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Dabble in Design: How Competition Sparks the Traits of the Next Generation Lawyer

Anthony Metzler was the Managing Editor of Suffolk’s Journal of High Technology Law and former President of Suffolk’s Legal Innovation and Technology Student Association. Anthony is a 2019 graduate of Suffolk Law and currently a Legal Project Manager at the global law firm Baker McKenzie He tackles the “hot topic” of design thinking, discusses how it is now used in the business and legal sectors, and explores the benefits of using design challenges within legal education to spark innovative thinking beyond the law school basics.

Competitive by their nature, law students are prime candidates for a daylong exercise where pride, renown, and cold hard cash are on the line. However, the competitions flooding today’s legal arenas are not the Courtroom dramas your grandparents told you about.

The new trend in Legal? Design challenges.

I. The Premise

Design challenges are events where skilled individuals work together in a time-pressured setting to solve problems. [1] While the popularity of design challenges increased dramatically in recent years, the origin can be traced back centuries. [2] The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore had been erected throughout the 14th century and was already becoming a Florentine architectural masterpiece. [3] During construction, The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore commissioned a contest to design the largest brick and mortar dome in history. [4] Filippo Brunelleschi won the contest with his self-standing two layer octagonal dome, the first of its kind and to this day the largest ever built. [5] Brunelleschi’s mastery of technical knowledge and his innovative design breathed life into the Renaissance, transforming his industry forever.

In the 21st century, design challenges have helped mold the software industry. Many applications and companies come from Hackathons, a type of design challenge that originated with groups of programmers collaborating in teams to create better products. [6] For examples of the work product derived from traditional Hackathons one need look no further than popular modern services such as Lyft, Tinder, and GroupMe. [7] Design challenges are valuable because they connect participants, expose great ideas, and identify common issues. [8] The tenants of design thinking guide design challenges. [9] Design thinking is an iterative, flexible process that aims to bring ideas to life with the highest consideration of what users want and need. [10] At one time, design thinking was not a tactic often used in the legal profession.

However, the market for legal services has swayed, and more clients now value efficiency and transparency over the traditional smoke-and-mirrors tactics of lawyers past. Increasing efficiency and providing transparency require lawyers to be self-aware of strengths and weaknesses, focus and priority on improving their processes, and superior communication skills with persons in and outside of the profession. Design thinking and design challenges are paramount in building these skills.

To satisfy demand based on client values, innovation has become paramount for lawyers and law firms. Firms need new approaches to solve problems and are finding them in several ways. One way is the integration of new roles, such as Chief Innovation Officers. [11] These roles differentiate law firms, develop cultures of innovations and delight clients to drive business. [12] These opportunities can be filled by seasoned attorneys, or professionals with little to no legal experience. The commonality between these individuals? They all have a passion for transforming the way legal professionals work. [13]

Transforming the way legal professionals work is not only for c-suite executives. Real change occurs from the bottom up; from person to person. [14]

First year associates, law students, and aspiring law students are driving change in the legal industry. To do so, they must hone their skills in collaboration, empathy, and adaptability. One of the best ways to hone these skills come from Design Challenges. Design Challenges produce innovative ideas because they bring diversity of thought. Group collaboration allows individuals from different backgrounds to come together, producing novel ideas and approaches to old problems.

Today Design Challenges are not only emerging into the legal ecosystem, they are increasing in popularity. The question is not what companies do Design Challenges, but what companies don’t. [15]

II. The Trailblazers

Liberty Mutual Insurance and Suffolk University Law School are making serious headway in this space. [16] The B.O.L.D. Challenge [17] presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance is held annually at Suffolk University Law School. [18] The event is organized by professionals from Liberty Mutual and Suffolk University, and boasts participants from law schools and business schools in the Boston area. [19] The competition awards cash prizes for the top placing teams, as well as networking opportunities for students that could lead to future collaboration. [20]

B.O.L.D. is unique in that it is the only inter-law/business school design challenge in Boston. This aspect of B.O.L.D. is monumental because in order to coexist, the legal industry and the business world must understand each other. A strong partnership between legal and business creates a natural incubator of ideas that can be developed upon and iterated to serve both business purposes and compliance with the law.

The B.O.L.D. Challenge provides valuable training for law and business students. By working collaboratively with their business counterparts, law students gain valuable insight to how business students think and what non-legal needs and considerations business have. Business students are empowered because the law becomes accessible to them and they can apply certain routine legal practices, such as disclaimers, prior to formal legal review. The parameters of the event make students work together under pressure in timed exercises. Oftentimes, this is the first time these participants do a time-pressured, design-focused type of team exercise.

The partnership between Liberty Mutual and Suffolk University is not the only Hackathon happening in legal. Hundreds occur around the globe each year. For example, the Global Legal Hackathon has made serious waves in the legal industry.[21] In its inaugural year, 5,000 participants from 40 cities in 22 countries came together in a herculean effort. That number increased to 6,000 participants from 46 cities in 24 countries in its second year. The Global Legal Hackathon is a non-profit that brings together law schools, law firms and in-house departments, legal technology companies, governments, and service providers to further innovation and problem-solving within legal – on a global scale. This Hackathon rallies the best thinkers, doers and practitioners in law in support of a unified vision: agile development of solutions to improve the legal industry world-wide. [22]

III. The importance

The archaic mystique of the law and lawyers no longer defines the value of legal service delivery. Clients now hold the power defining expected value and driving the legal market. With this, design challenges bridge the gap between clients and legal professionals because they teach students the skills they need to be 21st century lawyers. Design challenges help current practitioners identify common problems and work collaboratively to solve issues. Design challenges also help c-suite executives innovate their practice and hone their processes by capitalizing on diversity of thought.

To be practice ready, law students should be versed in three things: (1) empathy, (2) adaptability, and (3) collaboration. Empathy allows attorneys to really understand their clients – identifying goals and ways to cost-effectively achieve those goals. Adaptability encourages new ways of thinking, and malleability as circumstances change. Collaboration is perhaps most important, and is something not often helped by a naturally adversarial profession. However, team work does make the dream work and clients expect to be treated as collaborators in solving their legal challenges. Being able to utilize the strengths of fellow attorneys, paralegals, business partners and other team members creates stronger solutions. Most law schools do not offer the opportunity to hone these skills through course work, which is why design challenges have become a crucial academic initiative. They are tangible opportunities to develop these skills, in what is normally an individual quest to the JD degree. Design challenges also spotlight common issues the legal industry faces that may often be swept under the rug within the traditional legal curriculum. Forcing soon-to-be lawyers to think differently about years-old challenges better prepares them to counsel clients in ways that may defy the traditional experience.

My advice to anyone in law school or interested in law school? Find law school experiences that will hone your skills in collaboration, empathy, and adaptability. The legal industry is facing its own rebirth. There is a call to action in all legal professionals; we must adapt and change the way we deliver legal services. By using the tenants of design thinking, and practicing those tenants through design challenges, future-lawyers and law firm partners alike can take measurable action towards adapting the way we approach opportunities therefore improving the profession. Like Brunelleschi, we must answer the call, be masters of our craft, and approach problems with innovative solutions.



[1] Dyane O’Leary, License to Hack (Suffolk University Law Sch. Legal Studies Research Paper Series., Paper No. 19-5, 2019),

[2] Cathedral of Florence Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Hidden Italy (; Maya Lekach, The History of Design Contests 99 Designs .

[4] Id.

[5] Gina Mussio, 7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Incredible Florence Duomo, Walks of Italy, (; Id.

[6] O’Leary, License to Hack, supra note 1.

[7] O’Leary, License to Hack, supra note 1.; Aaron Lawrence, What is a Hackathon? A Newbie’s Guide to Collaborative Coding, Rasmussen College (February 22, 2016),

[8] Dean Sonderegger, Why We Need More Hackathons, Above the Law (January 22, 2019),

[9] Anthony W. Metzler, Traits of the Next Generation of Lawyer; Why Design Thinking Matters, The Journal of High Technology Law, (2019)

[10] Id.

[11] The Law Firm Chief Innovation Officer, The Practice (January/February 2019) ( quoting Michele DeStefano The Law Firm Chief Innovation Office: Goals, Roles, and Holes.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Paul Hawken. (Paul Hawken is an American environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist).

[15] O’Leary, License to Hack, supra note 1.

[16] Liberty Design Challenge: Looking for Big Ideas, Suffolk University Law School, (2018)

[17] B.O.L.D. stands for Boston’s Original Legal Design Challenge. Formerly known as The Design Challenge presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Sonderegger, Why We Need More Hackathons, supra note 2.

[22] Global Legal Hackathon, Inc. (2019),

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