Legal design — lead your business with values

Legal Design — Lead Your Business With Values

Hannele Korhonen
8 min readJul 26, 2022

Values lead lawyering and legal design

Values lead law firms are in demand. Consumers are choosing suppliers that share similar values (and live and breathe those values in their actions) more often.

Legal design offers a tangible and valuable tool for leaders in law looking to lead with values. The toolkit and framework are an ideal way to:

  • Define the core values of your business in collaboration with your entire team
  • Manifest your values in your daily work

Many of the values I see law firms adopting are the same as the mindsets we use in legal design. So if you are using legal design in your firm, you’re naturally aligning similar values like:

innovation, sustainable, human-friendly and client-centric.

Let’s take a closer look at legal design and leading with values.

Values are what you do when nobody’s watching

What are values?

Values determine what we hold most important in our lives.

We make decisions based on our values. The harder the decision, the more important the values in that decision-making process. Values are like our inner signposts helping to steer our path with the right choices, actions and behavior.

It’s the same in business. The values of an organization tell people what is important to us and they act as a North Star, guiding our decisions and actions.

If you have a team, values are a super powerful tool in your leadership toolbox. Your values can communicate the desired behavior in different situations and pave the way for good decisions in difficult situations. You get the entire team on the same page.

What are your values and are they clear to you?

As a young lawyer, it can be challenging to hold onto the values dear to you. Sometimes they don’t align with your firm or sometimes the firm doesn’t live the values it espouses. There’s a mismatch. (C’mon, we’ve all been there. I’m just being polite. You’ve worked in a business where the mission statement says one thing, but the reality is something very different, right?)

It was this mismatch that caused me to leave the big law. The disparity between the marketing and value statements and the reality of big law culture did not work with my values. And the further I am on my entrepreneurial journey, the more I use my values to guide me.

When I left big law and started my own law firm 10 years ago, I wanted to get clear on what was important in my business and what values meant for my business.

The process of defining the core values was lengthy but it was worth it. The same things are still important to me and to the Lawyers Design School. Even though the business has pivoted from law firm to design school, the values are the same:

  • Joy
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Closeness
  • Continuous learning.

And they’re more than words. For each value, there’s a definition of what it means in our team and our work. Values are a living and breathing part of the business.

Why it’s important to lead with values

Leading with values provides a sure footing for your business. Your values allow you to make decisions that are predictable and reassuring for everyone around you. Faced with a situation, your response is in line with the values and there are no surprises. It makes decisions easier, both in business and in life. If something feels “off”, assess it from a values perspective and you’ll find the answer. It makes life easier.

A skeptic will say it’s important to lead with values because it’s trendy. Indeed, it could be why Brene Brown identified in her book Dare to Lead, that only 10 % of organizations have transformed their values into behaviors and require values based behavior across the entire business.

In other words, only about 10% of businesses walk the talk.


When you think about the legal industry and the significance of values in our business it’s no surprise lawyers crave strong values in their work. Lawyers want a sense of meaning and sense of purpose in what they do.

Society is demanding value-led leadership and integrity in business. There has never been a more important time for leaders in the legal industry to start practicing their values.

In the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.

Dame Minouche Shafik

Value-driven leadership is a way to lead hearts. Lead the hearts of your team and the hearts of your clients.

Walking the walk at Lawyers Design School

At Lawyers Design School we’re far from perfect or finished, but we consider the work related to values super important and we keep learning and practicing.

Here are a few examples of what this looks like in practice:

  1. Our values are the first things that the new team members learn about our business along with our purpose. They’re part of onboarding. We’re clear about Lawyers Design School being a purpose-driven business with a strong set of values.
  2. The values have come into play, for example, in turning down business opportunities or terminating partnerships that have not been aligned with what’s important to our business. It takes courage to make these tough calls, but in the long run, it always pays off. It creates space for better opportunities that fit with us.
  3. An unexpected bonus. Our expressed purpose and values have proven to be a very effective recruitment message as well. People actually want to work with us and we don’t attract people who aren’t the right fit in terms of our purpose and values.

Use legal design for value-driven leadership

So where does legal design fit in this equation of value-driven leadership?

Legal design is the “how-to” or the practical tool to do your values work.

Use the legal design process to define the core values

The process of getting clear on the values is hard. It’s nice to choose big words and leave it at that.

But how do you choose which big words are right for your business? You cannot name them all because if everything is important, nothing is important. And how do you get your people to do this work together?

The legal design framework is a perfect fit for this process.

Legal design is the best process because it’s messy work and we don’t know the outcome at the start. The process of putting our values into words and into practice is just that — a process. We need to start without knowing where we’ll end up and in the beginning, we have more questions than answers.

Value work is also people work. People. People.People. As leaders, it can be very challenging to get your team to talk in a meaningful way and allow everyone’s voice to be heard. Especially when the topic is as fuzzy as value creation.

It’s easier if you have ways to externalize your thoughts. Get them out of your head and make them visible for everyone to see and discuss. Tools to sort out your thoughts. Tools to build on each other’s ideas. Tools to crystallize the outcome.

The magic is in the process and in making the time and space for your team to share thoughts and get clarity on what everyone thinks is important. Legal design gives you practical tools to facilitate these discussions. And it doesn’t seem so hard after all.

Use the legal design mindset to manifest your values

Legal design also offers effective strategies and tools for leaders in modern law firms to lead with values.

Brene Brown (again in Dare to Lead) talks about the “armor” leaders wear in the workplace to protect themselves from shame, judgment and fear of failure.

This armor reminds me of common leadership issues in law. Brene recommends “daring leadership” as the way to remove the need for leaders to wear armor. Daring leadership is similar to the foundations of legal design thinking.

I see a clear intersection between these two disciplines.

Here are a few comparisons between “armored” and “daring” leadership:

  • Being a knower and being right (armored) versus being a learner and getting it right (daring)
  • Driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure (armored) versus modelling and encouraging healthy striving, empathy and self-compassion (daring)

Brene Brown invites leaders to make shifts in mindset to a more daring leadership model.

In legal design, we shift our mindsets from perfectionism to creative experimenters.

  • From perfectionist to creative
  • From routine expert to creative problem solver
  • From being the knower to being the learner

Similar, right?

Armored leadership talks about shifts in power. No more using power over, rather it’s about using power with, power to and power within. Whereas in legal design the mindset shift is from solo hero to multidisciplinary collaboration.

I think there’s something here. Are you still with me?

Brown also defines the skill sets of daring leadership. Leaning into our values is one of them. She encourages us to practice values: getting clear about what we believe and what we think is important and taking care that our words and behaviors match them.

Where to start with values lead leadership

The best place to start is identifying your values and the most effective place to do that is a legal design workshop. It’s a safe place, where everyone is equal. The outcomes are amazing and could be incredible for you and your business.

Or if you’re just starting out, get together with your team and talk about what’s important to them, to you and what is happening in the business. Keep the discussion informal, open and safe. Let everyone talk. See what bubbles to the surface. It could be the start of something magical. I’d love to hear how it goes.

But if you’re thinking about facilitated learning take a look at the range of legal design workshops and see if one is suitable for your situation.

Or if you’d like to start with a values workshop simply drop me a line at and we can make it happen. It’s going to be amazing for you, your team, your clients and your business.

Want to chat about it?

Did you start thinking about what a legal design workshop might feel like for you and whether it could help with your leadership and legal work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to DM me on Instagram.

If you’ve got a question, join me on LinkedIn every Wednesday at 8 am ET where you can ask me about the client experience in your firm.

You can find 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.

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Hannele Korhonen

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