How to incorporate legal design into my law?

Why should I embrace legal design as a lawyer?

As a lawyer, you may be seeing legal design discussed more and more. You worked hard to become a lawyer. Why do you need to incorporate legal design into your legal work? And your everyday life? You are already a great lawyer. Is it not enough?

Why can’t professional legal designers take care of the legal design?

Because legal design thinking will improve your satisfaction with your career and helping people. But, I am not suggesting every lawyer should become a full-time designer. Or professional design limited to the work of a lawyer.

I am discussing the legal design options open to you as a lawyer.

Updating our skills is necessary for all lawyers. Usually, it is keeping up with changes in the law.

When we talk about legal design, we are talking about developing new skills you need as a lawyer now. And more so as a future lawyer.

Legal design requires a new mindset and innovative thinking skills. Here I discuss how you can embed them into your everyday life and your professional identity as a lawyer.

It is about future-proofing your career. How will you stay relevant when legal work is more and more automated?

Besides, working as a lawyer is about so much more. In fact, by learning new ways to deliver law, you can build on the reasons you became a lawyer in the first place. That is: helping people with their legal issues.

Legal design. What is it?

Here are the core principles of legal design. And suggestions for you to start including them into your everyday legal work.

1 Customer-centricity

One of the most critical cornerstones of legal design is customer-centricity. It is easy to say you work in a customer-centered way. Most lawyers will say her work is customer-centric. And they are sincere when they say it.

Often, lawyers may believe their customer-centered approach was successful. In reality, it may not match the customer experience. The customer may not feel the outcome was customer focused at all. The perceptions do not match. Legal design thinking can help align the outcomes.

Why is the lawyer and customer experience distorted?

Because, most lawyers look at customers from their perspective.

We do not think about our customers, living in their shoes, and living in their lives.

Lawyers give priority to their own business. With processes built around assumptions about their customers. Rather than the reality of their customers.

At the moment, the lawyer is an expert, approached by a customer. The customer receives answers in “lawyer speak”. Thus, most customers need to adapt to the legal processes and how the lawyer sees and does things.

Law is also systems-centric. And this is far from customer-centric. As a result, you should make a conscious effort to understand your customer’s point of view. And then change your behavior to suit that customer. Then, you can then help your customer understand the law in a way they understand. You are a travel guide, taking them on a trip through our complex legal system in a way they understand.

Now you are a person. As well as the lawyer. And your client will be far more satisfied with their customer experience.

To be customer-centric, you need to adapt to the everyday life of your customers. Think about their life, their experience, and their challenges. With that in mind, you can think about the best way you can help them with her questions.

Your view of your customer should be holistic. After all, the customer does not need to buy your services. Their need is something completely different. They may need to build trust between business partners. Or take care of the affairs of a parent with a memory disorder. Your role as a lawyer is to understand this as a whole. All the elements that affect the customer. And be able to respond and design your work to meet the customer where she is.

Incorporating a customer-focused approach means getting to know your customer deeply. Then use your customer’s perspective as a starting point in everything you do. Not only how you handle the assignment. But your communication and, for example, the image you create of yourself and your work.

A rewarding benefit of this effort is your work can take on a whole new meaning. And withstand the challenges of legal automation.  You can get ready for new law.

You are future-proofing your career. Your customers will enjoy your style. As a bonus, your referral business will also increase. Your client base can expand.

2 Collaborative

The work of a lawyer is a lonely toil. Sure, some large assignments have teams of lawyers dedicated to it. But a lawyer often does her part alone. The leadership systems and billable hour models do not encourage teamwork. Knowledge is valuable, so we lawyers keep it secret and safe. And share it rarely.

Legal design is the opposite. The innovative design process starts with collaboration and information sharing. In fact, this alone makes the application of design thinking to lawyers transformative.

Future law means we are learning to do things together. Cooperation begins with sharing and empathy. We are open to listening and accepting of different perspectives. It changes the very foundations of how lawyers approach their work.

True collaboration is challenging.

First, your mindset challenges you to admit that you do not know everything.

Second, it’s learning to accept your discomfort when others perform a process you may have approached differently. Sure, it may deliver the same impact, but it might not be the way you would have done it. And there is no problem with that.

We all make mistakes. Too slow or too fast. Too systematic or too messy. Too loud or too quiet. When we change our design behavior and work as an innovative group, our differences are great treasures.

Fundamentally, it is the differences and not the similarities offering us the key to finding novel solutions. Novel solutions you could not find alone.

As we start to approach our work with a collaborative mindset our legal work becomes better, more meaningful, and lighter. With design, you can broaden your role as a legal expert to something broader. Dive more deeply into things you may have only looked at from a legal perspective in the past.

So tomorrow, when faced with a question you would that could enjoy a discussion, discuss it. Why not approach a colleague and ask for a few minutes of her time? Share your challenge with her. Be open about all your questions, insecurities, and imperfections. Also, be ready and willing to consider suggestions. She might do the same for you the day after that. And that is how future law begins.

3 Experimentation

Experimental culture has become a trendy word. But in the legal world, real experimentation is still paid lip service. Design in action starts with trial, error, and experimentation. Through that experimentation, we make mistakes and learn from them. It seems foreign for us as conservative lawyers.

Yet, this can be the most exciting and liberating part of legal design. Often, the challenges of developing something new can feel like an elephant. And you cannot get any grip on it. It seems impossible to get started. Legal design encourages you to start anywhere. Start anywhere, and see what happens. Once you get started, do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Legal design invites you to trust the process.

The path forward opens step by step. It is not a highway in front of you – as scary as the elephant. By experimenting, you test solutions in real life as early as possible. Even when you know the solution is not quite ready. It is ok to lower the bar. Because when you lower the bar, results come fast. You can see if the experiment is creating the kind of impact you want. As a result, you can respond and change direction if necessary. Sometimes even a small change can be crucial to the outcome.

You should not experiment with real customers and substantive legal problems. A recipe for disaster. I am not encouraging a trial and error approach with customers relying on your legal expertise.

I am encouraging you to experiment with the way you do your work, offer your services, or develop your business.

Experimentation allows short-term gains. And at the same time, you also increase the transformation. You eat the elephant piece by piece.

To get started, think about what experiments could you do:

  • how to communicate with your customers
  • how customers can buy your services
  • how can you make your legal language more understandable for your customer?

To succeed, embrace an experimental behavioral mindset. That is:

  • tolerance of incompleteness
  • rejection of perfectionism and self-confidence, and
  • develop an optimism to find solutions.

In any case, if the experiment fails, you will have so much useful information for the next step of the test. Legal design does not recognize failures. It is a process of learning.

4 Visualizations

Visuality or visualizations are sometimes mistaken for synonyms for legal design. You could think legal design only means adding illustrations and colors to documents. Or making papers look pretty.

Yet, the design and visualization of documents is a minuscule part of legal design. That said, it is still not about aesthetics or making things pretty.

Old wisdom says that an image speaks more than a thousand words. Visualization plays a fundamental role in legal design. Because it allows you to convey information to your customer in different ways. Often in ways other than writing or speaking. But in ways, your customer can understand.

Lawyers learn to write complex content in text format. But the meaning of the text is often filled with legal words. So complex only lawyers and other experts can understand it.

In law, concepts can be very abstract. With visualization, you can transform this content into a shareable and experiential form.

Visualization can convey information differently. You can also use it to describe services or processes. Or to describe the connections between different phenomena. The visual expression also helps to look at phenomena from different perspectives.

But I cannot draw? Visualization is not a question of whether you can draw. It is irrelevant how beautiful the visualizations are. The most important thing is being able to illustrate the information in a way the recipient. And there are many different tools available to create them.

Where do I start with visualization?

The best way to get started with visualizations is with a pen and paper. Get used to grabbing a pen and paper when you want to explain something to another. Draw simple shapes, connecting lines.

Like a muscle workout, your ability grows with training. Through repetitions, you also improve your hand-eye coordination.

Put post-its and markers on your desk and meeting rooms. Grab them when you start to figure out something. When you are writing a document think about whether you could express it visually. Write it first and then try to illustrate the message in a visual form.

Tools? Use what you have. PowerPoint is well suited for the purpose. Do not overthink it, and start simple in the beginning.

Supercharge your existing legal skills by legal design

When you are thinking about legal design and its role in your work, remember you don’t have to abandon anything that you already know.

At best, all these legal design skills build on your existing skills. And supercharge them, preparing you for future law.

The goal is to make your legal work more meaningful and impactful. And one that can withstand the pressures of technological development and automation.

Legal design is not a secret. It should be part of everything you do.

Legal design is a mindset, innovation, and problem-solving process. You can use it in everyday life and at work, in all the ways that suit you and your customers the best. 

What can you do today to start your legal design journey? 

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