What is Legal Design and Why You Should Care

Legal design is a consistent process, mindset, and practical toolbox empowering lawyers and other legal professionals to intentionally design legal products, services, and systems that make the law more human, accessible, and understandable to users.

Its touchstone is the customer experience – and designerly lawyers always start with one question before they think about jumping to the solution. “Do I understand what’s truly going on with my customer and is this the best way to communicate the information or provide the services they need?”

Instead of approaching the practice of law the way it’s always been done, legal design requires lawyers to look at issues with a fresh perspective and deliver legal solutions and legal information that empower, instead of confusing customers. It’s human-centered design.

Legal design is important

  • It can transform our complex, confusing and expensive legal system – and make it accessible to everyone.
  • A legal design approach provides the process to deliver customer-centric legal services to customers – because customers expect the same seamless experience with the law.
  • It can stop lawyers from leaving the law. Legal design offers a sustainable law approach that removes the competitive culture, the burnout, and allows firms to prepare for the future.
  • It’s the way to comply with government requirements for user-friendly legal documentation – the GDPR requires privacy policies to be user-friendly and understandable, for example.
  • It gives lawyers and legal businesses the tools to increase the speed of innovation in law and find better, faster, more efficient ways to serve and work.
  • And finally, the profession is embracing a design approach to law. Law Schools and Universities are adding the design process to their syllabus and businesses like Lawyers Design School are teaching lawyers how to use legal design thinking, contract design, visualization, plain English, and legal tech to change the way we do law.

The legal design movement and legal innovation are here.

What is Legal Design?

Legal design is about building a better user interface for the law. It can develop better, more user-friendly, and more accessible legal systems, legislation, organizations, legal services, technology, and information.

Because the legal system affects everyone, we should all have equal rights and access to justice and its various parts. Legal design is about simple, user-friendly, and inclusive communication – where designerly lawyers don’t assume what customers need – they take the time to understand exactly what the customer needs and then deliver the solution.

Human centricity and empathy are at the heart of legal design – two words not traditionally associated with the law. I’m on a mission to make the law accessible and give lawyers meaning in their work – because the legal profession is broken.

Why should law firms and in-house teams use legal design

It grows your legal business

I haven’t heard one client tell me they look forward to seeing a lawyer.

Lawyers can lack a full understanding of users’ emotional, intellectual, social, and physical needs – and our services are lawyer and system-centric. The legal system and information are drafted by lawyers, for lawyers. The courts and the legal system are baffling to an outsider. Lawyers hold the power.

When we build our legal processes around the customer experience and incorporate a human element it means information, services, products, and transactions are transparent and understandable. This bridges this gap and builds trust and loyalty – and can grow your client base and give your business and competitive advantage.

It starts with asking your users what they find difficult about dealing with you. 

Lead with your values

Legal design offers a tangible tool for legal leaders to lead with values. A Harris Poll commissioned by Google Cloud in 2022 found 82% of American consumers buy from brands with values aligned with their own. The design toolkit and framework are an ideal way to:

  • Define the core values of your business in collaboration with your entire team.
  • Manifest your values in your daily work.
  • Let go of the old legal ways that don’t work for you.

“In the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”

Dame Minouche Shafik

Stop lawyers from leaving the law

As our baby boomers are retiring, a new generation of lawyers has arrived – Gen Z.

I wrote a blog a couple of years ago on “quitting the law” and that search term drives a lot of traffic to this website. True story! Lawyers want to leave the law. My question is who will take the legal profession into the future?

Gen Z lawyers bring a different set of expectations about life and a career in the law. Deloitte’s report on Understanding Generation Z in the workplace describes Gen Z as pragmatic realists with a vision for a better world for everyone.

I’m not sure Gen Z lawyers will tolerate the traditional “rite of passage” in law, where long hours, lawyer burnout, and competition reign supreme. 

Legal design can transform the way lawyers and legal teams work – and recreate our legal culture. The skills lawyers need in the future are changing and the great news is, designerly thinking is part of them.

How does legal design work?

Margaret Hagan brilliantly describes legal design as getting a new pair of glasses to look at the world.

The new glasses put the lens on our customers, rather than on our lens as lawyers or the systems we work within.

We use the glasses to ask how we can deliver legal services the best way possible, so they are user-friendly, satisfying and increase engagement. We peel back the layers: our mindsets, our processes and systems then examine every aspect to find the best way.

Legal design is not about making pretty documents

It’s drilling deep into the core needs of our customers, designing processes, customer experiences and solutions to reflect those needs.

We design information for customers

All customers have different needs, and all customers have preferred ways to receive information. Like us, customers want respect, feel empowered by the law, and interact with a peer who will provide options, alternatives and recommendations, without the legalese, the hoops and the barriers protecting traditional law.

We can reimagine legal information using structure, language and visuals that make sense for people. 

When email was invented, lawyers scoffed and insisted traditional mail was the only way. Look at us now. We can give information to our consumers in different ways – video, audio, illustrations, diagrams, flow charts and through digital products. 

Getting started with legal design is easy

Even if you have a day job, you can incorporate legal design into your everyday work and see how it feels. The new pair of glasses may lead you to discover a process or communication style you enjoy and calls you to grow and enjoy it further. Who knows where it could lead?

Our ability to think and innovate are the only limitations.

The legal design-thinking mindset explained

There are four legal design thinking mindsets (and they’re all learnable).

Collaborative mindset

Traditional lawyering involves working alone, protecting knowledge and always looking for a way to beat an associate to the top.

Legal design is the opposite. The innovative design process starts with collaboration and information sharing

Effective lawyers need to work in an environment that fosters trust and opportunities for interaction.

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

True collaboration is challenging. It means acknowledging you don’t know everything and learning to accept your discomfort when others perform a process you may have approached differently.

Creative mindset

Most lawyers will tell you they’re too busy to be creative because they think creative means artsy, crafty things. When I talk about a creative designerly mindset, I talk about a way of thinking: looking at alternatives and exploring new solutions.

I mean challenging the routines and the default, replacing them with creativity, curiosity, and experimentation. Leave perfectionism and fear of failure at the door. Legal design introduces the right brain into lawyers’ thinking to find the real problem and deliver the best solution.

We allow time to focus on design, not just functionality and empathy rather than logic.

Visualization and simplification mindset

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 that only lawyers and other experts can understand it.

In law, concepts can be very abstract. With visualization and simplification, you can make the abstract and complex clear. And develop your own legal brain as well.

Customer-centric mindset

Lawyers say they’re customer-centric. But customer-centricity is different from customer service.

The legal profession is lawyer-centric and system-centric. Customers enter the system as consumers, (often unsure and intimidated by the austere traditions and complex language). And a fundamental legal design mindset is a complete focus on the customer experience in law.

To be customer-centric, lawyers must adapt to the everyday life of 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 their questions.

How does legal design work?

I like the Double Diamond approach to legal design in action. There are two main steps:

Find the problem – discover and define

Discover: use various methods to gain customer insights.

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

Solve the problem

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

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

You’ll struggle with the discovery phase in the beginning. We call it the fuzzy front end of design.

An illustration of the Double Diamond approach to starting legal 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. Design thinking requires us to completely understand user needs before we decide on the best solution.

It sounds very alien to start, but when you remove the theory and make it live, practical and actionable, it’s the most effective way to learn legal design.

We teach legal design and legal design thinking in our workshops at Lawyers Design School.

How do law firms and in-house teams start using design thinking?

Improve your legal services

I recommend starting with your customer experience

If you want to move beyond the customer-centric and design buzzwords, you need to actually look at the legal issues through your client’s glasses. They might not have the same prescription as you.

When we map we combine all the experiences of your customer on a timeline – the timeline captures what your customer sees and experiences on their journey.

We map their experience in a customer journey map, the service is a process with different phases and we include the service events and touchpoints as the customer sees them. Remember, we are in their shoes or wearing their glasses. Are you comfy?

We must look at the whole service experience:

  • phases before the actual service delivery
  • during the service delivery
  • and after the service

Customer-centric lawyers understand the service in the broader context as opposed to simply executing the legal bits.

Think about your customer journey with you. Where do they come from, how do they reach you and what happens in between? How do they feel at each stage? Understood and heard? 

Your likely interaction will be in the typical touchpoints with the customer, a call, meeting, phone conversation or document draft. How you handle those touchpoints is why we map the journey.

Then use the double-diamond approach to design your customer experience. If you’re interested in digging deeper, we teach concrete, actionable and ready-to-use legal design processes at Lawyers Design School. We can even work on your customer experience.

A legal design diagram representing part of the customer journey in law.

INSIDE TIP: I sought legal services with three firms recently, and I chose the firm based on my experience as a consumer. It’s a thing.

Create new legal services

As lawyers, we talk to our customers every day and if you’re anything like me, you chat around the water cooler with your colleagues about better ways to do things. You’re ideating legal innovation every day, and you don’t realize it!

Legal design offers lawyers like you the tools to create new legal services and deliver them your way (you know, the way you thought you would when you went to law school.) You could start a new business or side gig. We workshop new legal services at Lawyers Design School, too.

Design better contracts

Contract design is part of legal design. Re-thinking our contracts allows lawyers to communicate with users on levels the users understand.

It also allows legal businesses and lawyers to define their brand, and their style and gain a competitive advantage. The legal market is dominated by traditional lawyers obsessed with long contracts and legal letters in huge chunks of 10-font Times New Roman.

What if you were different?

When we design contracts we aren’t making them pretty – we are making them understandable, engaging, and easy to act on. We need to acknowledge that the way information is presented in contracts is important, not just the legal content.

Designing legal contracts means considering

See a real example of contract design in action.

A contract design visualization illustrating the milestones in a contract.

Contract design course

Do you want to learn how to design legal contracts?

Lawyers Design School offers a signature Contract Design School. Over five weeks, change-maker lawyers learn the designerly lawyer mindset and get the framework, the templates, and the tools you need to create contracts in a customer-centric way.

Take a look around and see how it feels.

Examples of legal design 

Legal design can be:

  • User-friendly websites build for accessibility
  • Easy to use court forms and documents
  • Legal chatbots
  • Redesigned contracts using plain language, visualizations, and layering
  • Legal services founded on the customer experience
  • Easy to understand legal information
  • User-friendly digital legal technology
  • Redesigned legal work and processes
  • Accessible and inclusive legal system – virtual law firms

Of course, Open AI offers opportunities we’ve yet to imagine.

Examples of legal tech built by design

Legal tech is exploding. Not just legal technology for lawyers – it’s also for clients and for the general public. 

Legal tech for clients:

  • Online dispute resolution platforms. Every day people can attempt to settle their disputes together online. They access lawyers only if they need one – no more expensive mediation. Clients pay for the product, not the billable hour.
  • Automatic online contract generators. Create a company or a contract with a few clicks. Access a lawyer only if it is complex. Clients pay for the product, not the billable hour.
  • Online legal advice platforms. Lawyers provide commercial legal advice to individuals and companies for a fixed price. 
  • Create your own will at home for a fraction of the cost. Again, pay for the product.
  • Contract analyzers, with real-time collaborative editing. Plus, powerful analytics for risk management and potential outcomes. Businesses and lawyers can use this software.
  • Document (reports, etc.) analyzers. Able to extract key information. Use the data to suggest sound business decisions. Or drive costs down. Discover opportunities and manage risk and regulatory requirements. Again, suitable for businesses and lawyers.

Processes:

  • Secure file sharing.
  • Case and matter management. Time and billing management. And automated client relationship management systems.
  • E-invoicing and signatures – reduce admin and time.
  • Encrypted email complying with regulations.

Legal tech startups are happening all over the world. They are disrupting our rickety institution. Legal tech is a game-changer. And offers an alternative to working in a traditional law firm.

I chat with a number of legal design pioneers in my Legal Design Thinking IRL series about contract design and legal tech and digital transformation in the law.

I’ve been speaking with innovative legal tech start-ups like InvestCEE which specializes in humanizing contracts and the no-code document automation firm Ment along with SomeBuddy, an innovative digital legal service for consumers dealing with harassment online. Shrap is a great fintech start-up – the website, legals, and navigation are all informed by legal design. You can see the backstory in my interview with Stefania Passera. Check it out for legal design in real life.

Is legal design for you or your legal business?

I’ve shared many resources for you to get your toes wet in the legal design pool. I welcome you to explore the site and watch the interviews. My inbox is always open so please send any questions to [email protected].

If there’s something I’ve missed, please just ask. I’m on a mission to create a world where lawyers are happy and everyone has access to the law – one that’s easy and relatable – even if I need to do it one lawyer at a time.

Is that lawyer you?

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