Unlocking Efficiency for In-House Legal Teams: Fitts's Law in Legal Document Design

contract design design patterns legal design Mar 20, 2024

By Tessa Manuello, Founder & CEO of Legal Creatives | The Legal Designers

In the field of legal document design, where precision and clarity are paramount, the notion of design may seem secondary to the rigidity of legal principles. However, just as the legal field operates under a set of laws and regulations, so too does design. Enter the Laws of UX, a compendium curated by Jon Yablonski, which delineates a series of principles guiding user interface creation.

While traditionally associated with digital design, these laws possess a surprising relevance for legal professionals embarking on the journey of redesigning legal documents. These principles are particularly relevant for in-house legal teams who handle a myriad of documents on a daily basis. In-house teams often face tight deadlines and the need to communicate complex legal information clearly and efficiently. By implementing these Design Laws, you can streamline document review processes, enhance comprehension, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of your legal services.

Each universal design law offers invaluable insights that can significantly improve the (re)design of legal documents, while addressing common mistakes often made by legal professionals who are new to the field. By understanding these principles, you can avoid these pitfalls and redesign documents that are more effective, user-friendly, and compliant. Let's dive into each law, explaining the theory, providing examples, and discussing how it can rectify some of the most common errors in legal document redesign. 

For our inaugural article, I will delve into Fitts's Law: The Art of Efficiency. I will explore the theory behind Fitts's Law, provide relevant examples, and discuss how its principles can address prevalent issues encountered during the redesign of legal documents.


Fitts's Law: The Art of Efficiency 

Fitts's Law, often regarded as the art of efficiency in user experience design, holds significant implications for optimizing the interaction with legal documents. Named after psychologist Paul Fitts, this principle emphasizes the correlation between the size and distance of a target and the time it takes to interact with it.

In essence, Fitts's Law asserts that larger targets positioned closer to the user are easier and quicker to interact with than smaller, more distant targets. By understanding and applying this principle, designers can optimize the placement and size of elements, ensuring a more efficient and user-friendly digital experience. 

Unfortunately, Fitts's Law is often disregarded or completely ignored in legal documents, resulting in numerous problems and frustrations for both users and in-house teams. It usually translates in inefficient document navigation, prolonged review times, and heightened levels of frustration for both users and lawyers. 


Common Mistakes To Avoid in Legal Documents

When it comes to Fitts's Law, a common mistake comes from the static nature of these documents. This presents a challenge, as readers are unable to interact with the content.

It's not uncommon to encounter cross-references in legal documents, whether they refer to previous sections, subsequent sections, or even the appendix. This often indicates that the content could have been organized in a more logical manner to reduce or eliminate the need for such references. However, these cross-references pose a significant challenge for readers, especially laypersons, as they increase the time and effort required to locate and interact with the relevant information efficiently. Consequently, users may encounter considerable distance between the information they seek and its location within the document, leading to inefficiencies in the review process.

 Additionally, when rencountering complex legal terms readers don't understand, they face a roadblock with nowhere to turn for clarification or explanation. Users are left with no choice but to scroll or manually search through the document for a definition. This reliance on traditional methods can be incredibly time-consuming and inefficient, exacerbating frustration and hindering the user's ability to comprehend the document effectively. 

This scenario is typical and underscores why users often abandon their attempts to comprehend complex legal documents and instead resort to calling their in-house legal team for assistance. Consequently, the burden of resolving the issue falls back entirely on the shoulders of the in-house legal team. This not only interrupts the workflow of readers but also generates additional tasks for the in-house legal team, requiring them to clarify what should have been clearly presented initially. This situation highlights the critical need for improved document accessibility and usability to alleviate user frustration and reduce reliance on external assistance.

However, this issue doesn't solely impact laypersons; it also interferes with the contract reviewing process for in-house legal teams, causing delays and inefficiencies. Imagine needing to locate the definition of a complex term buried deep within the document. You are forced to scroll extensively, which can be both time-consuming and mentally taxing, especially in lengthy documents.  Alternatively, you can rely on the "Control + F" function to find specific words can also be problematic, particularly if the term appears multiple times throughout the document. This approach not only increases frustration but also fails to provide context or additional information that is necessary for the swift review of the document.

Combining the fact that document are statics and that related information can sometimes be located across the entire document, under Fitts's Law this poses a big problem and create negative consequences for both users and lawyers. Fortunately, we can rely on design patterns and features to fix these problems and now I'd like to share a best practice to follow to maximize Fitts's Law and ensure document efficiency! 

A Best Practice to Implement for Efficiency

A best practice inspired by Fitts's Law consist in inserting explainers next to the clause that contain complex legal terms, so that readers who need it the most can find assistance by reading this explainer. This not only helps readers who need more assistance understanding with complex terminology to get clarifications, but also it does not disrupt others readers who can focus on the section at hand and proceed to the document review.

Using explainers becomes particularly important when legal professionals want to prioritize document accessibility and user-friendliness without loosing legal accuracy. With explainers, there's no absolute need to simplify the language used in legal documents. This approach enables the document to retain its technical complexity and ensure it's legally binding while enhancing user-friendliness through the integration of explainers. This strategy allows the document to maintain its technical nature while becoming more user-friendly through the incorporation of explainers. 

Adding explainers necessitate most of the time a redesign of the document layout in order to create space for their insertions - usually on the right hand-side of the legal texts. Changing the layout is relatively simple. At The Legal Designers, we utilize a proven layout to facilitate the efficient redesign of legal documents. But for lengthier documents, redesigning the layout may not be feasible - it can be an extremely time consuming task. 

In such instances, I recommend prioritizing the implementation of navigation features. Clickable elements such as a table of contents or icons can significantly enhance document navigation, especially for lengthy documents. These simple yet effective navigation features allow users to easily access specific sections, such as definitions, with a simple click, eliminating the need for tedious scrolling.

Applying Fitts's Law to legal documents by inserting navigation features alongside the document text also alleviates the need for in-house legal teams to do a frustrating keyword search or scroll in long documents. By adding a clickable side-bar menu for example, in-house legal teams can access additional relevant information in a click, without having to scroll.

These design features help reduce the effort and time required to comprehend and find information in any given document. Adding explainers will assist the reader finding the information need in seconds while integrating clickable navigation features will helps streamline the review process for longer documents. This is how Fitts's Law helps reduce the time required to read and review legal documents.

By applying Fitts's Law and introducing explainers or navigation features, any legal professional can streamline the document navigation process while increasing comprehension for users! 

To recap on Fitts's Law for Legal Documents:

  • Theory: Fitts's Law emphasizes the relationship between the size and distance of a target and the time it takes to interact with it. Larger and closer targets are easier and faster to interact with compared to smaller and more distant objects.
  • Common Mistake To Avoid: Legal professionals often scatter important information across the document, leading to inefficiencies and frustration.
  • A Best Practice to Follow: Adhering to Fitts's Law by strategically placing explainers or navigation features helps reduce the time to find the information needed to comprehend the legal texts. 

By applying Fitts's Law to the design of legal documents, legal professionals can enhance the efficiency and usability of these document, ultimately improving the user experience.

In conclusion, Fitts's Law offers valuable insights into optimizing the efficiency of legal documents by emphasizing the importance of user interaction. By understanding and applying Fitts's Law in practice, you can streamline document navigation, reduce review time, and enhance the overall document usability, without loosing legal precision!

Coming up Next: 

In the upcoming articles of this Design Laws Series, I will explore other principles and their relevance to legal professionals, particularly in-house teams, aiming to further enhance comprehension and effectiveness while reducing the time required for document review.

Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the other design principles to empower legal professionals like you in your quest for improved document usability and efficiency.

Interested in applying Design Laws to your legal documents?

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