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Legal design sprints: the cheat code to better processes?

The Design Sprint: friend to innovative organisations everywhere. Inspired by places like the Stanford D School and the design consultancy IDEO, Google built its own design sprint framework in 2010. And when they started to promote and share their five-step framework for sprints with the wider world, it was obviously a technique with wide application; after all, which business wouldn’t be seduced by – or, at the very least, interested in – a tool that can compress months of debate and decision-making into a week and deliver better outcomes for business stakeholders? Could this be a useful tool for in-house legal, just as it has been for almost all other functions of a business?

How to run a design sprint

Behind the sprint is the compelling idea of addressing a business challenge through prototyping a solution, rapid iterations and most importantly user testing prototypes in a risk free environment before implementation.

Google’s basic framework is a blueprint for achieving a great amount in just a few days. To prepare, you need to write a brief to focus the team (here’s a free template); collect or conduct user research; assemble a sprint team of ideally 5-7, including senior stakeholders where possible; plan lightning talks to share expertise; create a deck to guide the sprint; find a whiteboard-filled space; stock up on sharpies, post-its, sellotape and scissors; plan an ice-breaker to get started; and make sure everyone’s engaged.

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Read Margaret Hagan and Helena Haapio for the Juro blog on how to redesign contracts (illustration by Margaret Hagan)

The key phases of the sprint itself are:

  1. Understand: use lightning talks to discuss the problem, explore key reference points (like competitors) and capture everything on whiteboards for inspiration. Frame the problem before racing to a solution.
  2. Sketch: break off individually to get creative and sketch out your ideas to solve the problem at hand. You might look at a comparable problem first, then dump as many ideas as possible on a page, vote on them, and narrow them down to one great idea per person.
  3. Decide: present your ideas and vote on them. There are lots of ways to decide the winner if you can’t agree by using a simple vote.
  4. Prototype: a sprint prototype is just a façade – the barest customer-facing elements of the product or process. Just build what you need to validate the solution – don’t worry about the rest.
  5. Validate: let users try the prototype out – this might involve testing usability, or getting feedback from leadership, or reviewing whether it’s technically possible to build what’s been agreed.

When you’re done, it’s time to review the sprint and decide which learnings to take from your failures, which elements were successful, and which elements could be implemented now. Every sprint should have actionable outcomes for product development.

Bringing design sprints to your legal team

Legal hasn’t been the fastest adopter of this particular element of design thinking, but there have been pioneers like legal design superhero Margaret Hagan and Ideo General Counsel Rochael Soper Adranly: “Today’s general counsel need to be both business-minded and human-centred,” she says. “This means ... having a clear awareness that legal problems are human problems.” Hard to argue.

So, in-house lawyers of the world, does this ring any bells? Let’s look at some of the perennial problem processes and policies that legal gets stuck on. Employment policies, options agreements, terms and conditions, privacy policies – whether through business strategy, takeovers, regulatory risk or disputes, problem processes often need a redesign, and the quicker the better. Can you use the design sprint process in legal? (Spoiler – yes).

So how can you actually operationalize a legal design sprint? It can work for in-house legal teams, but only if you take steps to avoid the common pitfalls.

Stakeholders first: when you’re dealing with a contract or legal policy, the stakeholders could be any number of a wide range of roles, from other lawyers to business decision-makers, employees and customers. You need to know what their needs are: so ask them, and make sure it’s face-to-face or on a video call so you can catch the nuances. Ask the hard questions with the potential to give scary answers and define the problem that the sprint addresses with their needs at the front of your mind. Lawyers are great at understanding what those hard questions are – defining these problems is a crucial part of the process.

Put your inner lawyer aside and fail early: lawyers don’t generally ‘do’ failure – it means a big liability, a breach of contract, a bet-the-company risk. But in design, you not only need to fail, you need to do it fast and be comfortable with it. As lawyers we tend to set out as perfectionists, but in a design sprint, at least some stakeholders are guaranteed to think your ideas are crazy, scary, risky or just plain dull. Failure and iteration can lead to better outcomes. Accept the critiques – it’ll be worth it.

Get buy-in where you can: use your lawyerly wiles to secure buy-in. For example, some of the obligations and consequent risks of GDPR are unanswerable – nobody wants to be fined 4% of annual turnover, after all. If for example you frame the driver for a design sprint on a privacy policy redesign as a regulatory imperative, rather than a nice to have, things will happen much faster. Data-driven arguments are similarly hard to refute: if your analytics dashboard shows a concept moving the needle on cost or time taken significantly, then the ROI on display will help get people in your corner. Colleagues in product teams are used to this way of working – see if they’ll support you.

Don’t lose forward momentum – and make this the new normal: getting management on-side, and keeping them there, is crucial. Legal design projects have to align with business KPIs to succeed and be supported where it counts. If aligning with the business sees you getting stuck on details and over-optimizing, it might be worth getting an outside facilitator to help. It’s also important to capture the learnings from a sprint and make sure it’s not a one-off: can you include legal design goals in your team members’ performance reviews? This will motivate them to keep design thinking front of mind rather than seeing these sprints as a team jolly.

Ready your toolbox: More important than the tools you use is the mindset you build in your team. But if you’re preparing to run a sprint, make sure you have the right tools to hand: Jira can help with project management, post-its and a whiteboard are invaluable for codifying ideas, GoogleSlides is great for keeping everyone on track, Sketch is a powerful graphics editor and InVision can help you test prototypes and mockups. Juro can of course help with contract-related design projects. Take the plunge and you may find a sprint can help you improve processes much more quickly than you thought possible.

Building a design-driven legal team? Get in touch with Juro to see how you can bring great design to contract management.

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