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11 Oct 2019

What is Legal Design Thinking? A Guide for Legal Professionals

Astrid Kohlmeier

Design Thinking has been successfully used worldwide for many years in every imaginable industry to drive innovation and improve products and services. So far, the legal industry has only scratched the surface of the possibilities when it comes to design thinking. The massive upheaval that the legal profession has found itself in digitization, rising expectations of clients, and increased cost pressure has brought design thinking to the forefront of the legal innovation agenda.

Astrid Kohlmeier is one of the pioneers applying the user-centric method of design thinking for driving innovation in the legal industry. She is working for in-house legal departments, law firms and legal tech companies across Europe to implement Legal Design Thinking in their organisations. She shared her thoughts at the upcoming Legal Innovation & Tech Fest on “Adopting Legal Design Thinking to Drive True Collaboration”.

Here she gives a summary of Legal Design Thinking and explains how it is creating a competitive advantage for many forward-thinking legal professionals.

What is Legal Design Thinking?

The term “legal design” cannot yet be conclusively defined, as it is currently (still) undergoing change. New aspects of legal design are emerging these days, but the following already established definition can be summarised for the basic understanding:

Legal design is a holistic method approach that combines the expertise of lawyers and designers by transferring patterns of thought and procedural models from designers to legal questions. This transfer is (still) relatively new for the legal market, since almost all other industries have long been highly successful in using a similar procedure for the relevant topics. The underlying method everywhere is generally called “design thinking” and is one of the most successful innovation methods of our time. The primary goal of Design Thinking is always to develop user-centric solutions and innovations that serve a real need – whether analogue or digital.

Legal design thinking offers the legal market a new frame of thought which is built on an ecosystemic approach that puts the user of a service, a product or a technical solution at the centre of all considerations.

Consider the difference between a lawyers’ mindset and that of a designer:

Legal Design Thinking

To develop a Legal Design Mindset, legal professionals need to adopt a designers’ mindset to gain a deeper understanding of their clients’ needs – both immediate and future.

What is the Goal of Legal Design Thinking?

The goal of legal design thinking is to better understand the context and needs of people who interact with the law and to create improvements and innovations based on this knowledge. It also takes into account user-centered visual design. The user of law should have the best user experience (UX), so that law and the legal system are not – as so often – perceived as an obstacle or hurdle.

Legal design thinking is therefore not only a suitable innovation method, but also has the overarching goal of empowering people who interact with the legal system and have the right to make better and smarter decisions based on contextually well prepared information. In this context, people will be able to act autonomously and not feel dependent on legal professionals, as is often the case now.

Why Legal Design Matters Now

The legal industry is undergoing a massive pressure of change and cost pressure on law firms and legal departments is growing. In addition, some disruptive, often digital service models are attacking classic legal advice. With legal design methods, answers can be found for these current developments, in particular to the questions of how those involved in legal systems and providers of legal services should deal with digitization and how the legal industry must behave and develop in relation to the constantly changing expectations and behaviour of (legal) users/consumers when using services.

In the context of law, however, the interaction of the design areas described requires a further fundamental skill: in addition to the necessary design knowledge, sound legal knowledge is of course required. The task of legal designers is to find a balance between the legally necessary and the design-immanent creative freedom of legal content and tasks. The implementation of a legal design project is correspondingly complex and ideally requires multidisciplinary cooperation. A fundamental problem is that there is (still) no training in this area which makes a reform of legal education not only desirable but also urgent.

What are the Benefits of Legal Design Thinking?

Legal Design Thinking is suitable for all areas of the Iegal industry: law firms, legal teams and legal tech companies.

The benefits of using legal design thinking methods are numerous:

  • it puts the user at the centre of the solution
  • leads to multidisciplinary collaboration
  • prototypes of ideas are more easily developed and quickly tested
  • giving feedback on whether an idea meets the needs of the user or needs to be re-adapted is much easier

What Can be Created with Legal Design?

The application possibilities of Legal Design Thinking are vast and can be used wherever we have interactions between humans, with digital tools or even in interaction with machines. There are currently several categories in which legal design methods are already proving their worth:

1. Development of new legal services

The term legal services can be understood to mean the legal service itself and how it is provided. All related aspects are accessible for legal design methods, such as:

  • The design of the environment for legal advice
  • the organizational structure providing a legal service
  • the cultural mindset of legal organisations
  • how a legal service is provided
  • which channels of communication and information do accompany the legal service
  • how the relationship and cooperation with clients should look
  • how laws and contracts can be formulated and visualized in an understandable way
  • which technical or analogue instruments are used at any time of the user journey

2. Simplification of legal content

Issues regarding access to law, the formulation of legal content or how the application of law and jurisdiction can take place in the future – e.g. by means of digital support in the courtroom or to prepare processes, e.g. with digital interfaces between lawyer and courts etc. – are applicable to the legal design method.

3. Legal products

Legal products are those which summarize a multitude of repetitive tasks and processes in such a way that they can be understood as a product e.g. Legal Tech applications. There are well-known examples here, e.g. in the area of consumer law, when it comes to the online examination and prosecution of passenger or rail passenger rights in the event of delays and cancellations of flights or trains.

Legal products can also be understood as the results of an application of law that offers automated document creation, such as contract generators that automatically create certain contract types and thus have product character. The results of automatic document analysis tools can also be defined as legal products, such as individual contract analysis applications that can be purchased at a fixed price like a product. With the help of the legal design method such products can be designed with the user at the centre.

Hear more from leading legal innovators like Astrid at Legal Innovation & Tech Fest.

About the Author

Astrid Kohlmeler

Astrid Kohlmeier is an Attorney and Legal Designer, and Co-Founder of Liquid Legal Institute. She has been combining the disciplines law and design for over 15 years. Recently awarded as a “woman of legal tech 2018” she develops user centric solutions and legal services with focus on the legal transformation and digitalization.

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