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What is Legal Design?

Lucia Sandin

03 Jan 2019

As the recent Legal Geek Conference demonstrated, there is no shortage of innovative legal technology these days, the amount of choice is almost overwhelming.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that legal professionals are now needing to step back and look at any problems they need solving holistically as part of a larger eco-system.

They are seeing past the hype of innovation and focus instead on how solutions interact within a workflow or process. But to solve their issues sustainably—they now need to look beyond technology and ensure that the solutions are developed with users in mind.

This is where ‘Legal Design’ comes in. It is about service design applied to a legal system and embedding design thinking principles to develop legal services, products, and systems.

Design thinking is a specific, ‘phases’ approach with stages such as empathising, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing solutions to make sure they meet the end-users’ needs. It’s a methodology that aims to understand the individuals’ needs at the start and keep them in mind throughout the process. Just as change management recognises the importance of individuals and teams during an organisational change, for example, design thinking is another human-centric approach to finding a lasting solution to a problem.

It is also a multi-disciplinary approach: developers; professionals from academic institutions; and, legal professionals from all parts of the industry are getting on board. For example, Stanford Law School and their Design School’s Legal Design Lab have brought together an international group of law professors, developers, and ex-lawyers to train, develop, and research how legal innovation can be made user friendly, accessible and engaging. With this methodology, it brings to the forefront aspects of technology which were not a priority until organisations realised that they spent a lot of money on technology that was infrequently used.

Legal Design can also be seen in action at law firms such as DWF. DWF Ventures, the wholly owned arm’s length research and development company for DWF, have already been using Legal Design to “engage lawyers with document automation software” and “create an industry standard that shows us how to benchmark contract management from start to finish” through something they call Legal Design Jams. “Legal Design has a really big place and a role to play in the development of legal services”, said Jonathan Patterson, Managing Director, at DWF Ventures during his talk at the Legal Geek conference in October.

This fresh and inspired approach is connecting technology and service with the people that use it every day and given the speed in which technology is disrupting the legal space, the need for this user-centric approach is likely to increase.

Almost as a confirmation of its importance, Legal Geek, who are known for having their finger on the pulse, ran their first ‘Legal Design’ Geek conference this year.

So, if you want to learn more about Legal Design, there seems to be no shortage of forums where like-minded individuals can discuss how to creatively, and most humanly, solve legal problems.

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