For in-house lawyers, getting the business to engage properly, and (we can dream) enthusiastically with legal processes and documents is a familiar struggle. Policies are often not followed, documents and best-practice templates go unused, and stakeholders are reluctant to engage with a legal department still often perceived as a cost centre rather a solution provider.
“Overcoming business reluctance and “earning the right” to be listened to is fully part of the in-house job.”
Let’s admit it: we might still be paying for some decades of flat, didactic, 2D, black & white PowerPoint based jargon that used to be thrown at people out in the business.
Today, as in-house counsels or GCs, we all make great efforts to be business-oriented, produce legal content which is as pedagogic as possible, while guarding the temple. But still. Overcoming business reluctance and “earning the right” to be listened to is fully part of the in-house job.
At the other end of the spectrum, people are now used to receiving information and knowledge through smartphones, social media, videos, podcasts and so on in this millisecond world we live in.
Where does that leave the law and the role of in-house lawyers? Quite simply, the way you adapt your technical knowledge to address the reality your internal clients work in every day is key. As a Magic Circle lawyer, I was trained to deliver top-notch client service, but as my career progressed I realised it was not enough. As a GC, I turned to legal design to make this happen – starting with the end user’s needs and designing my legal processes, documents and compliance trainings from this standpoint.
“Why not take a legal design approach and start from the users and their journey as regards the legal issue you’re tackling?”
Compliance programmes are another obvious candidate. Getting business people to care about, and engage with, most compliance programmes is a huge challenge; most in-house lawyers will be familiar with the gradual drift of people’s attention to their phones and their inbox, rather than concentrating on compliance messages which are mostly about everything they can’t do. Why not take a legal design approach and start from the users and their journey as regards the legal issue you’re tackling? First identify which questions they ask themselves, with whom they interact, what are the pain points they face, what are their business goals and KPIs. Then, insert relevant legal advice and obligations at the right time within that journey, and in a user-friendly, engaging way. Workshopping the programme through design thinking, which is a collaborative process with your internal clients, makes it much more likely to achieve the engagement you need to feel confident that the business will implement it. Simply because they will have co-created it.
Another area ripe for legal design is complex contracts that are hard to negotiate. The difficulty with such documents is the technical detail buried in them, which often induces lengthy negotiations. Worse, the terms often go unimplemented once the contract is signed because the business people simply do not understand it. And not just business people. Nearly ten years ago, Elizabeth Warren, an expert on debt collection and consumer protection law declared "I teach contract law at Harvard Law School and I can't understand my credit card contract. It’s not designed to be read."
“Legal design enables the creation of legal documents which are easy to understand, business efficient and engaging in spite of complexity, while ensuring legal safety.”
A design approach would help you structure the contract according to the needs of the user, rather than just following the order of the legislation, and answer the question “how do we want this contract to ‘live’ – i.e. be implemented”, rather than only focusing on termination or litigation. Obviously, what would happen if things go wrong still remains a key issue, but first, it should not be the only issue; and second, ensuring legal safety does not imply contracts should be “user adverse”.
Precisely, legal design enables the creation of legal documents which are easy to understand, business efficient and engaging in spite of complexity, while ensuring legal safety. Legal design could also help reconciling the law with current information usage. Addressing how users absorb and understand information in a millisecond world, as well as the ‘digital native’ way of interacting and doing business, is now indispensable to ensure seamless adoption of a good number of agreements applicable to the digital ecosystem.
“Why should UX end when legal issues start? Legal design focuses on user experience. It goes way beyond communication or visualization: it’s a problem-solving, hands-on innovation technique that aims at creating a satisfying ‘legal UX’.”
These are just some examples, but there are hundreds of processes and documents that would benefit from legal design. Take any online terms & conditions, contract or legal policy. Why should UX end when legal issues start? Legal design focuses on user experience. It goes way beyond communication or visualization: it’s a problem-solving, hands-on innovation technique that aims at creating a satisfying ‘legal UX’. At last.