Make Design Part of your Legal Practice

Hardly a day goes by without another article on Apple and their growth or value as a stock. Even if, like me, you don’t own the latest MacBook Air, you have to admire their exemplary design.

Legal practice – hardly the great bastion of design!

As I have written about previously, most firms make it their business not be to be noticed and when you do come across their offices they look tired, outmoded and austere. Perhaps that is what they think people want but I doubt it.

I still remember going into one firm’s reception as a work experience student, and being met by a wall of orange gloss and a plastic sliding screen like you might get in some old Speak Easy, which was slowly slid back to reveal… people with files and files all around them.

My impression: We don’t care!

Look at your own firm.

How would you describe it?

Does it rock?

Does it inspire?

What’s are the best bits of design?

  • The building?
  • The letterhead?
  • The marketing literature?

I encourage you to think about something that inspires you – a picture, a place or a household object. How could you inject that level of emotional engagement with your firm?

Good design doesn’t have to cost gazillions. The best design is clean and unfussy.

Lawyers by and large have no say in design. It is taken out of their hands by ‘others’. Even where partners do have a say, they usually try to make a decision by committee which is always going to be problematical.

My vision: design is a key component for legal practice. And I don’t mean your logo (yes a lot of people think that your logo is ipso facto design – please…).

Your values should inspire your design or any discussion that is had about design. For most firms that will be a challenge because up to now they have espoused values but not lived and breathed them. If anything they are bent to the strongest will of the day.

BTW: A value is not tell me what you do: “The best law firm in the world”. It is the aggregation of everything that makes you what you are.

If you are preoccupied with making money for the partners then your values will reflect that to a greater extent than you may be willing to accept.

Design can make a massive difference to your practice. As trite as it may seem a picture tells a thousand words and the fact that you put it so low down your agenda reflects the way clients very often perceive you (again think of my orange reception experience).

Take something as simple as your giveaways: pens, umbrellas and T-shirts. Imagine having your values baked into the design? OK may be not (I can see some of guffawing and saying “I wonder how you bake greed into a T-shirt”).

Even if you don’t let your values act as the touchstone for the brief, wouldn’t it be amazing if you gave something away that was remarked on in the same way as Apple’s products?

You don’t want to take things to the outer edges of design and be defined by your pens (“A mediocre firm but they sure do give away great pens”); but having something that special might just inspire you and others to think of the firm in a different way. I know if someone gave me something that was jaw-droppingly beautiful and shouted “We care” I would at least be thinking: “If these guys put this amount of attention into a free pen, then what about their service”?

Look at it another way. If you get a handed a cheap, nasty pen that screams afterthought then that one act may just define the whole experience.


Make design part of the client experience. Don’t leave it to others to drive the agenda. The smallest detail could just make the difference when it comes to competing in an increasingly competitive market place.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~






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