Legal experience by design: Theory and Principle with Rose Devlin

This week I spoke with Rose Devlin, lead UX (user experience) UI (user interface) designer at Theory and Principle. We talked about what design and professional designers can do for law and how great design can improve the legal experience for all.

Legal design and user experience from a designer’s perspective

This week I spoke with Rose Devlin, lead UX (user experience) UI (user interface) designer at Theory and Principle. We talked about what design and professional designers can do for law and how great design can improve the legal experience for all.

For those who aren’t familiar with Theory and Principle, it’s a design agency that designs legal and justice technology (primarily website and mobile applications) to improve the legal experience for users.

Rose Devlin – tell us about you and Theory and Principle

Rose: I am the lead UX UI designer at Theory and Principle. We are a design agency that works with clients globally, to build web and mobile applications designed to improve the legal experience for all. 

I’ve been at Theory and Principle for four years. My background is in visual design and I studied graphic design in college. From there, I worked at a number of different agencies, focusing on other industries like e-commerce, health care, and fintech. I jumped around to a bunch of different agencies over the past kind of 15 years, and then I started doing legal design at Theory and Principle. 

Legal design is not that different from all the other industries I’ve worked in. But it’s really nice that now I can focus on one industry and development my expertise in one industry.

Legal design – what does it mean to you?

Rose: With legal design, what we’re really trying to do with a lot of our clients is take complex flows, or forms and make them easier to understand for users. The user could be a person trying to understand their legal issue or, even a lawyer trying to help somebody. 

So a lot is taking the complex flow and simplifying it by introducing a step-by-step approach that serves the user exactly what they need at each step. 

When I say it’s no different to other industries is because other industries have complex flows, too. For example, setting up a healthcare account. Users need to do certain things at each different step, and there are legal reasons behind each step. Legal design definitely has more rules which makes it trickier but it’s no different from other industries.

What is the core reason for using design in legal and justice?

Rose: There are a couple of different reasons. User experience design makes it easier for people to find information faster. But also good visual design builds trust in a product. So if you have something that is designed and well thought out, people will trust that more and then want to use it. 

If you have a lot of legal products that don’t value design and they start looking out of date I don’t know if people would trust or use that as much as they might use something, like Uber or Airbnb –  because that design is so seamless. 

So I think good design builds trust.

Design-based business – what does it mean in practice?

Rose: Our entire process is based on designing with our clients. We start with discovery and then we do research – and all of that informs how the design will look. 

We talk to people, we talk to stakeholders, and we talk to users. And then we start to understand the problems. 

From there, we can start sketching, and sometimes we even sketch with clients, to bring them into the process and explore all different kinds of ideas.

We don’t pick one and go with it immediately, we spend a lot of time prototyping and testing. 

And then when we get into the high five visuals, with mood boards to figure out the mood of the website or app or whatever we’re building. 

From there we move to high-fidelity designs that are prototypes for testing. Every aspect of the design process is really important and we always involve the client and give feedback on decisions.

Involving users in the design process

Hannele: It’s great to hear that user research is part of the process. Because often we talk about being user centered, and then create a solution without involving users – hoping the assumptions are right.

Rose: There are definitely times we don’t have a budget to do user testing, but we always advocate for it. Because it’s the best way to get feedback from the users.

We’ve done a lot of similar apps and legal aid websites in different States, like: floridalawhelp.com. And a lot of the apps are for users coming to a website trying to get information and often it’s a low-income user who doesn’t have access to a computer. 

So there are certain themes we’ve come to understand about these types of users: 

  • Their phone is probably their main computer
  • And they might not know they have a legal issue, they just know they have a problem. 

So we’ve identified themes for many clients but it’s still important to test with users in the end.

Professional designers in legal design projects – What is the biggest benefit?

Rose: Lawyers know what they want but oftentimes they don’t know how it will look. The designers sketch out ideas. So they might have an idea, and I can use my kind of toolkit of design resources, to bring it to life. So I think you need lawyers and designers involved.

Hannele: You’re right, that people can’t imagine what something could look like if they’ve never seen it or seen a different kind of design. So when there are professional designers showing what’s possible, then you’re able to kind of broaden the scope.

Working with law firms, legal aid, and legal professionals on legal design – how do they compare to other industries?

Rose: I think one of the biggest things working with lawyers is they want to include everything on the screen. Clients have sent me a Word document with instructions that everything must appear on the screen. 

It’s all important, and I understand that lawyers need to advise their clients on everything that might be applicable to them. 

But in terms of design, we have to prioritize and use hierarchy on the screen to show the most important part first,  and then show the user in a sequential format, other parts of the information. 

Because if you show everything, you’re not showing anything that’s important.

Hannele: If everything is important, nothing is important. Lawyers need to process their thoughts a little so that not every single piece of the document is as important as the other. It’s important to think about the user as well.

Theory and Principle product demonstration

Please see the YouTube video for a live demonstration of examples of Theory and Principle projects in action.

What design projects are you working on now?

Rose: All our designers are working on different projects but we collaborate daily and can give feedback. 

I’m working on a website that helps people get help on conservatorship. It’s by Tzedek in California. So it’s a website that kind of does a triage flow to help people understand if a conservatorship is a good fit for them. And then if they can get help, specifically from the clinic. 

I’m also doing another project that’s quite similar to the virtual law clinic that I was just showing you. It’s called IAN, Immigration Advocates Network. The website will help users determine if they’re eligible for any type of immigration. 

And, then it will connect them to a pro bono, lawyer or advocate. So it will add a front end to that virtual law clinic, where the client can actually come in and answer a long series of questions to determine if they might be eligible for DACA, asylum, TPS, all different types of immigration. So that’s a big project that I’m working on now. And there’s a lot of forms involved and steps to figure out, but it’s really cool.

Where can we find out more about Theory and Principle?

Rose: Our website and LinkedIn are great places to start.

Legal design thinking: IRL. Episode 31

You’ve just read a summary of my LinkedIn Live. 

Each week I provide actionable advice for law firm owners and discuss real-life legal design in action.  This week we talked about legal tech and user experience.

What do you think about Theory and Principle? There are some very innovative lawyers making huge inroads in legal tech aren’t there? I encourage you to check out the YouTube video and watch the demo because you’ll see some of the new websites and apps in real life.

If you’ve read something that interests you please join me next week. 
You can catch a replay of episode 31 here  Legal Design Thinking: IRL or join me live and ask questions.

Legal Design Thinking IRL with Rose Devlin from Theory & Principle

Want to chat about it?

Feel free to DM any questions or join me on LinkedIn every Wednesday at 9 am ET where you can ask me about legal design and growing your law firm. 

Follow me at  @lawyersdesignschool for more tips and tools.

Prefer email? Drop me an email at [email protected] And while you’re here, take a peek at the Lawyers Design School and check out other ways to use legal design thinking to grow your law firm and thrive in your business.
Watch all the Legal Design IRL Episodes episodes.

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