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Melissa Lyon

Episode 19   12 July 2021

People won't forget how you made them feel

Melissa Lyon.jpg


People won't forget how you made them feelMelissa Lyon
00:00 / 34:42


Melissa Lyon

Innovator, Design Thinker

Executive Director & Experience Designer at Hive Legal

Melissa Lyon is Executive Director and Experience Designer of Hive Legal, a boutique law firm based in Melbourne, Australia. She is committed to improving the experience for those who receive legal services and all of those who work in our industry. 

We talk about how innovation starts with prioritising the experience for clients and for your people. This is the essence of human-centred design and is Mel's guiding principle and what makes Hive Legal successful.


Show notes





Mel Lyon is Executive Director and Experience Designer of Hive Legal, a boutique law firm based in Melbourne, Australia. She is a former lawyer and now a recognised legal innovator, having won an award for Innovator of the Year in 2020. 

She is committed to improving the experience for those who receive legal services and all of those who work in our industry. She consults on Design Thinking, Innovation, Legal operations, NewLaw business models and Value pricing.

She was formerly a partner of a law firm and held senior business development roles at a top tier legal firm.

Show notes:

  • [2:00] Mel explains how innovation was built into every component of Hive from its inception.
  • [3:42] Hive not only has removed time sheets to focus on outputs but allows completely flexible remote working practices.
  • [5:40] The nub of Hive's innovation is its human-centred design - for clients and its people.  The legal profession tends to jump to high-tech solutions and efficiencies instead of focussing on the people experience.
  • [9:19] Mel gives an example of how Hive with its flat structure brings in the right components of expertise (tech and design-thinking) to improve client experience in a contract approval process. 
  • [13:25] Mel talks about Hive's purpose to improve the experience for its team and clients and her own purpose to give people a fulfilling career early on.
  • [14:59] Authenticity gives rise to creativity which breeds an innovative culture. 
  • [17:20] We talk about healthy cross-pollination and innovation within firms which traditional law firms have barriers around.
  • [20:24] Mel explains how at Hive everyone has input into strategy which leads to true inclusiveness. Everyone's voice is heard which motivates everyone to contribute time and energy to the betterment of the firm.
  • [24:57] Big Law will always have a place for large scale legal matters but New Law is already contributing to the legal ecosystem.
  • [27:09] As a New Law firm, Hive offers a unique training model for graduates in highly specialised areas with the same type of work as Big Law but in a different model. Young lawyers now can also think about allied legal areas and building their career in a completely bespoke way.
  • [31:26] Hive intends to expand its consulting model which involves bringing its successful innovative ideas to the broader legal ecosystem including other law firms, clients and regulators.



Hive Legal:

My podcast episode with Matthew Burgess

The Quote Investigator's investigation of who actually said: They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel 

Show notes
Mel Lyon Image Quote IG.jpg


Geraldine  0:13  
Hi, everyone, and welcome to the New Earth lawyer podcast. I'm Geraldine Johns-Putra. I'm your host. I'm a lawyer myself. I'm based in Melbourne, Australia. On today's episode, I am speaking to Melissa Lyon. Mel is Executive Director and Experience Designer for Hive Legal, a boutique law firm based in Melbourne, Australia. She's a former lawyer, and she is now an innovator. She won an award for Innovator of the Year last year, she is committed to improving the experience for those who receive legal services and for all of those who work in our industry. She consults on Design Thinking innovation, legal operations, new law, business models, and value pricing. She's also formerly a partner of a law firm and held senior business development roles at a top tier legal firm. Melissa, a wealth of experience you're bringing to us. And really, I'm looking forward to a very interesting conversation. Welcome.


Mel  1:13  
Thanks so much, Geraldine, I'm looking forward to an interesting conversation off the back of a lot of interesting conversations that we've had in the past.


Geraldine  1:20  
Yeah. You know, I was saying to you, before we started recording that, I wanted to get into an area of discussion that really, off the back of a discussion I had last week with Matthew Burgess of View Legal who's also really founded a niche law practice a specialist law practice, and that was a discussion around innovation. Now, Hive Legal is an innovative law firm. I wanted to talk about what the innovations are that you have seen introduced in Hive, you've been there since day one, and why it doesn't actually have to be that hard to be effective.


Mel  2:00  
Yeah, look, it's a really good question. I think if you start from the beginning with Hive, the business model was innovative or easy, innovative in itself. The fact that it was designed based on the founders' previous experiences of working in bigger law firms and what they did was really take a step back, and look at how you would redesign the business model starting from scratch. So Hive had the ability to do that. And it was what components do you then put in that business model to allow it to improve the experience for not only its clients, but the people who work in the firm as well, as we like to call them hivesters. And those different components were innovative. Things like value pricing and I know you spoke to Matthew about that. So obviously, you know, Matthew will talk about that, but value pricing, not having time sheets, and actually working with our clients to give them certainty in their pricing. But also our lawyers not having to fill in timesheets, so they can concentrate on the outputs. That was one of the innovative side of things which has, and we can talk about this a bit later on, that has amazing benefits for the culture of the firm as well.


Geraldine  3:21  
Yeah, that's almost like the first thing you'd want to change, because it unleashes so much. And one of the things that I'm finding talking to different people about value pricing, is that it's the start of the journey, it actually then leads to lots of other things that feeds into the innovation cycle.


Mel  3:42  
Absolutely. And you know, when we talk about innovation, I think, you know, a lot of people jump to it has to be tech-based it has to be big, wonderful, shiny, or that type of thing. And coming back to your original question, how is Hive innovative? Well, that's one of the things, changing the business model, or changing the way that you're price, changing the way that you work. You know, our team, totally flexible work practices, so no matter what role you play, how senior you are in Hive, everyone has the choice of where and when they work. So you know we've got an office in the CBD in Melbourne but you can choose where you want to work. If you want to work in the office you can. You want to work from home, you want to work from a cafe. At the moment, I am working from my parents house in northern Tasmania. 


Geraldine  4:33  
Very jealous. 


Mel  4:33  
There is real. Yeah, I know amazing view of Bass Strait out here. So those sorts of things. So if you look at innovation, I think coming back to the original question, if you look at innovation, from a people perspective, and have them as central to what you're doing, then, part of my idea of innovation is that you are improving the experience for the people involved in what they're doing. 


Geraldine  5:02  


Mel  5:03  
And you're doing that, then you're innovating, because you're making things better for them. It's an improvement. It could be efficiency wise, it could be wellbeing wise, it could be profitability wise. Different types of things. But if you're focusing on the people, and making things better for the people, then I think you're innovating.


Geraldine  5:29  
And it goes back to something that you've just spoke to me about before. And that's the human centred design piece. Because we are a human business. So it makes absolute sense.


Mel  5:40  
Yeah, literally, and I think that's where I've been able to join the dots with my background, and you mentioned before, practising as a commercial litigator, and then going into business development really gave me the opportunity to see, to focus on the client or the customers' experience and how they feel when they have, they're having legal services delivered to them. And so what I think you really have to do is think about those, think about the client as they are people.  I know we're providing advice to businesses, but at the end of the day, the people in those businesses are the ones that you are helping to make their lives better, to make they're ... just to get rid of their pain points. So if you're focusing on the people, and the experience that they have working with you, then I think you're going to be a lot more successful in what you're doing.


Geraldine  6:41  
That's such an interesting point, it almost never has occurred to me, you know, there's this quote that does the rounds on the Internet, meme almost right, which is that people may forget what you say, but they'll never forget how you made them feel. Or something like that.


Mel  6:57  
That is my go to. I love that. I use it in presentations, and especially when I'm talking about business development, it is so important. And I think a fantastic development that we've seen in the last few years in the legal ecosystem is that people are starting to look at client and customer experience and employee experience. So quite a few years ago, we wouldn't have heard CX, EX being spoken about in a legal context. It is developing a lot more momentum now. And we're seeing that. And so I see that as really central to that idea of innovation. If we've got the client experience, the employee experience, the user experience, the human experience wrapped up in what we're doing, and having that as a focus, then we can innovate a lot more easily. And so I think, to come back to that reason, why has the legal profession sometimes found innovation hard? I think often it hasn't jumped to where it needs to jump to, which is looking at the people involved, the experience side of it, it's jumped to the tech, the efficiency side of things, as opposed to looking at the people that you're working with and working for.

Geraldine  8:14  
Using the left brain, you know, that's what lawyers do. So when you say experience to me in the context of the legal profession, if I do immediately jump to, okay, we're going to make it more cost effective for the client, you know, we're going to make it more streamlined, etc, etc. And then I forget about the right brain stuff, which is well, how's the client feeling you know are they walking away thinking oh, yeah, that was a good chat. Oh, that was a good experience. Oh, that was a good connection. That is actually so, so pretty basic. Which means that you're focusing then on the psychology of your people and the psychology of your your clients. So what would be an example of how you would say, pitch to a client, or how you would introduce a new structure or new idea to the client to take advantage of that?

Mel  9:19  
Yeah. So I think and once again, I think a benefit of our business model is that if you're looking at value and the value you're providing to a client, and also you have a structure where you have, you don't have a lot of silos, and it's relatively flat hierarchy, the benefit of that is that you can bring a whole lot of skills to the way that you deal with or help your client. So to use an example, in the traditional business model, a client might come with a legal problem, that's a corporate legal problem. So the corporate group would deal with that. And they would probably assist, would assist the client, this is what we can do. If you come at it more from a holistic point of view, in terms of thinking right from the start, what is the client's problem, not just the legal issue that needs to be solved for them, but actually their experience of how you're going to assist them, then there might be the need to bring in other skill sets to help with that. So it could be that there is a more efficient way of to help them to do that. So you could bring technologists in to do that. Or it could be, from my point of view, coming in and helping the client to design a better process to deal with the problem that they have, using design thinking. So an example that I can use of that is that we've worked with clients where they have contract approval processes that have been, you know, possibly paper based or email based. And we worked through through it using human centred design to actually work out, you know, who was involved, what mattered to them, and then design a process, which was a lot more iterative, and also enabled them to click the data around that as well. So it's sort of come back to your original question, we can bring a broader set of skills to the client's problem, because we look at it not just from the point of view of delivering the technical legal advice, but in a more broad way.

Geraldine  11:42  
And sitting behind all of that, also, is that you're not just billing on time.


Mel  11:49  
Absolutely. Thank you for bringing that up. And I missed that point. Absolutely. Because if you're billing on time in a traditional firm, then the clients will be charging by the sorry, the lawyers will be charging by the hour, and it is their time, that's their efforts that are put into this. If you go to, if when we go to a client, or when a client comes to us, we will scope the matter for them, we will have those additional ideas for them that we can put to them in their options. And it's not based on the time that's going to be provided. And it's not based on purely lawyer time. It's, it's based on what value we provide to them. And that value can include legal and non legal input, or operational assistance. Yes, design assistance, all of those things.

Geraldine  12:43  
Yeah. So I mean, into that experience side of it. Well, now I'm looking at the experience of the people who work for Hive. And this was a another area that I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by. It's that idea of, it's a cliche, bringing your whole self to work being authentic. And I think now looking back at my career, that it was very hard to be truly authentic in a very large law firm, because there were expectations of how I would behave, what I would say, how I would dress and so on and so forth. What's the experience you're having at Hive in that sense?


Mel  13:25  
Wow, so far from that. Authenticity is another one of my go to things, I just think you if, if you can't be authentic, then you're not reaching your full potential. And I think the other side of authenticity is actually knowing why you do what you do and your purpose. And I think if you're, it's very hard often in a larger organisation where you have those other preconceptions or ways of thinking, to actually understand what either your personal purpose is, or even the organisation's purpose because it is often very large. So, you know, from Hive's point of view, our vision or purpose very much is improving the experience for our team and our clients. And that underpins everything that we do. My personal experience, my personal purpose, is to bring all of that experience that I had previously throughout my career and learn from that and give back in a way to people who are coming into the legal ecosystem so that they can gain a fulfilling career much sooner than I did.

Geraldine  14:50  
I hear that a lot, also. If only I'd known, you know, the advice I could give to people, start being yourself sooner really.


Mel  14:59  
Absolutely, but you know, we're in a very traditional, for the most part, we're in a very traditional profession, I'll put it, as a profession. And that's where I was often frustrated, where that tradition really hinders your ability to bring your authentic self, be creative, and use your authenticity to be creative. Because if you're running between the tracks, you're not thinking of all the things out there that you can bring in to make the change. And for me, that was the lightbulb moment where I really saw how using a design thinking mindset where you talk about those higher levels, the concepts of collaboration, experimentation, and empathy, bringing those into the way that, you know, we can practise law, we can provide solutions to our clients, or we can treat each other within our teams.


Geraldine  16:08  


Mel  16:10  
That's where the secret sauce is around innovation. Because otherwise, when you're working like this, it's like benchmarking. You know, if you're benchmarking against what everyone else is doing, no one's going to do anything different.

Geraldine  16:24  
And it's also not just the individual has to be given the room to be themselves, but the structures then really need to be broken down. Because what's the point of telling people you can, you know, be yourself you can, you can say what you want, you can bring your whole self to work, et cetera, et cetera. But then everything around, them all the things that they are remunerated for, rewarded for are guided towards say, billing, yes, we know that, but also following a very traditional path, right? So it also within the firm, what happens is that that we're rewarded within our silos and our business units. This is actually an extremely tough barrier to overcome if you've got those in place, because then you're not seeing true collaboration, as well as between, we were talking about this earlier, allied staff and lawyers. 

Mel  17:20  
Absolutely, yes. Because you've got those, they are literally barriers and silos, hinder cross pollination of thought, diversity of thought across different skills. And if everyone's thinking the same way, then you know, nothing's going to change or everyone thinks they have to think the same way that they think they have to think the same way. 


Geraldine  17:42  


Mel  17:43  
And it's interesting, you should say that around career paths, too, is that we're at the moment where really exciting project at Hive is that were reimagining or and redesigning our career growth programmes. So you know, we want to look at it from a from a journey for any hires or who comes in to Hive. And we're asking them, you know, what do you see as this, what do you, what is your career going to be? You know, and so not as, this is what a senior associate does, this is what a special counsel does, this is what a lawyer does, because to have the ability for people, and it comes back to my point about a fulfilling career, is your career going to be that you are solely going to be a lawyer delivering legal advice?  If that's if that's what you want, fine. But if you also want to work with Mel on, and do design thinking or, you know, consulting, or work on the operations part of it, and that's part of what makes you happy in your career path, then let's do that, too. So it's a build your own journey, career journey. And it doesn't have to look the same for everyone. And in fact, it shouldn't look the same for everyone. If you really want to be in an innovative firm, where you're really looking at how things can be done differently.

Geraldine  19:06  
Yeah, so it's not top down. And this is this touches on another conversation I had with someone around corporate, new corporate structures, right? We're talking about more flexibility, reducing hierarchy. And this was just so that these new form of companies could unleash purpose. You know, really work with not just a top down purpose, but make sure that everybody is aligned. And it's absolutely the same with law firms. If you're going to harness energy from people, then you really need to know your people rather than make them fit a certain box. The other thing that I was going to ask you about was that when people are told that they can be themselves and be authentic, but then they're getting so many signals that they can't really, there's that sense of doublespeak. And what breaks down is trust. You're telling me I can, you're sending me off to all of these programs using big words like empowerment and so on. But I know that's not really the case. So there's that trust is a massive thing. 


Mel  20:21  
Words are cheap. 


Geraldine  20:23  


Mel  20:24  
Actions are powerful. And I think that's what is really important in terms of the culture and here, you know, I think what we're talking about too is very much that culture. And you need to have an innovative culture, I think you need to have a culture where people have permission, or know that they have permission. They feel empowered, here we're talking about words, but it's inclusive. So you know, everyone can have a say, and everyone can be heard, that's the thing and be heard in a way that they want to be heard as well. So look for another example, Geraldine is today, in fact, we've gone out to our team, we've got a we have a strategy day whole of firm strategy day, every year. And we've gone out today and said to everyone, tell us what you want to hear. You know, it can be fun, strategic, it can be serious, it can be, you can bring other people in, but we want you to drive our strategy days. So we want everyone in the firm to, you know, contribute, what session would you like to have? What would you like to deliver? And how are you going to do that. So that it's not just top down, people saying, this is what we're going to do. It's much more around people being involved and having a say, and driving it, I think that's the other thing that's really important, driving it. So the project that I spoke to before, spoke about before, which is called Thrive at Hive, because we love our words. It's like that, you know, our working team that we've got a working group that we've got working on that has paralegals, lawyers, senior associates, principals, everyone, you know, the working group is representative of everyone. 


Geraldine  22:24  


Mel  22:25  
And then we go out, and that will be very much getting everyone else's feedback as well. So then, inclusiveness I think is really important.


Geraldine  22:34  
So that strikes me as actually getting so much out of your people than you would in a traditional, you need to bill seven hours a day model. Because what's happening is they're thinking about it all the time. Every time they're going out. Maybe they're talking to their friends, maybe they're reading something, or they're looking at LinkedIn, or whatever it is, right, that they're taking in new information, and then they're considering well, how could I take this back to Hive to make it better for everyone? That is, you couldn't, you don't pay for that? That's totally priceless.


Mel  23:12  
It is. And I think, coming back to that point about timesheets, if people are looking at their value in terms of the time that they're providing to the firm, so the firm value metrics, how much time is written down on the timesheet, how that converts to fees, then that's what they will do. Obviously, if you're being measured that way, that's what you will do. Now, in that scenario, you're not going to necessarily have people going, oh, okay, well, I'll jump onto that working group, or I'll develop that session for Hive. Because what they'll be thinking is, that's time that I won't be having on my timesheet. 


Geraldine  23:50  


Mel  23:50  
Whereas with Hive, if it is, that's as much valued by the firm, the time that I spend helping build the culture of the firm, helping make the firm a better place, helping developing innovative ideas is is just as valued. 


Geraldine  24:04  


Mel  24:04  
And in fact, in my eyes even more so. So it creates a culture where people you know, they feel that they are contributing, and really making a difference. And it's not purely time on the timesheet, that's value.

Geraldine  24:24  
So when I speak to somebody like you in a New Law firm, and I have spent my entire career really in Big Law firms, I do think, well, what's the place then for the Big Law firms? You're unleashing so much potential. You're making clients happy. You're delivering high level high quality legal services. And I do have some ideas to answer my own question, but I'm wondering what you think what's the place for Big Law now?


Mel  24:57  
Oh, look, I think there will always be a place for Big Law, there will always be a place where the sheer scale, the ability to put together big teams, highly specialised advice, you know, large scale litigation, large projects, all of those types of things where you've got, you need that scale. That's where Big Law will always have a place.


Geraldine  25:26  
Yeah, although they are under threat in those areas from obviously the big consulting firms. But that's a whole other conversation.


Mel  25:33  
Absolutely. Yeah, that is, so I think, you know, Big Law does need to continue to look at how they work with the people within their firms, their teams, how they provide a good experience for those people. I would like to think that business models like ours, will continue to grow and have impact on the legal ecosystem, because we are doing things differently and are focusing on both the client and the team experience in what we're doing. Big Law, though, is always going to be out there. I think when you've got that when you need that major scale or or coverage to do those bigger matters. 


Geraldine  26:22  
I get asked this question now, from young lawyers who are in major law firms, when would be the best time for me to make a career change, they ask? And I think the answer has changed a lot in the last few years. So I would have given a very pat stereotypical answer a few years ago saying do your time, get a few years under your belt, get the training, etc, put it on your CV. And more recently, I'm saying, you know, are you feeling like you need to leave, you've been admitted, you've maybe done a couple of years, you want to leave? Well, there's lots out there for you.


Mel  27:09  
Absolutely. And I'm seeing that trend now, too. I mean, there are so many opportunities. And what I say to students is if you feel like if you want to give Big Law a try, go for it, you know, give it a try. But also know that there are other opportunities out there, firms like ours, and we've had graduates come through who are now senior associates, you know, working in highly specialised regulatory areas of energy, and government, financial services, and health. And they have come through and they are working with the same clients that they will be working with in Big Law but just with a different business model, a different structure that they're working from, and a different way of approaching it. So they're still doing the same type of work. And so I get a little bit frustrated, I suppose when I see that people don't necessarily. as students don't necessarily see the New Law firms as an option for them. Because they're, it's absolutely an option for them. I think the other thing from the students' point of view too as an aside and that is I don't think that you should necessarily have to go into practising law either. Think more broadly about whether or not you might enjoy working in more of a consulting space or you know, legal operations space or within the legal ecosystem, but not necessarily as a practising lawyer. There are so many more allied professional type roles now that people might feel that they're better suited to design, legal design, all of those different types of things now that are available to people. And I think, you know, having a broader opportunity to build your own career in a different way can start very early on, as you say, you don't have to be there for five, six years before you decide what you're going to do differently.


Geraldine  29:14  
So I've started to let go of this idea of the advantage of training in a big law firm, right, which is a personal bias of mine, I think. And I'm starting to think about this idea of more personalised apprenticeship training. And I wonder whether that's something that you're observing that that people who begin their training at Hive would get more of that, just get a lot more personalised expert training from people who've got 25-30 years of experience.


Mel  29:47  
I think that's right. Um, I think, excuse me, that that's the benefit that you get in a smaller environment.


Geraldine  29:56  
Yeah, yeah. It's just a different way of training. 


Mel  30:04  
It is a different way of training.


Geraldine  30:04  
Just as valid.


Mel  30:04  
Interesting, though, because when when we first started at Hive, we were one of the first firms to be working remotely. And so a lot of the questions that we would be asked all the time is how do you know if your people are working? How do you train them? How do you do this? It was that complete bias, as you're saying if they're not in front of me sitting in the office in front of me, and I'm not seeing them filling in timesheets do I know they're actually doing it. But in fact, what working in a remote way means is you're even more hypersensitive if I can put it that way, to ensuring that you are training people, that you're keeping in touch with them that you are seeing, you know, what they need, because you know that you're not going to see them in the office every day. So it really was, from the start, we're investing a lot of time and effort into working out how you how we train people, how we feel, let them know they're supported and how they develop their careers as well.


Geraldine  31:04  
And how long has Hive been going now if I may ask? 


Mel  31:08  
Seven years. 


Geraldine  31:09  
Seven years. So what next? Oh, you've got your Thrive programmes. I was intrigued to hear about your strategy day. What do you think is the next step up for Hive? 


Mel  31:26  
Yeah. I think for us, it will be continuing to develop our consulting side that we do. So that's very much, I mean, obviously continue to grow our other areas that we provide legal services in those highly regulated areas that I was talking about before. So looking at the consulting space, so legal design thinking, looking at process improvement, and continuing, I think, to do what we've been doing at Hive for a number of years now, which is providing clients with an outsourced legal service, outsourced legal service provision through our Hive GC plus model, which is where it's not like a secondment. It's more, where clients come to us with a need for resourcing, but we can provide it in the firm so rather than putting a secondee in to them will actually provide that service from to them from everyone within the team that has the skills that are required, and, and assist them with that on an ongoing basis. So we've got a number of Hive GC plus clients now that that we work for, and that system's working really well.


Geraldine  32:47  
So would you say that with your legal design, thinking, practice and skills? Would you say that Hive is doing more in the space of redesigning law than just redesigning hive, you actually spreading the love, if you like. 


Mel  33:05  
Literally spreading the love. And that's part of the consulting part of what we're doing too. So for us bringing our experience of what we did with redesigning the business model and how we work, we work with other law firms to assist them with their strategic development, work with regulators to assist them with the strategy for their committees on a number of different States, State legal regulators we're working with as well. So what we like to think is where we're bringing that experience of what we're doing differently to help other others do things differently as well. So that includes, as I said, regulators, includes our clients, and includes other law firms as well. So yeah, bringing that knowledge and understanding of the legal ecosystem and business models and operations and what it is to deliver legal services, wrapping that all up into much more of a holistic service and providing that to clients.


Geraldine  34:09  
I love that, that's true collaborative thinking. No, it's really moving the profession forward together. So, Mel, thank you. Thanks so much for sharing. I've learned more about Hive and I remain very impressed. So good luck with all of it. 


Mel  34:25  
Thanks, Geraldine it's been a pleasure.




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