What is Legal Design Thinking?
Legal Design Thinking seems to be a trending term in the sector over the last few years but what does it actually mean?
At Neota we approach the term as a combination of legal expertise, design and visual thinking but fundamentally, we ensure a human-centred approach is behind solving a legal problem.
By adopting this process, you can not only help identify and solve problems, but you can also gain a better understanding of how an overall process works and how you to make improvements.
The legal Design Process
Here’s the situation: you have a blank sheet in front of you and some thoughts about a problem you want to solve, but that’s about it. How do you properly scope out the problem? How do you make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew? How do you make sure that the project is aimed in the right direction and stays on target?
These are all concerns that can be clarified by following these steps:
- Define your goal
Every project should start with a clear and concise goal. It may seem obvious, but having a clear goal is not always easy. When starting a project, people are often eager to jump right into a shiny new tool or a new hire before looking at the bigger picture.
When defining the goal of your project, it’s a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge. Too broad and the project could collapse from lack of direction and confusion. Too narrow, and the project will struggle to offer the level of service that the user is looking for. It needs to be just right – somewhere in the middle of these two. So, take some time to consider the goal at the beginning. Consider why you are undertaking this project, what the underlying purpose of the project is, and what higher level efficiencies can be achieved.
Ultimately, the goal should be expressed in a single sentence. Once you’ve got your goal, it will be a useful anchor to reference throughout the project. If you notice things are starting to sprawl away from the goal, reassess the direction of the project and either drive things back to the goal or decide whether the goal needs to be changed to fit the new direction. Either way it will be your guiding light as the project progresses.
- Identify your audience
Legal design thinking puts users ahead of lawyers or designers. Empathy is key here; you need to be empathetic to the end user but it’s important to truly understand who that will be.
At a very high level, processes should be viewed as ongoing relationships between users and the product or service you are looking to provide. In order for the process, product or service to be successful, people will need to use it, and want to use it. So the user is number one.
Are they lawyers? Are they technologists? Are they in the pro bono space? Is it the general public? Are they internal or external to your organization? There’s a whole host of elements that need to be considered when thinking about your audience. Once you’ve narrowed your audience down it will help you make important decisions down the road. By identifying your audience, you can better understand what would motivate them to use the service you are trying to deliver, everything from the type of language you use, to what terms you define, to the color scheme you choose.
Once you’ve identified your audience try to involve them in the whole planning process: ask them what they need, co-create with them, test with them, ask for feedback, observe them using it and bring them along on the ride to truly understand what it is they need.
- Generate ideas
Once you’ve identified that end goal and who it is you want that end goal to help, then you can set about generating ideas for achieving that goal.
The Design Council states that “In all creative processes a number of possible ideas are created (‘divergent thinking’) before refining and narrowing down to the best idea (‘convergent thinking’). When doing this you should try to involve all key stakeholders in a brainstorming session and come up with creative ways of taking something complex and making it simple for the end user.
Once you’ve developed a set of ideas – both good and bad – you can then evaluate, which means carefully considering the viability of how it will work in practice, the desirability of whether people want a solution to this problem and the feasibility of whether it can be achieved with the available resources.
You might identify that you need a digital solution in order to achieve your goal but sometimes a process improvement or simply better communication is required.
- Establish the output
You need to have a clear sense of what the user will walk away with after using the process or service that you are designing. For example, Will the user be sent a report? Require an email with more information? Need to take further action away from the environment that you have provided? Be explicitly clear on the end product or service that the user will receive.
You need to have a clear sense of what the user will walk away with after using the process or service that you are designing. For example, Will the user be sent a report? Require an email with more information? Need to take further action away from the environment that you have provided? Be explicitly clear on the end product or service that the user will receive. This may seem similar to the goal, however, the difference is that the goal is the overarching purpose you’re looking to achieve, whereas the output is more of a tangible outcome.
For example, a project goal could be that you’re looking to streamline your client intake process or provide more consistency in the documents generated by your corporate legal staff. The outcome of these goals could be an app that assesses a user’s legal needs and triggers an email to the appropriate practice group, or an app that generates, sends out, and tracks NDAs.
The goal will drive the project, thinking about the audience will shape the tone and delivery of the app, and the output will give you something tangible to work towards. With these elements clear in your mind, it becomes a lot easier to join the dots between them and create a meaningful process.
By following these stages you’ll have a strong vision for the project and clear guidelines to point to as it develops. The outcome will be a user-centred solution that may not have been apparent before undergoing this design thinking process. You’ll also gain a greater understanding of the overall process it takes to achieve your goals and in turn, you will create a better experience for your clients and colleagues.
Download the full white paper to get a greater understanding of legal design thinking.
[ Artificial Lawyer is proud to bring you this sponsored thought leadership article by Neota Logic. ]