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Legal Design: Bringing Law into the Digital Age


Lawyers have a reputation for being stuck in the past - endlessly quoting ancient statutes and clinging to archaic traditions. But a new movement called "legal design" aims to modernize the legal profession by applying design thinking and digital tools. This emerging discipline is rapidly gaining steam as law firms, legal departments, courts, and even legislators recognize its benefits.


What is Legal Design?

Legal design combines law and design to create legal services, content, and processes that are intuitive and easy to use. The goal is to make dealings with the law understandable for everyone, not just lawyers.


Margaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford University, describes legal design as "the application of human-centered design to the world of law." It draws on fields like visual communication, information design, and service design to improve people's experiences with the law.


For example, legal design might involve:


• Simplifying complex legal language into plain, readable text

• Using graphics and visuals to explain legal concepts

• Creating step-by-step digital interfaces to guide users through legal procedures

• Mapping out internal legal workflows to be more logical and efficient


The focus is crafting legal solutions that work for real people, not just in legal theory.


Why We Need Legal Design

 

There are several forces driving the need for more human-centered legal services:


1. Digital-savvy users: As consumers grow accustomed to seamless digital experiences in other sectors, their expectations carry over to the legal realm. Users want legal information and services that are as intuitive as ordering an Uber or shopping on Amazon.

2. Increasing complexity: Regulations continue to multiply in many areas of law. Legal design provides a way to pare down this complexity into understandable chunks.

3. Cost pressure: Legal departments, especially in corporations, need to do more quality legal work at lower cost. Legal design allows leveraging technology to work smarter.


As users’ relationship with technology evolves, the legal system must evolve as well. Legal design helps bridge this gap.


The Legal Design Process


Legal design follows a human-centered design process (also known as design thinking) to uncover users’ needs and iteratively create solutions. Key steps include:

  1. Understand users: Conduct research to identify all potential users and understand their pain points with the current legal solution. Really empathize with their experiences.

  2. Brainstorm and prototype: Come up with innovative ideas to address users’ needs, then rapidly create rough prototypes to test the concepts.

  3. Test and refine: Share the prototypes with users, gather their feedback, and improve the solutions through multiple iterations.

  4. Unlike a lawyer’s typical approach of applying the law in a theoretical vacuum, legal design keeps end users at the heart of problem-solving.

 

Real-World Legal Design


Legal design is gaining popularity across the legal sector:

 

  • Law firms use it to develop new client services and improve internal operations.

  • Corporate legal teams apply legal design to better serve internal business clients with more efficient, digital tools and processes.

  • Courts and government leverage legal design to make the justice system more accessible to citizens. Examples include online dispute resolution systems and redesigned court forms.

 

Some ways legal design is transforming legal services:

 

  • Chatbots that ask users simple questions and then provide personalized legal guidance

  • Interactive online documents like wills or contracts that provide pop-up explanations and adjust based on user input

  • Flowcharts and checklists that break down complex legal processes into simple, actionable steps

  • Data visualizations that help spot trends and insights in large sets of legal data

  • Process mapping that streamlines cumbersome internal legal workflows

 

The opportunities to implement legal design are vast, limited only by one’s creativity.

 

Legal Design in Action

 

Let's look at a real example of legal design in practice.

A large corporation wants to improve how its sales team uses and explains the company's terms and conditions to customers. They suspect the lengthy, complex legalese of the T&Cs makes it hard for salespeople and customers to understand key provisions.

 

The legal team first interviews sales associates to uncover pain points. They learn that salespeople rarely read the T&Cs since they don't understand them. Instead, they ask the legal team basic questions about the terms, creating unnecessary bottlenecks. Sales associates also admit providing incorrect explanations of the T&Cs to close deals faster.

 

Using this insight, the legal team employs legal design techniques. They simplify the language of the T&Cs substantially and add an executive summary with key provisions explained visually. To address frequent sales questions, they create a chatbot that provides on-demand guidance about the T&Cs. They also design a mandatory training course on the revised T&Cs, with quiz questions to test comprehension.

 

Early testing shows the new solutions help sales associates quickly grasp the essence of the T&Cs and improve their customer explanations. By closing the gap between the law and sales needs, legal design delivers a win-win.

 

Designing a New Legal Future


Some lawyers view legal design as just another fad. But the growth of this field reflects how the role of the lawyer must keep pace with technology and evolving user expectations. Legal design requires an open mindset and new skills, but offers large potential rewards for lawyers ready to embrace it.


Astrid Kohlmeier is a trained lawyer and designer and internationally recognized as a legal design pioneer based in Munich. She runs the legal design consultancy business AK LEGAL DESIGN. The co-author of The Legal Design Book, Astrid advises legal departments, law firms (e.g. Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Beiersdorf, Merck, Airbus, Post CH a.o.) and justice institutions on developing user-centric legal solutions with a focus on innovation and digital transformation. She is a member and lecturer of the Executive Faculty at the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession, co-founder of the non-profit organization, Liquid Legal Institute, founding member of the Legal Design Journal, a speaker at relevant conferences worldwide and frequent collaborator with a global network of legal designers.


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