Legal Design: An introduction

Jan 19, 2023

 What is legal design and why do we need it?

Legal design is a relatively new field that comprises all aspects of the design process as it applies to the legal industry. Legal designers work to improve the experience of everyone involved in the legal system, from lawyers and judges to clients.

The goal of legal design is to make the law and legal system more efficient and accessible for all. In a world where the average person has little understanding of the law, legal design can play a vital role in ensuring that everyone has equal access to justice.

Moreover, by streamlining the legal process, legal design can help to reduce the cost of justice and improve the overall efficiency of the legal system. In short, legal design is an essential tool for improving the delivery of justice in the 21st century.

The history of legal design

Legal design as the intentional use of design methods and tools to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of legal services is a relatively new concept. It was first coined by Dr. Colette R. Brunschwig in Switzerland, in the 1990s when she started her PhD research at the University of Zurich on the visualization of legal norms, whose work obtained a research award in 2001.

In the 2000s with the rise of Design thinking and then in the 2010s with User experience (UX) design to create technological innovations, the interest to apply it to the legal field emerged at the university of Stanford. In 2013, Margaret Hagan led an experiment at the d.School gathering engineers, designers, and lawyers to explore the possibility of applying this methodology to the world of law in view of making it more usable. 

Today, the Stanford Legal Design Lab's work is inspired by the urgent need to humanize the experience of the justice system and to leverage new technologies to achieve that. The lab's work is proof that even complex systems can be designed for greater accessibility and efficiency.

In recent years, Legal Design became more popular, especially with the Legal Design Summit held in Helsinki (Finland) in 2017, gathering the pioneers in the field together with an enthusiastic audience of legal professionals thirsty for creativity and innovation.  In the same spirit, the Legal + Design Summit was organized in 2019 in São Paulo (Brazil) by the largest EdTech in LATAM, Future Law in partnership with Hi-Law, gathering speakers from the region as well as from Europe and North America. 

Today, with more Legal Design academic research, empirical studies, and material, the potential of Legal Design is exponentiated, not just to redesign legal or contractual information, but also to support digital transformation and tech adoption in the legal sector.

Elements of legal design

Legal design takes its root in design thinking, which is a process for creative problem solving that is now being applied to the law. Design thinking begins with a focus on understanding the user, or client, and their needs. Once the problem is clearly defined, a variety of possible solutions are generated. These solutions are then selected and refined until an optimal solution is arrived at.

The use of visuals is central to legal design, as it helps to communicate ideas clearly and quickly when going through each step of the process. Visuals can also be used when creating legal documents that are more effective because they're easier to understand and create less cognitive load for the readers. 

But the use of legal design to facilitate the incorporation of technology is also important, as it can help to automate repetitive tasks and free up lawyers to focus on more added value work. This is especially relevant as law firms and legal departments are constantly expected to do more with less. By applying the principles of legal design, lawyers can work smarter, not harder, and deliver better results for their clients.

As Mark A Cohen, Forbes Contributor said, "The legal industry, unlike many of its customers, has yet to undergo a paradigm change from provider to customer-centricity."  

The Financial Times recently pointed out that since 2020, many big law firms employ legal designers on staff and offer design-thinking training to encourage more client-centric mindsets. Linklaters and Australia-based Gilbert & Tobin, have been working towards embedding the Legal Design mindset and methodology in their day-to-day work to become more customer-centric. HSBC also kickstarted many projects using Legal Design to make its retail terms and conditions more accessible to customers.

How to implement legal design in your practice

In today's legal landscape, client expectations are higher than ever before. In order to meet these expectations, it is essential to embrace innovative and proven approaches such as legal design.

At its core, legal design is all about making complex legal concepts and services more relevant for clients and users. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, including redesigning documents, using visuals, and simplifying the language, but also helps to improve workflows, communication, and ultimately, client satisfaction.

When used to support the digital transformation of legal departments and law firms and the development as well as integration of new technologies, Legal Design helps ensures the success of the projects with a tangible ROI that can be measured with metrics. 

Resources for learning more about legal design

While some may see Legal design as a daunting task, it does not have to be an overwhelming undertaking. Even with 0 design skills, any lawyer willing to learn can successfully use the design methodology, techniques and mindsets. The objective is not for lawyers to become designers, but to apply the methodology to design legal services that are customer-centric, efficient and deeply satisfying - all at the same time!

By taking small steps, you can make a big impact on your practice - and your clients will notice the difference. Here are a number of simple ways to get started: Simplify the language used in the legal document without losing legal precision, organize information in policies in a way that allows users to skim and scan so that they can find what they need quicker, integrate visuals in your memorandums to clarify complex concepts for the judge, and conduct user testing to understand how your legal department or law firm can continuously improve their customer experience. 

If you're looking to achieve your next level with the most powerful innovation methodology today, then the Legal Design methodology is for you. You can build a deeply fulfilling legal career, and at the same time, provide a service that will be a lot more satisfactory to your clients. 

👉 Ready to explore or make a shift to Legal Design & Innovation? Then the upcoming Legal Design Pro Immersion is for you. It's a 5 module Training Program with Interactive Sessions and Practice Rounds 100% online, gathering legal professionals from all around the world. 

By taking the program, you'll get an in-depth look at Legal Design mindsets, methods, and techniques, you'll receive the templates and worksheets and you'll have safe spaces to practice, so you can confidently use what you will learn during the immersion to design legal information, services, and organizations that are truly customer-centric.

🌟  Plus, you'll also have a unique opportunity to apply what you'll learn during the Legal Design Pro Immersion, so by the end of the program, you will be perfectly confident to re-apply what you have learned, systematically in your practice.

The 2023 Pro Immersion starts on Thursday, February 23rd 📆 Registrations close on February 16th, 2023 Online. ✅

Legal design has proven on numerous occasions to significantly improve the customer experience, increase users' engagement with the law and legal information and also help legal professionals contribute meaningfully to the success of their clients and by extension, of their legal practice.

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