Be the CEO of your law firm — Master your business through legal design

Be The CEO of Your Law Firm — Master Your Business Through Legal Design

Hannele Korhonen
6 min readJul 26, 2022

Are you juggling all the hats in your law firm?

Running a law firm is a lot different from managing your caseload, right? As a law firm partner, you need to wear so many hats and master all the roles that come with the position. You’re the leader, innovator for new services, salesperson and yes, also the lawyer that used to be your primary and perhaps the only task.

All of these roles are essential in running a successful business in law. But if you’re like almost any other lawyer, the problem is developing all the skills.

Embracing legal design thinking and applying it to your CEO role will give you the skills you need for a successful and profitable law firm. And you can stop the panicked reaction and panic every time a new issue comes your way.

Here’s what you might be doing now.

The traditional way to run a law firm

Does this sound like you? Building your business around your name and what you do best, your legal expertise.

You look at “the now”: the monthly billables, the targets, and react to the requests. You’re in reaction mode instead of being actively in charge of your business.

You operate the business on manual work and the business model of billable hours. Exchanging time for money. Any growth comes through more manual work and more billable hours.

If someone asks you where you see yourself in three months, you don’t know what to say. It’s all happening here and now and you’re too busy to think about the future. You’re busy chasing more work. You don’t have a picture of where you’re going and likely feel you’re in the backseat of your business.

How do I know this? Well… this is how I started my law firm 10 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing when I became a business owner. I was an excellent lawyer and that’s what I continued to be in my law firm, focusing on the assignments and client work. My hours were filled with legal research, drafting, negotiating and meeting clients.

But it didn’t work the way I wanted. The results and the growth didn’t happen. It was time for a new approach. And that approach was to develop the CEO roles and stop being a “lawyer who has clients”.

I developed the roles using legal design thinking and here’s how you can do it too.

Business development strategy through legal design

Every successful business, including every successful law firm, needs a leader who is capable of business development.

A leader who has a vision and sees the future. A leader who sets the direction and identifies opportunities and steps to get there — a strategy.

Legal design thinking in your business development and strategy work removes the guesswork and agony. It reduces the risks of building something big in your business or making big decisions that don’t work after all.

You start with your clients and get to know their needs. Then immerse yourself in all the data you can find about clients, markets and trends.

This is the good news: you don’t have to have any answers from the get-go, because you will get the answers from your discovery work. Once you’re done with your discovery work you don’t have to guess to build your strategy, you have hard data.

The best news, if your idea fails, you fail fast, you take the learnings and move on. Get the data, analyse it, implement it, assess it and try again if required. We’re not talking about months of planning and financial investment. Legal design is agile and nimble.

“This strategy work is for the law firms of the future. Design your way to success.”

If you want to learn more about legal design and strategy, check out episode six Legal design thinking — your winning formula for success on the website or the Lawyers Design School’s YouTube channel.

Legal design thinking for new services and innovation

Innovation and new legal services are essential for thriving law firms, but lawyers often need a hand to grow that muscle.

At the Lawyers Design School, I’m doing a lot of work with in-house teams on innovation as a mindset. Lawyers with internal and external clients are under pressure to deliver new and innovative services to their clients.

Legal innovation is a way to respond to the current challenges in the legal profession like

  • demand for a better client experience
  • digital transformation
  • commoditization of legal work
  • pressure to faster turnaround for law firms.

How do you manage innovation as a law firm partner?

Traditionally lawyer-leaders have been not leaders but managers focusing on control and rules. You could call them busy perfectionists.

You may have learned that while these are all good qualities they don’t foster innovation. Legal design thinking can fix this.

Legal design guides you to look at problems with a fresh perspective, ask new questions and frees you up to find new creative solutions. Legal design is also about collaboration and multi-disciplinary teamwork — both of which fuel creativity and innovation.

As a part of the legal design process, you build service prototypes for testing. It’s liberating and rewarding and when you find a good one, it’s amazing.

For you as a leader in law, legal design thinking gives you the mindset shift, the process to follow and tools to use with your team to get to the next big innovation in law.

All you have to do is let go of control and trust the process.

Legal design thinking to get more sales

Have you ever met a lawyer who loves to sell?

Seems like an oxymoron, right? And yet, running a successful law firm requires sales and selling.

Icky you might say. Who wants to appear salesy or pushy?

And that’s where most people get it wrong. Getting more sales in law is not about aggressive sales tactics.

Sales are about finding ways to solve clients’ real problems. It’s that simple, solving problems.

“What’s not simple is finding the real problems.”

You may see where this is going. As we already discovered before, legal design thinking is the perfect way to pinpoint these real problems.

Getting more sales requires lawyers to step into their clients’ shoes and understand their entire client journey. If you don’t understand what the client is looking for you can’t create, offer and sell the right solutions.

Your clients aren’t looking for lawyers. Yep. It’s true. People mostly buy legal services out of necessity, because they have no other choice. But what if your clients were willing to use more of your services but you just don’t know it? What if the customer journey didn’t end when they paid the invoice?

When you can see your clients’ situation holistically, all of their challenges and everyday life, you can develop your business and services to respond to these real needs. And get more sales. Client expectations can be very surprising and many times they challenge your current business model.

I witness these discoveries, big and small, in all of the Lawyers Design School’s workshops.

With legal design thinking, you can understand the client journey better and get clear on the bottlenecks and hidden opportunities.

Getting more sales for your legal business is all about getting to know your clients and their journey with you.

And legal design thinking will help you exactly with that.

You don’t know what your clients want because you haven’t done the work yet.

So here are three ways legal design thinking can help you run your law firm like a boss. There are more and we explore all of them at Lawyers Design School.

Want to chat about it?

Is legal design feeling more relatable to you now? Could it help you run your law firm more innovatively and stand out in the crowd?

Feel free to DM any questions or join me on LinkedIn every Wednesday at 8 am ET where you can ask me about legal design and growing your law firm.

Follow me at @lawyersdesignschool and get more practical tips on building a thriving law firm, how to find new clients and become a happy boutique law firm owner.

Prefer email? Drop me an email at And while you’re here, take a peek at the Lawyers Design School and check out other ways to use legal design thinking to grow your law firm and thrive in your business.

Watch all the Happy customer and happy lawyers episodes.

Originally published at

Hannele Korhonen

Founder & CEO Lawyers Design School. Passion for access to justice.