• Adami Geldenhuys

Legal Design Thinking

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

One of the topical issues covered by our monthly Lexinfo Practice Management Alert is legal design thinking. Basic background information is provided here below, as well as a few references to information resources contained in the February 2021 edition of the Practice Management Alert.

Margaret Hagan, a pioneer in the field, is the Director of the Legal Design Lab and a lecturer at Stanford Institute of Design (the d.school). She defines the concept as follows:

"Legal design is the application of human-centered design to the world of law, to make legal systems and services more human-centered, usable, and satisfying.

The following extract from the article by Terry Carter, entitled How designer Margaret Hagan drew her way through law school ( ABA Journal, 13 Sept 2013), explains how the concept developed: “When Margaret Hagan wanted to understand complex subjects at Stanford Law School, she would sketch talking heads with their words inside bubbles or jot down discrete thoughts with bubbles around them and connect them logically and variously with arrows. “By the time I was in law school, I was sure from Day One that I was going to try to draw my way through it,” says Hagan.”

Hagan published an e-book ‘Law by Design’ available at https://www.lawbydesign.co/. The introduction of the book provides the following main points of value offered by the combination of law with design.

1. “Experimental Culture: To be more forward-thinking in how we as legal professionals generate solutions for problems in the legal sector;

2. User Centered Innovation: To put greater focus on the client and the lay person who has to use legal systems, to deliver them better services tailored their function and their experiential needs;

3. New Paths for Legal Work & Serving Justice: To build a new set of professional paths and opportunities for people who want to work in law — and especially those who see that traditional ways of being law students and lawyers do not enable them to make the positive changes in society that originally drove them into law.”

Several of Margaret Hagan’s other publications can be viewed here.

Charlotte Baker, a Legal Design Engineer, defines the concept: “Legal design is about delivering the law differently – according to the needs of the people the law is intended to serve – so that it is more engaging, easier to understand and more accessible for people.” Her series of articles published by the Society of Computers & Law provides useful insight. The articles are available on LinkedIn.

Part 1 - Legal Design Explained: What is Legal Design?

Part 2 - Legal Design Explained: Why do we do Legal Design?

Part 3 - Legal Design Explained: How do we do Legal Design?

Part 4 - Legal Design Explained: What does Legal Design look like?

Leonie Ellis, Programme Director at Mastery for Leaders in Law, shared an interesting podcast of a conversation with Dr Marietjie Botes on how legal design thinking gives structure to identifying workable solutions during changing times. The full podcast is available here and the Linkedin post here. Dr Botes defines legal design as a skill that allows legal professionals to see their world with new perspective.

Legal design is now integrated in some countries in legal education, there is now an international community working together to create a standard, global events are organised in different parts of the world (Finland, Brazil, Portugal, USA, UK, France…). We assume in a few years, it would be the basic skills of every legal professional.” This is the conclusion reached by Kristina Lazatianin her article entitled Innovation by legal design: a glimpse of your future! published by Impact Lawyers.

One of the case studies that Charlotte Baker refers to is the comic-strip style contracts developed by South African attorney, Robert de Rooy, the founder of Creative Contracts. Read more about this in Robert de Rooy’s article: Comic contracts: Everyone can understand them in the Contracting Excellence Journal, dated 17 September 2018.

The current poster child for revamping its approach to legal content in its commercial contracts is Shell. The energy group has completed various projects to improve the way it interacts with suppliers and customers, notably through the introduction of visual contracts.” This is quoted from the article written by Reena SenGupta, How ‘design-thinking’ can help lawyers do a better job , published in the Financial Times of 11 February 2021.

Leah Molatseli, co-founder and CEO of Lenoma Legal, a virtual legal tech startup will be presenting a two hour webinar on this topic on 14 June 2021. Leah is a legal technology and innovation specialist and author of #Legaltech Startups and Innovation published by Juta in 2020. More information on this webinar is available at: http://www.lawatwork.uct.ac.za/legal-design-thinking.


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