Practical Legal Design for Lawyers

Practical legal design means moving from legal design thinking to legal design doing. It’s about  putting an end to theorizing and endless could, would, should game. It means getting your hands dirty in designing and delivering the right thing, the thing that helps your customer understand and relate to what we lawyers are communicating. Or how the law works.

It’s empowering and liberating.

It’s not an armchair exercise or academic paper, it’s a craft, learned by doing, and trying and trying until it’s right.

The most challenging part of practical legal design is not knowing the steps or tools but truly embracing new ways of doing, understanding what to look for, and paying attention to the details required to design and implement.

Does legal design interest you? I’m going to show you how you can incorporate practical legal design  skills into your everyday work. If you want to stay relevant, this is one skill set you should have in your tool kit.

Isn’t design for designers?

Many well-meaning design and legal professionals suggest I should stop trying to teach lawyers to apply design and leave the design stuff to the designers. I respectfully disagree.

Designers bring incredible value to the table, and can offer a different perspective, but design isn’t exclusive to designers. Anyone willing to try new things is welcome in design land and if lots of lawyers tried small changes often, the impact would be astonishing.  Changing the law and access to justice is about lawyers like you, learning new skills and applying them everyday in your legal work.

You, my dear friend, are a design thinking lawyer (if you need to put a label on it). There’s even a book endorsing you:

Tim Brown from IDEO in his book Change by Design says Everyone is a Designer

  • “Whenever we do something to improve the state of the world, we’re designing.”
  • “Design is everywhere, inevitably everyone is a designer.”

Any design, even amateur attempts, is better than no design.  I’m tired of debating what is design and who gets to design.

I want to discuss what is “good design in law” and “what makes something good design.”

Are you ready for a new debate?

The legal design process is not the work of genius

Here’s another thing. I’ve had conversations with lawyers who believe there’s a solitary design genius sitting in an ivory tower ready to whip up a piece of art that will fix the world. And this keeps them from exploring the field by themselves.

The hero in the design story is not the lonely genius and their intuition, it’s the cross-functional teams who work together, gather the information, create prototypes and test them with users. And keep testing until it’s right.

Legal design is practice and it is supposed to be iterative and messy. Every step of the way you keep learning and improving.

Exciting stuff, right?

But lawyering is serious. How can we be messy?

We know lawyers are late adopters, trying new things only when they are sure it will work.

It’s understandable because so much of what we do is compliance and tradition driven. Many lawyers have told me they can’t start experimenting with their clients, that it’s reckless and potentially harmful.

Again, I disagree. Applying design in my business, and working with lawyers all over the world has reinforced my belief that there is an enormous gap between remaining conservative and being reckless.

And the gap contains enormous opportunities for amazing design solutions that won’t damage a client. Or upset the establishment (too much).

As a profession, we’ve been analysing the case for change for so long, I’m confident we understand the limits and where we can start.

What annoys me is we are still waiting for change rather than making change happen.

The Legal design process. The double diamond.

As I said earlier, practical legal design is not academia, it’s getting down and dirty with it. And the double diamond is the process. Simple, right?

Read more about the double diamond at the British Design Council.

As you see, there are two main parts to the process:

Stage one is finding the problem – then discover and define.

State two is solving the problem – then ideating and developing.

I’ll bet you ten dollars you’ll struggle with the discovery phase in the beginning. We call it the fuzzy front end of design.

As lawyers, we’re taught to be action oriented and dive in and solve the problem. We’re expected to be the knowers instead of learners. In design, it’s more important to get curious, listen and identify the right problem to be solved first.

So it takes time to get comfortable in an unfinished, unclear and undefined place.  Hence the name fuzzy.

Let me know how you get along?

And while I’ve got you, let me introduce divergent and convergent thinking because we use them both during the design process.

First, we start to expand your thinking and try to be free to explore outside the box – anything and everything. You get to use your skills like intuition and creativity rather than analytical thinking and fact finding.

Once you have a sense of the quantity you can start crystallizing ideas and making actionable items.

Our lawyer brains look for shortcuts and start trying to do both at the same time. It’s why so many of us brainstorm poorly, we’re too busy looking for the finish line, we analyse the ideas as soon as they arrive instead of taking the time to let them emerge.

The phases of the process are

Discover: use various methods to gain customer insights

Define: use the customer insights to define the real problem that needs to be solved

Ideate and build a prototype: where you ideate a lot of different solutions to the problem and built prototypes

Test and resolve: where you test your solution with users and resolve the problem

It starts with experimentation as a mindset

Change is a difficult thing and starting is the hardest part. But it is an iterative process so don’t be hard on yourself.


  • Your feet need to get wet in the process
  • An experimental mindset is crucial. This means letting go of the critical approach and throwing yourself in discovery and ideation
  • It will be hard in the beginning. Critical thinking and looking for problems are hard-wired in each lawyer’s soul
  • You don’t have to abandon your critic but learn to limit and adjust it – there is a time and place for critical thinking in the design process, but it’s not the most important part
  • Prototyping is closely related to experiments. Prototyping means making shitty first drafts as early as possible and testing them with the users even when they are far from ready. Pretty scary, huh!
  • Perfectionism is part of the problem and is very far from design thinking and as Elizabeth Gilbert says “perfectionism is just fear in high heels”
  • It makes so much more sense (and it’s much more cost efficient too, in case your analytical brain needs further assurance) to prototype ugly, early and often, get feedback and deliver legal in a way that serves the client’s needs in the best possible way.

“The way to move the information from your head to your heart is through your hands.”

-Brene Brown

What does legal design look like in practice?

Are you still with me or have I scared you away?

Here’s one example of my own work.

Have you seen the GDPR (EU general data protection regulation?)  Think of a thick document, small black text and legalese. When released it was a government requirement the policy be understandable and usable for the user. So lawyers and businesses saw design in action.

I shaped the policy as a journey map that visually showed the different steps the user takes in different phases of my business, what information is processed, why, and the legal reason for it.

Based on the user feedback the design has made all the difference.

Our practical legal design course

Maybe you’ve enjoyed reading about how we approach legal design and want to know more?

In our workshops we walk the talk of practical legal design and learn by doing.

Bring yourself or bring your team and start the change.

You’ll get

  • research-based information about legal design, what it is, why it is important and how it relates to your work
  • hands-on experience on how to do legal design and how you can apply it yourself. So you’ll do legal design in the workshops

Our training is practical and interactive. No passive lecture style structure, we talk and experiment together. You learn together by doing.

Our school has a solid pedagogical foundation: our workshops are grounded in adult learning techniques, packed with practical exercises with step by step instructions.

Based on feedback, the results have been amazing.

Ready to start experimenting with your team? Book a call and let’s get you started today.

Grab a virtual coffee with me and let’s figure out the next step!