#Cbafutureschat Recap: Law & Design

What if every law firm and court had a basement lab where developers and designers hung out and built solutions?

That was a question posed by host Margaret Hagan during Tuesday’s CBA Twitterchat on the topic of law and design.

Hagan, who works at Stanford’s d.school and will soon work at the university’s law school, focuses on bringing user-centred design to legal services.

One of the key findings of the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative is that the client needs to become the centre of the legal universe if the profession is to maintain its relevance in the face of transformative change.

That is certainly a meritorious sentiment, but how, in practical terms, does it happen?

Ian J. Perry, a law student in Toronto, suggests it’s a matter of “abolishing/redesigning what the user has come to despise about the legal profession.”

“AND replacing it with more user-friendly experience that meets actual needs of user, not lawyer,” adds Karen Dyck, a freelance lawyer in Manitoba.

A tech lawyer from Seattle tweeting under the handle Right Brain Law, notes, “Lawyers have made law itself almost impenetrable. Need greater access to law and more thinking about making accessible/clear.”

But apart from the by-now inevitable suggestion about deep-sixing the billable hour, there was little consensus as to what needs to be abolished, or how exactly this greater accessibility would be brought about.

Interestingly, and probably because Hagan is a designer and her work has a visual element not normally seen in legal circles, some of the discussion centred on the value of using visual aids to help clients understand the process. Hagan cautioned that any graphics or infographics need to be absolutely crystal clear or they’ll be no more helpful than the material they seek to explain, but many of the Twitterchat participants could see them serving a useful purpose.

Hagan herself is working on a design for an A2J group “that helps self-help centres redesign their forms, checklists and visual aids.” She says these days clients like to get some online information so they can “size things up” before they seek out lawyers.

“I’m surprised how little infographics/visual aids are used in law. I use them a lot in training, education material,” says Rebecca Lockwood, who curates the blog Law & Language.

Julie Sobowale suggested visuals could help explain legal workflow to clients, and the Canadian Forum for Civil Justice said it is developing a whole series of infographics related to access to justice.

But perhaps Alex Shalashniy, a young lawyer in Saskatchewan, might have put his finger rather bluntly on the point when he said infographics “should be seen as at least as helpful as glossy firm covers given to the client.”

Because while there are no doubt some clients who would derive some benefit from infographics and visual explanations of work flows, is that really the kind of demystification most clients need? A client survey carried out by the Legal Futures Initiative suggested clients’ top priority, almost without exception, is value for money. After that they want lawyers to speak to them in language they can understand.

“Sometimes the best innovation can be a well-written pamphlet explaining an area of law,” Sobowale says.

Isaac Parker is with IPCS Digital, a design agency that works exclusively with commercial law firms. Putting clients at the centre of the work means you have to “consider every point where client interacts with business and think, ‘how can we be more helpful here?’ Think ahead so we have tools and information to give out a first contact, instead of reacting to client requests.”

That seems like just good business sense. And you don’t need a basement lab to figure that out.

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