Visual law – what is it and what does it mean for lawyers?

Visual law is not images or illustrations. Visual law means using visual elements in the legal context to elevate understanding of the law, legal services or legal problems. 

What is visual law

Visual law is not images or illustrations. Visual law means using visual elements in the legal context to elevate understanding of the law, legal services or legal problems. 

When we visualize we look for insight on how best to present legal information for effective communication. 

For lawyers, this is most common in the presentation of legal documents.

The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures.

Ben Schneiderman

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What do visualization and visual thinking mean for lawyers?

In a legal world dominated by text, visual law is a hidden gem that conscientious, human-friendly lawyers can use to set their businesses apart. This is your opportunity to get ahead of the game by adding visual tools to your lawyer toolbox. 

So let’s look at how we do it. It all starts with visualization and visual elements.

Getting started with visual law

Visual elements in legal context

There are plenty of ways to incorporate visual elements in the legal sphere. 

We want to make your legal information and advice more engaging and empowering for your client. You can use these opportunities anywhere from your emails to contracts, and letters to court documents. 

We visualize the concepts your client needs to understand and think about the best way to present the information to achieve this. 

Getting started is easy because there are so many options. Look at your traditional document and its wall of text and visualize how you could improve comprehension using any or all of the following:

  • Using text attributes like bold, highlight, italics, font size or color to draw the client’s attention to important information
  • Improving the layout of your text with bullet points, blank space, indentations or grids to create rhythm and help your client to focus on the text
  • Creating infographics like timelines, flowcharts, swimlanes or tables to explain, clarify or summarize the key content
  • Adding icons to make your content interesting and appealing and help clients to navigate the document easily

But visual law isn’t just for clients. Think about the judges and other legal professionals who could save time gaining a clear understanding of the key points of a document in visual form, rather than spending hours pouring over long text. 

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Work on your visual thinking

But there’s more to visual law than just visual elements and graphic editing. 

Visual law also means deploying visual thinking in your legal work either working solo or in a team. 

This means organizing, structuring, and making sense of your thoughts and ideas on paper, canvas or other visual means. 

You see, visualization is not just “stating the fact as it is” but also a process to find out what the facts are or what are the connections between certain facts, events or items. 

When you draw a line and make decisions about making certain elements big or small, positioning them near or far, you have to think about whether this is legally correct. 

And sometimes you find errors in your legal thinking or argumentation through visualization.  

This is why legal expertise is critical when visualizing legal content. You need to understand the legal context and the substance to present the correct outcome. So multidisciplinary teams of lawyers, information designers or graphic designers are golden here. 

I have had some really good examples of the power of visual thinking in the visual law workshops of Lawyers Design School. 

A skeptical law firm partner saw little value in legal design thinking and visual law and reluctantly agreed to a visualization exercise. He worked on a confidentiality clause that had been part of the law firm’s template for years and years.  

All of a sudden he realized something about the clause and started reverse-engineering his thinking and he kept saying “this can’t be right.” But there it was, the wording in the clause was wrong and no one had figured that out until that moment. It was the exercise of creating a visual representation, a simple timeline, of that clause that made him realize what was missing. 

Powerful, huh?

For him, in that workshop, the value of visual law was to make him improve his thinking and re-evaluate existing work products based on the insight he gained.

Get innovative and collaborative with visual law

Visual law offers very practical and easy ways to get going with innovation and facilitate collaboration.

It’s because visual law makes your thinking process visible, unearthing the foggy thoughts and abstract ideas in your mind that are difficult to verbalise.

You’re able to get them out visually and make others see what you see in your mind. You’re also able to find hidden connections, and get insight and a-ha moments by processing your thoughts visually. This is not possible with a pure text approach, not in the same way. 

This is why designers use a lot of sticky notes and different canvases to catch and organize pieces of data in a meaningful way. These visualization tools in legal design thinking help to find connections between different details and understand the bigger picture. 

We have also created very effective canvases for legal design workshops in Lawyers Design School and they work wonders in facilitating discussions and getting results.

Why should lawyers start using visual law?

Visuals are the new words

Visuality is the new communication of our time. Think about the power of simple images on Instagram that can crystallize some foundational thought or piece of information. 

Our world is getting so complicated that we need new ways to quickly grasp relevant information simply.

The importance of visuality and visual skills is growing all the time. They are part of the future of law.

Visual law helps with information overload

We’re bombarded with information every day and we need tools to tackle this overwhelm. 

Your clients are faced with an exhausting wall-of-text of legalese in a situation where they need to make decisions, compare information, and take action. It’s stressful to start with and worse when they’re under stress, pressure or in a hurry.

Visual law helps you to help them navigate through this overload and confusion. 

Here’s my example of information overload. 

I was purchasing a mandatory service for my employees and received a bunch of offers for that service. I had three key questions and criteria for the selection that I explained when I asked for the offers. 

When I received the proposals, I got a 30-page document presenting all different service levels and the related details in the – you guessed it – wall-of-text format. No visual cues whatsoever to help me to find those three key criteria. 

If the service provider had presented a summary of the different services and compared the criteria in a table format I could have reviewed the document quickly and made my decision. The table is one way to visualize legal information and you don’t need any drawing skills or fancy tools to use them. 

I’m still not sure if I found the 3 criteria I was searching for.

Visual law is powerful

Vision is our strongest sense. We perceive information through our eyes and create understanding, learn and memorize it. 

With visuals, you create clarity and make content memorable and impactful for your client. 

It’s also personal and visuality activates the imagination. We process visual information and emotions in the same parts of our brain. Visuality and emotions are strongly connected and together they create powerful memories. 

If you want to learn more about emotion in the law take a look at Episode 10 of this series. 

Is visual law for you?

Visual law is possible for everyone, including you. It’s based on our brain’s ability to think visually regardless of our background and previous experience or skills. 

So I want to encourage you to start with simple steps today. Start with simple steps and learn as you go. You can do it. 

And if you’re interested in what Lawyers Design School has to offer on visual law, take a look at our website.

What steps will you take with exploring visual law in your work to make things easier for your clients?

PS: It’s also the way you can build a thriving legal business (but don’t tell anyone I told you.)

Coffee with Hannele Korhonen: Happy customers & happy lawyers. Episode 11.

You’ve just read a summary of my Instagram Live session. I run them weekly for law firm owners who are looking for actionable advice and tips on how to get more happy clients and make themselves happy lawyers with the help of legal design thinking. 

If you’ve read something that interests you, I’d be delighted to see you at the next session. 

 You can catch a replay of episode 11 here or join me live and ask questions.

Coffee with Hannele Korhonen: Happy customers and happy lawyers. Episode 11. Stay on trend – visual law is here.

Want to chat about it?

Did you see yourself nodding when you were reading about visual law? Maybe you had an “a-ha” moment and saw an opportunity. The law needs more people like you to pursue your thoughts. Your clients will thank you, you’ll thank you and the world will be a better place. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to DM me.

If you’ve got a question, join me on Instagram every Wednesday at 8 am ET where you can ask me about the client experience in your firm. 

You can find me at  @lawyersdesignschool and get more practical tips on where to invest your business development efforts, finding new clients and how to be happy as a boutique law firm owner.

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 customer-centric thinking to grow your law firm and thrive in your business.

Watch all the Happy customer and happy lawyers episodes.

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