Anna Posthumus Meyjes is a legal designer and founder of Aclara Legal Design. She brings creativity, design and a user-centered approach to law. Aclara Legal Design helps you improve the communication and usability of your legal information. Go from inaccessible, dense legal documents to engaging, easy-to-use legal content your stakeholders will happily read.
Anna worked as an attorney-at-law in an international litigation practice for over ten years, amongst others at the top-tier Dutch law firm NautaDutilh. She specialised in liability, insurance and financial law. Designing and using clarifying visualisations became an increasingly important part of her communication and inspired her to start Aclara Legal Design.
You have an interesting background - from international litigation lawyer to now a legal designer and founder of Aclara Legal Design. What initially sparked your interest in this kind of visual, user-focused approach to law and legal services?
When working on complicated cases, I often used a whiteboard to sketch out the case. Which parties are involved, what are their relationships, and what happened when? Many lawyers do this. At some point, I wondered: why don't we use these visualisations? After taking the time and effort to study the case and make a visualisation that is helpful to me, why do I go back to my keyboard and start typing, forcing the recipient of my communication to do the same thing?
That was my initial 'legal design' spark back in 2012: trying to improve the communication of legal information. Fast forward to 2018, and I made plans to start my legal design business. I was frustrated and exhausted from working as a traditional lawyer and litigator. I often wondered whether, to my clients, I was part of their problem or solution. Especially since I was a senior associate and needed more free reign on how I worked and with whom.
I have always been a maker. I am curious, empathetic, and like efficiency. I want to build meaningful relationships and help people. I also like the challenge of creating something new.
My business motto right from the start was: 'I've never done it before, so I think I can do it' (stolen from the iconic Pipi Longstocking). I had no business experience but a lot of creative experience: I have had creative hobbies my entire life. They taught me how to start with something challenging, take small steps, and embrace the process. How to suck and still enjoy it. How to play and explore. And that's precisely what I needed as a basis for building a business.
It was not until I made serious plans for starting my business that I started learning more about design thinking. Even though I was initially trained in visual design (specifically information design and graphic design), I have a solid human-centred approach to my projects. I consider human needs and apply user experience research methods. And I tell my clients: you get my unsolicited legal insights and ethical considerations for free!
Can you explain your creative process for redesigning traditional legal documents/communication? How do you incorporate design principles like visual storytelling and information clarity?
I start by creating a design canvas during a co-creation session with my client. We map everything: from existing information about their target audience to whether they need the designs to be printable. Depending on the project, we conduct different types of user research sessions to understand their needs and challenges better. Those may be interviews, data analysis, or other methods.
Second, my team and I sharpen the challenge: what exactly do we need to improve, what factors do we need to consider, and how do we avoid looking for quick fixes? These first two stages are what I call the 'messy stage': my clients often want to skip through these and dive right into creating something. That's a natural reaction, especially for lawyers. The first stages are, in fact, not messy at all, but clients often feel like we explore more sides of the challenge and consult more users than they think is necessary. I always urge them to trust the process. If the problem were easy and the users' behaviour and needs predictable, they would have solved it already!
Of course, for straightforward one-pager information design designs, we need less user research and get to the creation phase faster.
Next is the sketching and writing/editing phase, where we create an information architecture and some initial sketches and either work on the existing text or create it from scratch.
We then share these first drafts with our client for feedback. The second, third or even fourth version will be tested with real users (from employees to my client's customers or even completely unrelated people, whatever suits the project best).
Lastly, we iterate the designs based on user testing outcomes until they're finalised.
We then assist our clients with implementation if needed.
What legal tech developments are you most excited about from a user experience and design perspective? How could good design help them achieve user adoption?
Anything that helps tools go from code to low- or no-code is helpful to people, I believe. The same goes for generative AI for text and images. I consider these developments democratising: anyone can create an image based on imagination or a simple app to help them perform a specific task.
For the legal sector, this will sound cliche, but I'm still waiting for mass adoption of automation of templates, contracting lifecycles, and business insights. Despite the vast amount of legal tech providers, many of my clients (yes, also the multinationals) have little tech in place. Progress is slow. A lot of change management is needed. I still see a large discrepancy between legal tech's possibilities and the adoption of sometimes even simple tools.
Perhaps generative AI can help with legal tech adoption? After all, it can write code, create APIs faster than ever and AI in general creates a sense of urgency - FOMO. I hope it will help businesses transition to automated systems faster (like CLM, contract drafting, and compliance apps).
I also expect to see more legal tech and design combined. For example, I'm launching a project soon of contract templates that are not only automated but also designed: the user enters the contract essentials (like names, dates, etc.), and the contract template that is generated is a compact, visual, engaging document that is easy to navigate, scan and read. It contains plain language and a clear structure. And it can be signed digitally, of course. This designed and automated contract will enable any business to quickly generate a labour agreement or NDA, for example, that is legally sound, on-brand, and understandable to readers. It's already been through neuroscientific research and scored exceptionally well in comprehension and engagement, remarkably better than traditional contracts.
In 2024, I want to bring more design to legal tech and vice versa. We must put human needs - not lawyer needs - central to all we create. It's about time!
For lawyers less fluent in design, what basic tech tools or skills would you advise they start learning to bring more visuals and clarity into client deliverables?
A great start to working more visually is to use a whiteboard collaboration tool like Miro or Mural. It's a large canvas, and all its functionalities help you take notes, show process steps, and create overviews in any form you can think of. For your next client meeting, why not prepare a Miro board with images, links to videos, icons and text to communicate your message or gain their perspectives by taking visual notes? Since it's online, you can work with your clients on the same board in real-time. It fosters collaboration and avoids miscommunication by allowing text and other formats, like images, icons, structures and practically any other visual format you can think of.
I also recommend using a project management tool like Trello, Notion or Asana. Working with a project management tool helps you keep work on track and teaches you how to work with other, more law-focused tools for matter management, contract management or legal operations. I recommend using any kind of project management tool internally and with clients (or even have a full client portal). Too many lawyers still depend on their Outlook calendar for project planning…
This doesn’t sound very innovative, even though I know more exciting tools are made, but in my experience, many businesses still haven’t adopted these basic tools.
In your view, what is one of the biggest opportunities where legal design and technology could solve an unmet client need if combined effectively?
Many legal tech tools focus on the tool's functionality, usability, and user interface, whereas I'd like to see more focus on the output. A solid legal template builder should only be used to generate smart contracts that are easy to read and comprehend for the users, not the traditional contracts people can't use in their business setting. I'd like to see more of a human-centred approach to creating legal content rather than solely focusing on the lawyers' needs.
I'd like to see applications that further democratise law. For example, advanced chatbots that help triage legal problems. This will not substitute lawyers; we still need that human touch. I see it as an addition. Like looking up symptoms to get some initial medical information. A route to help people gain a first understanding of their 'symptoms'.
From a lawyer's perspective, I'd like to see more development in smart databases to help lawyers cross-check legal information. Conducting legal research was a manual task which depended on the lawyer's expertise, experience and, let's be honest, grit. I hope new tools will soon help lawyers prevent mistakes, like overlooking important case law, and improve their research quality, by checking it with other sources. There is an opportunity for improvement; I have yet to see very successful applications.
Also, many tools focus on efficiency, like matter management, business insights, and CLM, and I understand that from a business point of view. But I hope that legal tech and design will also help the court system, the legislative system and governments work more human-centred.
As legal design continues advancing, what technology development or integration would you be most excited to see next when it comes to further transforming legal communication?
Generative AI can help people create text and images without being fluent in another language or having specific design skills. Some AI tools can help create an information architecture, overviews or flowcharts. I hope these will spark curiosity and invite people to explore more visual tools. I also love using the prompt 'Rewrite for clarity' (with some additional context): it will help you get to the point faster, with fewer words and more engaging language. Aside from any visual communication, rewriting your legal content into digestible communication can significantly affect how people understand and engage with legal content.
I'm currently invested in learning about the most effective AI tools for conducting user research (both qualitative and quantitative) and tools for improving project efficiency. But generative AI also helps me create copyright-free images, icon sets, and illustrations that we use in our designs. However, it's still infant technology.
But aside from any technology, invest in learning about the users' needs, not your business' or clients', and use your empathy to improve law.