April 17 2020

Legal Design as a first step towards Design Thinking

Marco Imperiale

We are living in a world where lawyers have to articulate their value day by day to each one of their clients. For this purpose, legal design is not only a means. It is a statement that we are willing to collaborate with our clients, that we are focusing on them instead of on ourselves, and that we are ready to change our way of work if we can see an approach that is faster, better, clearer and more efficient. Even only for these reasons, I believe it is worth a try.

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How do you define legal design?
Personally, I see it as a first step towards design thinking, which is basically an iterative process to understand better the user, her customs, and identify new and/or better solutions to her problems. However, there are many definitions. According to one of the major experts of the field, Margaret Hagan, it is “a way of assessing and creating legal services, with a focus on how usable, useful, and engaging these services are”. I also like the one provided by Richard Malbey: “legal design is a mindset as much as a discipline. It means starting with the end user of legal services of all kinds and working backwards”.
That said, I think that, in order to consider what legal design is, we should also consider what it is not. It is not legal tech, even if it requires (most of the time) the use of technology and, like legal tech platforms, pushes lawyers to think forward instead of backward. It is not marketing, even though, like marketing professionals, legal designers are required to be “customer-obsessed”. It is not interior design, but like designers we are shifting towards a document that is beautiful - not only useful -, because we believe that form and content are intrinsically related.

How do you see legal design impacting the way in which legal departments work over the next coming years?
In order to answer your question, I think it is necessary to make a distinction between law firms and corporate legal departments.
In the first case, it will grow as long as clients ask for that or as long as law firms can see its value, both in monetary and non-monetary terms (relationships with clients, innovative approach, tailor-made services etc.)
In the second case, and especially considering big companies, I believe that its adoption will be massive, and I say this for several reasons. Firstly, the possibility of creating b2c documents. It is no coincidence that terms and conditions and privacy policies are among the most used examples in the legal design field. Secondly, a stronger willingness to experiment new and innovative solutions to solve complex problems. Thirdly, a direct request from other departments of the company, who want contracts that are easy to use, readable, simple and clear. In companies a headcount of several hundreds of employees, most of the times intercultural, shifting towards a legal design mindset could be extremely helpful.
That said, I stress once again that legal design means not only crafting simple and catchy documents, but also involving all the players in the creation and development of better solutions. That is by far the hardest part.

Speaking of law firms, how do you think is legal design impacting them?
It’s a very beautiful question. Undeniably, legal design is an intriguing topic, especially for the law firms interested in having or showing an innovative approach to the legal field. I have seen more interest on the topic in the last few months than in the last five years.
In the 2019 edition of the Legal Design Summit in Finland, the most important event of the field - where I was involved as a speaker - adoption from law firms was one of the crucial topics, because legal design is intrinsically connected with the pricing, the services we offer, the relationship with our clients, and the way we see ourselves. I see a growth, for sure, but its amount will depend on us, and I think that the internal culture of the firm will make the difference at last.

Article author:
Marco Imperiale

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