Around 600 guests showed up to listen to an impressive array of speakers including Margaret Hagan, Director at Stanford's Legal Design Lab, creater of the Law Dojo app and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design, Riikka Koulu, Director at the Helsinki University Legal Tech Lab, Sarah van Hecke, Legal Design Advisor at dutch law firm Houthoff, and Cat Moon, Legal Design Thinking teacher at Vanderbilt Law School and co-founder of Start Here HQ and Ledger.law.
So what is design thinking and how is it relevant to lawyers? According to Margaret Hagan, design is the practice of making things that are "useful, usable and engaging", whereas design thinking is a set of design-driven mindsets and methods that encourage, among other things, experimentation, a user-focused approach and collaboration between different types of experts. And according to Lieke Beelen, founder of Visual Contracts and Juridux, legal design thinking is:
"The cross-discipline of Legal Thinking, Design Thinking, Visual Thinking and User Experience (UX) Design. We use these disciplines to enhance the human friendliness of understanding and applying the law, since the law is meant to create order in society and make a peaceful living and working environment for everybody."
- Whether you’re summarising complicated legal information or trying to decipher its essence, visualisation is a powerful tool for swiftly getting a message across clearly and convincingly, while improving both comprehension and retention, says Sarah van Hecke, Legal Design advisor at Houthoff, a large Netherlands-based law that has been an early adopter of AI and online collaboration tools and that has its own startup incubator.
Sarah van Hecke has set up legal design as a discipline within the firm and now helps legal teams visualize and clarify legal advice and information. At the summit, she outlined how Houthoff uses legal design thinking and behavioral psychology to deliver better services.
What is legal design and why is it needed?
- We help our clients understand complex legal information quickly and easily. Using visual tools, our lawyers can get your message across effectively in and out of court. This innovative approach utilises graphics and other visual tools to support our clients’ point of view or to facilitate strategic discussion in an clear, intuitive and concise way. This saves the time it takes wading through text, improves concentration and makes it easy to see connections or contradictions.
How do you work with legal design at Houthoff?
- We work together with the legal teams to embed legal design at the core of the process. The visualisation we create has to be a reflection of the core issue of the case. Our lawyers are trained to look beyond the issue at hand and explore the entire scope, making sure we are able to provide the most effective solutions. This culture of creativity ensures that ours lawyers are open minded and embrace new perspectives.
- One of my favorite examples: an online legal wellness checkup created by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), a legal nonprofit umbrella organization in my state of residence, Tennessee, says Cat Moon.
- Recognizing that of the 80% of people in the U.S. who have a civil legal need do not receive legal assistance, and many don't even recognize that their problems have a legal element, TALS created the online checkup to assist people in identifying if they have a legal problem, identifying if they are at risk for having a legal problem in the future, and locating resources that can assist them in resolving present and future legal problems.
- This is an example of using human centered design to create a tactical solution to a genuine need within the U.S. civil legal system.
What is legal design and why is it needed, in your view?
- In my practice as a legal designer, I consider legal design to be the application of both a human centered design process AND concomitant mindsets to creatively solve challenges and identify opportunities presented within the context of legal systems and legal services delivery. Legal design is a set of tools and mindsets that complements other tools we have to solve problems creatively. It's not the only tool and sometimes it's not the best tool or even the right tool at all.
Who are most likely to adopt legal design thinking - courts, other authorities, law firms, legal tech entrepreneurs..?
- Presumably legal tech entrepreneurs are already using human centered design in their development process, as design is well-entrenched in the software development world. Though the functionality and user experience of many legal tech platforms makes one wonder... And I'm seeing people focused on access to justice and access to legal services become early-adopters of legal design.
What about firms and courts?
- There are a handful of law firms in the U.S. promoting their use of human centered design, though it's really impossible to tell what they are really doing since no one is sharing case studies or examples of legal design "in the wild." Is it just marketing at this point? Possibly, says Moon.
- Courts could make incredible use of legal design to better serve constituents. Consider that nearly half of people involved in civil litigation in the U.S. are pro se — and thus are trying to solve their problems unassisted, in a complicated and often counter-intuitive system created for and by lawyers. But innovation moves even more slowly in law than in other disciplines. Change can't happen soon enough. Will it happen soon? I remain cautiously optimistic.
How is all this tied to smart or computable contracts?
- "Smart contracts" will require intentional design in order to truly serve those who are parties to such agreements. Design should be baked into the process. To meet a human need, technology must be intentionally designed.
What were your main takeaways from the summit?
1 - "Legal design" is being recognized as a discipline - one that is critical for creating both tactical and systemic solutions to the challenges that legal systems and legal services delivery paradagims face globally.
2 - "Radical collaboration" is happening - and it has to. The traditional legal system players (lawyers, judiciary, policy makers, regulators, etc.) alone can't meaningfully address both the challenges faced and opportunities presented to move legal systems and the legal profession into the 21st century. We must collaborate with people from other disciplines — technology, design, data/information science, sociology, psychology, and more - to achieve the best outcomes. Cognitive diversity is critical.
3 - "Design" is not a function of making something look "pretty." Design is how something works — it's a functional element that must be front-and-center as we create solutions and identify opportunities.
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