December 19 2019

Bringing Legal Information to the 2020’s

Henna Tolvanen

The legal profession is (unfortunately) known for its capability of presenting information in such a difficult form that it is almost impossible to understand. Legal information (laws, terms and conditions, commentaries, court rulings, contracts, policies, notices etc.) might be hard to understand even for lawyers, so we can only imagine the challenge it is for citizens and organizations to learn about their rights and responsibilities.

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What is the Traditional Way of Presenting Legal Information?
When we think of Legal information, we think about contracts with too many pages of text and printed books with over 3000 pages with the font size of 7pt. We do not read the terms of service when creating an account on social media. And when we think of the legal profession, we think of an army of lawyers and law students burning the midnight oil doing research for difficult cases because the user interface for legal information is not good even from the lawyers’ point of view. Court rulings go on for pages before getting to the actual reasoning, and that reasoning is written in such a lawyer lingo that lay people might not even understand the end results of their cases. Quite frankly, it may seem that law is not even meant to be understood by lay people. And yet the societies are expecting people, businesses and organizations to comply with law.

We keep hearing the message that law lacks usability and big part of this is the legal information made so complex that it takes a lawyer to explain the content to a non-lawyer. This is one way of keeping the legal business alive, but it is definitely not the way in the 2020s. The lawyers’ job is not to brag with the knowledge they have and overwhelm others by using legal jargon and making law even harder to understand. The lawyers’ job is to help people and organizations gain access to justice.

Is it even possible to make Legal Information more understandable?
Yes, it is. With the help of design thinking and design methods it is possible to create legal information that is legally correct and accurate and, at the same time, easy to understand. With the help of design, it is possible to make law and legal information more human-centered and usable. And when lay people feel that they understand the information, it is very likely that they have a better user experience on legal matters and feel that their needs are met and their access to justice is improved.

First, we need to understand what is expected. We need to listen to the end user of legal information. After this comes the hard part for most lawyers. We should be able to communicate the information in plain language. It is important to make the message clear and for this we should consider making it more visual. Making information visual does not mean that we are to draw pictures, but we need to think of using bold or even colors and keep in mind the length of the text. And most importantly, we need to ask feedback and be ready to make changes.

We all can be more customer centric with empathy and listening, but creating more understandable legal information requires a multidisciplinary team. Lawyers should team up with experts in the fields of design, technology and behavioral science in order to create more human-centered legal information and understand better the choices people make when they make a decision that requires legal information.

What’s in it for legal profession?
Making legal information more understandable and accessible may seem scary for more traditional lawyers. If the information is so clear that there is no need for a lawyer to interpret it to lay people some of the law firms need to change the way they do business. If the information is accessible and within the reach of just typing one word into a search engine what would we need lawyers for?

We still need lawyers for plenty, but we need more tech savvy lawyers with people skills. The client will not be willing to pay for endless research hours or documents that could be done with the solutions that automates drafting legal documents. But clients will be looking for solutions that are able to do the copy-paste legal work and lawyers who have automated those tasks so that they can concentrate on more complex legal matters.

Article author:
Henna Tolvanen

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