportunity and our latest project which involves our entire firm designing an aligned employee and client experience program – HiveX.
RG – Were there any “aha moments” that happened to you – or “light bulb” moments, as you mentioned before – while or directly after taking the course?
ML – Definitely, and I use it as an example whenever I am working with other members of the legal profession using Design Thinking. Before, I was too eager to jump to the solution. I put it down to the way we are trained as lawyers, that is to use your knowledge to find the solution quickly and solve the problem and move to the next. The problem with that is that we skip the empathy step and also limit the many other solutions that we may have identified along the way. My best advice would be to avoid this: love the problem.
RG- As legal is a conservative field, one wouldn’t necessarily imagine lawyers and barristers to be the most creative type of people. Is this a misconception? If so, where do you think it comes from?
ML – I believe that the way many of us in the profession were taught at university and trained in firms has suppressed our creativity, but the good news is that in many cases it is still there! I am seeing a trend in management and leadership aiming to bring fun, creativity and humanness to the workplace. Design Thinking is the perfect way to do that, and I have seen how it is embraced by lawyers who have the right mindset.
RG- You have won the award BD Professional of The Year 2017 and, after attending Echos’ Design Thinking Experience course, were a finalist in the Legal Innovation Index 2018. What particular projects did you work on for each of these awards?
ML – My work on developing the concept of HiveThinkP (our Design thinking framework) and some of our subsequent projects including HiveGC+ and HiveX assisted in these two awards.
RG- Any exciting projects you are currently working on at Hive Legal?
ML – I am really excited about working with everyone at Hive to develop HiveX, our aligned Team and Client experience program. We are also collaborating with a like-minded digital agency to develop visual policies (as opposed to traditional text-based policies). Creativity in both the visual and legal sense abounds, and the power of working in a team with a diverse mix of skills is so good. We call projects like these our ‘Purpose Projects’ which make them all the more rewarding.
RG – What pearls of wisdom would you share with someone who is starting their innovation journey using Design Thinking?
ML – Talk to as many people as you can about their experiences with using Design Thinking, especially those outside your own profession. Don’t be scared to make it your own so it works for you and your organisation. Remember to have fun, be human and don’t make it too complicated.
RG – That’s great advice. Finally, could you share a quote that inspires you?
ML – I love an inspirational quote – my study wall is littered with coloured post-it notes – from Design thinking sessions with my latest inspiration reminders. My most recent favourite is ‘Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated’, which is something that I think the legal profession should take more note of!
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