Legal Design Engineer, Charlotte Baker, explains what we mean by the increasingly popular term ‘legal design’, the principles and tools involved, and explores various real-life examples of legal design in practice. In this first part of a four-part series of short articles, she defines what this new term means.
‘Legal design’ is a new field of work taking the legal industry by storm. But some of you may be asking – “what, er, actually is it?” This series of short articles aims to be a Legal Design 101 and answers the most obvious questions you might have.
In this first part I’ll explain this new concept of legal design (‘What Is Legal Design?’). Subsequent articles (to be published over the next few weeks) will tackle its benefits and the reasons why it’s becoming so popular (‘Why Do We Do Legal Design?’); the principles and tools involved (‘How Do We Do Legal Design?’); and, finally, give you some real-life examples of legal design in practice (‘What Does Legal Design Look Like?’).
What is Legal Design?
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.
As the name suggests, legal design is where we apply “design-thinking” to the law. We combine legal expertise with a design thinking approach by embracing visualisation, plain language, simplicity and smart use of technology (I’ll elaborate on this in Part 3 of this series, ‘How Do We Do Legal Design?’). This allows us to improve any aspect of the law – from legal contracts, policies and legal advice, to workflows and organisational structures that lawyers operate in.
Legal design means making the law more user-friendly. The ‘user’ of the legal system might be, for example, someone needing legal representation or someone needing a contract to formalise an arrangement. Users of the legal system can also be lawyers, who want to operate as effectively as possible and deliver the best outcomes to their clients. Legal design compels us to engage and empathise with our users to understand their needs, then design for their specific needs to create tailored legal solutions that actually work.
Challenge the Status Quo
Legal design is a creative process where we imagine what the future of law might look like, challenging the “conventional” and “old school” ways of doing things. It is a new approach to problem-solving and innovation: thinking creatively to come up with new products and services and challenging the status quo.
Need an Example?
Legal contracts can be long and difficult to digest (even for lawyers!). As consumers, most of us don’t even read them, we just sign them (think website terms & conditions). This is because they are still written by lawyers, for lawyers. Rethinking a contract from the perspective of the actual user, that is the person who derives rights and obligations from the contract, puts a whole new light on how to present the information. By applying legal design to a contract, we might re-write it in plain (‘human’) language, remove jargon, include helpful summaries, and add visualisations of information, diagrams, icons, timelines and pictures. This helps to make the contract engaging, visual and easier to understand.
Charlotte Baker is a Legal Design Engineer at Wavelength.law - the first regulated legal engineering firm in the world, based in Cambridge and London and operating globally. As a Legal Design Engineer, Charlotte applies creative and design thinking to the law; which includes using these approaches to focus on the user experience in the legal processes and solutions that Wavelength develop. Charlotte is also an experienced commercial and corporate lawyer, before becoming a Legal Design Engineer, she worked in-house as a lawyer at the BBC and Cambridge Assessment, and in private practice at the law firms Allen & Overy (the Netherlands) and Chapman Tripp (New Zealand) where she specialised in mergers and acquisitions, equity capital markets and general commercial and contract law