This article has been written by Ashutosh Singh, a student of BA.LLB(Hons), at Amity Law School, Amity University Kolkata. The article is about the new innovation called ‘legal design’ in the field of law and how and why it is likely to give our legal system a makeover.
Legal design in India is an emerging and evolving concept. Have you heard of the make-over of law by design innovation? Lawyers & designers should be working together to craft user-friendly, engaging, and quality legal services. Lawyers need designers’ skills and insights. How does one integrate design into law? Design is a transformational force that helps organizations develop services, products, and experiences that reverberate with customers. To be an innovator and gain a competitive advantage, one needs to fully develop one’s design and creative thinking skills, both of which are essential in the business environment today.
The legal community is known for being conservative with established paradigms of practice. However, over the past few years, there has been a radical change in the field of law owing to the advances in technology, the arrival of new stakeholders, and most importantly the client’s evolving behavior and requirements. Things have changed; indeed, we live in a world of instantaneity and immediate information. Consumers today expect their legal service experience to be as easy and value for money as ordering food with a food delivery service.
On top of that, the current pandemic crisis that we are going through has made agility and adaptability a game-changer for all businesses. So, it’s time to innovate and be creative and legal design may be the answer to the new state of the present requirement of the legal market: a strategy and a brand-new state of mind to deliver law in the most impactful way.
Understanding legal design
Of late, like any other professionals, legal professionals are also facing questions such as:
- Is my legal document understandable for my clients?
- Is my business designed to fit the client’s demands?
- Is the use of technology relevant?
- Are other skill sets needed to stand out?
Legal design can respond to all these questions and the need for innovation in the field of law.
- Legal design is a way of assessing and creating legal services, which emphasizes how usable, useful, engrossing, and involving these services are.
- Legal design is about delivering the law differently in keeping with the needs and requirements of the people that the law is meant to serve so that it becomes more engaging, easier to grasp, and more available to people.
- Legal design can also be a set of tools aimed to design and style better products and to communicate in a better and clearer manner the legal information to users and stakeholders.
To explain further, It is a tactic for legal professionals to use 3 main sets of resources:
The three resources together can help us formulate, build, and test better ways of doing things related to the law, that will involve and empower both the legal professionals and laypeople. Legal design brings a culture of design thinking, user research, and human-centered design methods into law. The design offers methods and know-how to remodel the legal sector, create legal outcomes more aligned with those that its users require, and make ambitious new visions for how legal services can be provided. A design approach to legal services puts people and their contexts as the core, questions how their status quo could be improved, and then takes into account the potential of technology as an intervention.
Design thinking as the name suggests is thinking of designs and applying them to something’. In the process of legal design, one combines legal expertise with a design thinking approach by incorporating visualization, plain language, simplicity, and smart use of technology. This enables us to improve any aspect of the law, from policies, legal advice, contracts to workflows and organizational structures that lawyers operate on.
It means applying the principles of a good design to the legal world. Margaret Hagan, in her book “Law by Design”, encourages a design-driven approach to legal innovation, with a focus on inventing, testing, and building systems that serve the group of people involved in them.
The application of design thinking combines experience in the legal field with an approach that comes from the design profession, using graphical representation, clear and simple language, and new technology.
The main elements of design thinking are:
If a lawyer is designing for a client who doesn’t know much about law and trusts them to guide him/her then one has to understand what the problems or pain points are for that client. This is so that the lawyer can assist the client to have a better experience in whatever they are going to experience be it a legal document, a contract, receiving legal advice, or being involved in a legal process. More often than not when lawyers represent their clients, time is money for them and hence they may skip getting some useful information such as what the client wants.
Design thinking requires good external and internal collaboration. One of the reasons why collaboration is very important is because of the siloed approach that many law firms have, not only across the different types of legal services that they provide but also across the different skill sets that are at its very core. Design thinking assesses the real value that one can bring by a collaboration of multidisciplinary teams and those skills may be different types of legal skills and expertise, human resources skills, business development skills, and all of those skills combined which become a part of the solution that you provide to the client.
Failing for a lawyer is a big thing because they are trained in a way that ensures that generally, they don’t fail. However, if one is faced with failure then it is important to learn how one can improve the failure situation by looking at the how and why of it and coming up with a better solution and this area requires the removal of an old rigid mindset and being open to design thinking.
Cornerstones of Legal Design
The legal design has three major goals. They are :
Communicate information in a more meaningful way
Helping the layperson and the legal professional, both to understand the law better. The legal designers not only know the law but are also trained in design. This enables them to structure a design process to think in a human-centred way, and not in a law-centred way.
Build a culture of innovation and organization
It bridges fields of academic research and professional practice. It links the business domain, the academic domain, the management domain, and the legal domain, and also the corrective/reactive law world and the proactive/preventive law world.
Improve service offerings and relationships with clients
Legal designers plan the achievement of long-term goals rather than aim at meeting short-term goals. The product design is compliant with the law but focuses on the user’s needs, rather than on just legal requirements, making sure that the sustainability goal is achieved.
The basic elements that make legal design a groundbreaking launch-pad for innovation in law are:
Client Centric Process
This is more of a user-centric process of legal designing that focuses on putting the lawyers in the shoes of their clients. The advantage offered by doing this is a view of the processes, services, and documents from a layperson’s perspective. The process helps the lawyers because they can decode what the client can and cannot understand. This way, they can recreate legal advice and solutions in a way that is more satisfactory and understandable to the client.
Diversity of Solutions
A legal design like the other designs is nothing without diverse and creative elements. Legal designers also need to create contrasting legal solutions as per the unique requirements of their clients. For this, they need to couple their expertise, past experiences, and wit to intermingle the elements of design with the law, keeping the essence of the legal process.
Render, Revise, Repeat
Designers would have experienced that clients generally want changes in the legal product/solution multiple times before the result comes even an inch close to finalization. So, legal designers also need to remember that the aim should be creating, revising, and repeating the cycle until the client approves the legal offering once and for all.
The benefits of using legal design thinking
- It aims to give the user of law, the best user experience so that law and the legal system are not perceived as an obstacle or hurdle.
- Helps to develop user-centric solutions and innovations that serve a real need, be it analogue or digital.
- It enables prototypes of ideas to be more easily developed and quickly tested.
- Feedback on whether an idea meets the needs of the user or needs to be re-designed is much easily available.
Legal design is changing the way law firms cater to their clients
Legal design is a useful resource to the way law firms are functioning now. These days, apart from considering and implementing legal design, companies are increasingly exploring a ‘human-centred’ design approach. People are sick of complex legal documents. Human-centred design is now practiced by the biggest companies which provide clients with impeccable products and services. People are rapidly getting accustomed to ‘simplified’ commercial relationships, and we can now expect this approach to be extended to all areas where there are relationships governed by laws. Users are increasingly demanding what they expect from law firms while wanting to pay less. To meet this challenge, legal experts are offering services that meet the specific requirements of clients and legal design helps to highlight the things that are truly important for customers. Some of the changes made by the law firms can be summarized as follows:
Shifting from increasing billables to product thinking
The concept of billing has changed in many law firms. The focus is on retaining clients and client’s needs have become more relevant. This however is driven by the fear of losing clients if they find a better pricing model at another law firm, and thus, they are still focused on increasing or not losing revenue. The focus now seems to be on creating a product that is more sustainable and long-term rather than just increasing prices.
Adaptation to a digitalized legal landscape
The biggest transformation is the mindset change and law firms are required to comply with the needs and expectations of clients. To achieve the same, legal businesses will have to reconfigure the employment, compensation, and training system. But the biggest challenge for the law firms will be the adaptation to a digitalized legal landscape because of remote working, working from home scenarios due to the pandemic.
By using technology, the time-consuming daily tasks are dealt with more swiftly and the lawyers can focus more on creating value for their clients. However, these solutions are not yet flawless and have raised some legal matters. The innovative developments of software programs are bringing some concerns regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence, such as transparency.
Taking a user-centred perspective
To create a better product or service which is always the goal of a law firm, they work on really understanding the needs and pain points that go along with it. A well-structured flexible legal solution is arrived at where a product design thinking approach helps create better legal services. Law firms are providing legal services that people want, like, and are willing to pay for. This is achieved by taking a user-centered approach.
In other words, it means that when approaching innovation in legal services, law firms always identify the users that are involved or affected by it. Before throwing around ideas on how to improve service, there is a research phase in which the core needs and pain points are recognized. This is a way they focus on a service that clients don’t desire.
Achievement of interdisciplinary collaboration is a must for law firms now and it is also one of the cornerstones of legal design. The foot forward in this direction is by bringing different minds together. Interdisciplinary teams have become a huge advantage in combining different perspectives and skillsets. This way the law firms also perform better on various levels and are more likely to adapt to changing environments.
The growing importance of legal design in the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. Some of them are as follows:
Legal design for digital transformation
Law firms, even the smallest ones have undergone digital transformation. First of all, the work has become 100% remote work from home. Most people’s work-stations at home are not so elaborate, small and not as well equipped as their offices. But law firms and many other companies have realized that if people can operate successfully from home, then they can probably operate with smaller space standards at the office too.
Building a more flexible work culture
Lawyers around the world have found that previously held conceptions around the use of paper or the need for associates to be physically present at all times are contradicted by the success of working from home. Post COVID-19, these firms will use this crisis as an opportunity to build a more flexible culture by making remote working a permanent part of their operations. COVID-19 will trigger a transformation of physical space, but it will also bring new and creative ways in which professional service firms like law firms engage with their clients and each other.
New user-centric solutions
Considering the current pandemic crisis as a digital ground zero now is the perfect time to build a new, accessible legal system with the end-user at its centre. Law firms can increase their efficiency as much as they want, but if they don’t lower their prices or create new user-centric solutions, they will leave an increasing portion of their client base behind. The end of the pandemic seems to be in sight but it would have left a mark on the way people conduct their business in the future and what things will look like in a post-COVID-19 world is far less certain.
A cultural reboot of the legal industry
The legal industry values precedent. Lawyers like to know that an approach has been tried and tested before they adopt it. The pandemic has ensured that some precedents are now emerging. People in the legal industry hope to return to its pre-pandemic, incremental rate of change and they refer to previous crises–the 1987 stock market crash, the dot-com bust, and the 2007-‘08 global financial crisis as precedents supporting a gradual return to the pre-upheaval normal. Law firms will need a cultural reboot which is no small, easy, or quick task. It is a process that involves an in-depth review of structures, processes, talent management, technology, data handling, strategic partnerships, supply chains, and other existing business elements. Change management, upgrading skills, a long-term perspective mixed with the foresight to correct the course quickly, and the advancement of big ideas over what has worked in the past are all elements of the digital journey. This requires an enterprise-wide mindset focused on customers and constant improvement. It also demands an agile workforce committed to constant checks and change that benefits customers and improves their experience.
The paradigm-purging, culture reforming, and existential urgency of digital transformation have yet to be felt, much less embraced by the legal sector. However, post-pandemic that will change and when it does, it will profoundly impact law’s current stakeholders which are law schools, legal service providers, regulators, courts and other dispute resolution sources, legal consumers, and society. It is the legal design that will finally lift the fog that surrounds the current legal system due to the pandemic.
Legal design implementation in India and the challenges
The legal system has quickly embraced extensive use of video hearings to impart justice in important and urgent hearings during the pandemic in India. Also, there is a shift from the traditional method of documentation and electronic filing, social media, and legal research that has transformed the traditional work of lawyers. However, many advocates and judges across the country are still not accustomed to the digitized work environment and the current situation arising out of the pandemic. Some glitches here are:
- Often the server gets overloaded and crashes due to filing.
- Also, it is paramount to ensure the privacy and security of the case details.
- Prisoners and Litigants are not able to join the proceedings and they are finding it hard to get involved in the court proceedings.
- Internet connectivity issues because the present bandwidth is inadequate to reach the e-courts. Lawyers and litigants generally are unable to have good network connectivity and that results in poor bandwidth which affects smooth video conferencing.
- The senior advocates and the judges are generally not well versed with the technical uses and advancements. Thus, proper training is mandatory at all levels.
- The lengthy procedure of filing both physical and e-filing is another one of the major shortcomings of the system which results in a lot of duplication.
- The procedure of notifying defects in the e-filing procedure should be made simpler. The way forward is for the registry to be well-equipped with the technology of notifying defects in the file of the lawyer itself so that the lawyer may cure the defects and e-file it again.
Due to COVID-19, the Legal system has been forced to adopt virtual courtrooms and there is the widespread use of video hearings to provide justice in urgent matters which were on hold due to the pandemic. But work has to continue and legal designers in India are slowly but steadily attempting to revamp the judicial system.
This attempt to ensure a smooth and well-organized approach to justice is today an example of legal planning and frugal legal design thinking that catalyses inclusiveness and accessibility in the legal sector in India. Observing ahead, it can be said that the successful implementation of virtual courts would require both social and technological innovation, and design thinking can surely bring many benefits.
Future of legal design
Law firms can reap wide-ranging benefits by adopting legal planning by revamping the traditional way of legal system functioning in India and rethinking the provision of legal services. Law firms are recognizing the need to focus on creating customized, client-centric legal solutions with end-users looking for a better user experience. This helps them in gaining deeper insight into their client’s needs. Since customer service is one of the top priorities for law firms, legal planning, and legal design can be used as a tool to develop more innovative solutions to client’s legal requirements.
The amalgamation of design ideologies into the legal profession pushes the legal industry to change with the times. With a giant shift in technology and the birth of ‘legal technology’, lawyers also need to change the way they provide service to their clients.
The popularity of the legal design craze can be understood by its potential for addressing some of the global changes that affect the legal profession. These changes are the impact of technology on legal practice. In India, many of the advocates and judicial staff are still not well versed with the use of technology. They require training. Because of the internet, people have access to a large amount of legal information without the assistance of a professional. Because of the pandemic most of the daily practice of lawyers has also changed since most legal work, including legal research, has moved online, and sometimes it is work from home. With digitization here to stay, legal design is also going to stay and people in the legal industry are going to rely more and more on it for better client relationships and business revamping.
Design thinking has been adopted in many fields but it is only in the last decade that legal design began to emerge and draw legal professionals’ attention.
It is also a new career path for lawyers that do not wish to limit themselves to courtrooms and law firms.
Although it is not clear as to who first formulated the concept of legal design, the Stanford Legal Design Lab is certainly a pioneer in the field. Although the legal design is a relatively recent field, it is rising quickly and globally. The first international legal design summit was launched in 2016 in Helsinki and since then has attracted a larger audience in each subsequent year. Legal design simply builds off the age-old adage which says that a picture is worth a thousand words. Lawyers would do well to remember that, and legal design is here to help and hence stay. Here are some of the reasons why legal design is the call of the hour for lawyers and it is the way forward:
- It makes clients happier.
- It will enable faster decision-making.
- It will result in higher client satisfaction.
- It will increase compliance with the law because of better understanding.
- It will promote innovation and value creation.
- Applying legal design to practicing law increases cost-efficiency.
- The legal design will help create better legal products and services.
Examples of legal design
The most well-known examples of Legal Design are in the field of visual contracts. This refers to the use of graphic illustration techniques to break down a contract in simple terms. The advantage of a visual contract is its ability to easily communicate information to users who may not be legally trained.
Shell marine lubricants
The legal team at Shell, to make its contracting process easier for non-English speaking customers, designed a visual contract, which was piloted recently. The legal team began with Shell’s marine lubricants business and they rewrote its general terms and conditions in plain English, added clear headings and visual elements, and reduced the word count by 38 %. Since the application of legal design techniques, it has led to a significantly faster renewal of hard-to-close accounts.
The effective communication of information in a manner that is easily understood by clients remains a pain point and an opportunity for legal redesign. The legal design offers many other opportunities apart from the realm of visual contracts for improvement in both external-facing and internal-facing functions for law firms.
Fast Company in its magazine reported on a project done by IDEO with Hogan Lovells to redesign how customers could give feedback in a more timely and comfortable manner. They used a scorecard system called Pathways which appreciably increased the frequency of feedback and comfort level of associates in proactively seeking feedback. These are only some of the examples of legal design applications but the real challenge of the application remains in how technology will change legal services. In the words of Marc Andreessen, “software is eating the world” and the legal industry is no exception.
People think that lawyers are resilient to change and innovation. On the contrary, lawyers are some of the most intellectually inquisitive professionals and can come up with highly efficacious arguments and very creative solutions but legal matters move at such a lightning speed that it leaves the lawyers with little time to be creative.
The solution lies in the problem itself. It calls for designing better legal solutions to go the extra mile but without losing time and clients. Legal design is a user-centric practice and the tool to communicate relevant legal information, processes, and solutions effectively to the users. Cultivating this creativity in law can work wonders if the legal fraternity opens itself to change.
Although legal design can work wonders even when applied randomly by legal professionals, the real change can happen only with a more concrete and global change and application. The legal design focuses on just that by prioritizing the creation of new processes for courts, law colleges, and the entire legal system as a whole.
One doesn’t know for sure what the legal industry will look like ten years from now but with an increasing need for dialogues about the coming together of business, technology, and law we could see legal designers play a key role in giving a makeover to the legal industry. This will be possible perhaps by in-sourcing disruptive innovation and change by law firms everywhere. That would be a sight to behold.
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