Law By Design Book Image

We can make the world of legal services & legal practice better through design.

When we (in the world) of law talk about innovation, often we end up in one of two discussions. First, there is resistance — with lawyers listing off all of the barriers to why change won’t happen, why it hasn’t happened, and what will stop it from happening. Or alternatively, we end up in a haze of technophilia — with lawyers and experts extolling the wonders of technology, artificial intelligence, and data, and how they will transform (if not displace) our current world of legal services. People in either of these camps don’t tend to talk to each other, or find very constructive ways of bridging their radically different views of the future of legal services.

In this book, I advocate for a design-driven approach to legal innovation. Design is the way to generate promising ideas for how legal services could be improved, and then get them developed in quick and effective ways.

Law By Design a lens on the user

A design-driven approach to innovation can center our work on real, lived human problems. And it offers a clear set of process, mindsets, and mechanics that can structure our attempts to innovate — giving us a path to follow, that will help us think more ambitiously and creatively about how we could address the many frustrations, confusions, and frictions in law.

This book sets forth an agenda for innovation in legal services, with practical, agile, and user-centered methods to make the legal system clearer, more efficient, more usable, and friendlier. It scopes out what it means for legal professionals to embrace a designer’s approach to solving problems.

It’s a documentation of what I’ve learned over the past three years of experimenting with how to bring the worlds of law and design together. (It will also be an iterative project — so please let me know how it can be improved in future updates.)

We need user-centered innovation in law, and we need it now.

We need a revolution in the way legal professionals work, and how they present and offer legal services to the public. We need creativity and innovation in how we legal professionals approach our work, our relationship with lay people, and our interactions with each other. The field of law needs to be redesigned and rebooted, with a culture of design thinking, user research, and human-centered design methods.

Unaccompanied Immigrant Children - Project - users - smaller

Our focus must be on how we can improve the world of legal services right now — not waiting for miraculous artificial intelligence to appear years down the line — and certainly not waiting for a new business model or a new technology to disrupt lawyers out of jobs. This book is about how we as lawyers, JDs, judges, court staff, legal tech entrepreneurs & legal experts can find ways right now to improve the legal system both for our end-users and for ourselves.

This book is meant for people who want to do things differently in the world of law (and beyond). What the law is — and what our legal system is — is not what is written in the books. It is what is experienced by the people who use the system — as litigants, as criminal defendants, as lay people who are trying to get legal help. And it is what is experienced by the professionals who work in the legal system.

This book focuses on how the Experience of Law could be improved — and how to get new creative, experimental ideas launched to do so. Readers will learn the basics of the design process, as well as how it is being practiced in the legal field — and finally how they may learn & implement it in their organization.

Design Can Drive Successful Innovation in How We Deliver & Practice Law

This book is a call to design. The world of legal rules and services can be better, and design can be the key guide to bring a new era of usable, engaging, and user-friendly law.

There Needs to be a revolution in law

Design offers a way to rethink and improve people’s experiences of law. This means both from the lay person’s perspective — who is having to navigate the legal system to deal with a problem or pursue justice. And it also means from the legal professional’s perspective — the lawyer, the judge, the court clerical worker, the paralegal, and beyond. Our legal system does not have to be the way that it is. It can be clearer, more efficient, more usable, and friendlier.

Design is the way to get there. Design is a field built around ‘How’ — that can complement a field of ‘What’ like law. Design is about figuring out smart, usable, practical ways to make change happen — to make more engaging communications, to create breakthrough new products, to deploy more satisfying services, and to set up more effective organizations, policies, and strategies.

Design offers a clear, human-centered process to envision what these better legal systems could be, and then craft and launch interventions to realize these changes. It offers intentionality in the face of a system that has been hacked and patched together haphazardly and without user testing. Design holds the power to crack open the world of law, and make it more accessible, democratic, and usable.

The Promise of a Design Process - by Margaret Hagan - design thinking

Design-driven rather than Tech-driven

I am writing this book to counteract the trend of talking about legal innovation only in terms of technology. These discussions are oriented around increasing efficiency of legal processes, automating human tasks through machines, and increasing productivity through better management of data and knowledge. These discussions typically leave out the concept of design, despite its richness in methods, process, tools, and mindsets that can make for more successful, breakthrough, and intentional innovations (including those using technology).

A design-driven approach is not anti-technology. It takes tech as a resource that we should be drawing into our designs for innovation. Human-centered design can be just as much a driver of innovation as technology – if not an even better one. Design is concerned not so much with the means by which new legal processes may be carried out, but rather with the experience of the humans who will be using these processes.

Legal Design Notes 5

It resists trumpeting cool, futuristic technology for its own sake. Design focuses on whether products, services, organizations, and systems are usable to the people who deliver them, and for whom they are supposed to serve. Design thinking has already come into fields of management, healthcare, and financial services. Law – as a fundamentally service-driven profession – could benefit from a user-centered design approach.

Design should be in every lawyer’s toolbox

This book explains how design can be used by legal professionals in their current workflows, and proposes how design can lead to new paths of services, and products for lawyers to deliver to lay people. And even for those lawyers and people who are not interested in legal innovation per se, design holds potential for them as well. As they construct legal documents, define what services they offer to clients, and form organizations, design can guide them to better outcomes. Thinking like a designer – and making like a designer – can lead to more intentional and successful choices in how they construct work product, client services, and legal systems.

Lawyers as Users

Why combine law with design? Even if these two fields have traditionally not intersected, I see three main points of value in bringing them together.

  1. Experimental Culture: To be more forward-thinking in how we as legal professionals generate solutions for problems in the legal sector;
  2. User Centered Innovation: To put greater focus on the client and the lay person who has to use legal systems, to deliver them better services tailored their function and their experiential needs;
  3. New Paths for Legal Work & Serving Justice: To build a new set of professional paths and opportunities for people who want to work in law — and especially those who see that traditional ways of being law students and lawyers do not enable them to make the positive changes in society that originally drove them into law.

What this book can offer you

This book lays out what Legal Design is — as a concept, as well as its particular mindsets, process, and mechanics.

  • It scopes out what it means for legal professionals to embrace a designer’s approach to their work.
  • It spells out the practice of legal design, with explicit discussion of process, mindsets and mechanics to use to take a design-driven approach to law.
  • It presents ways — both lightweight and comprehensive — to bring a design approach into your personal work and to your organization.
  • It sets out standards by which you can measure how well-designed your status quo services and systems are.
  • Finally, the book sets an agenda for future work to be done in this burgeoning field of legal design & innovation.

Practically, what can you expect to take-away from this book? You can expect to become literate in design, and equipped with tools to revise your current services or to create new initiatives (or new organizations and start-ups).

Users of this book

Ideally, this book will help lawyers, court-workers, law professors, judges and others to be more thoughtful and creative about how they work and how they engage the people they serve. It aims to create a movement around design-driven innovation in law. We need more organizations dedicated to agile, creative experimentation in legal services, that can launch a new generation of products, services, and systems.

This book has emerged out of my own efforts to build such a center. It captures the conversations, workshops, and knowledge that’s been developing along with the Legal Design Lab that I have launched at Stanford Law School & (Institute of Design). While I have been working there over the past years, a wide variety of people have approached me to ask about creativity, innovation, visuals, and new opportunities for JDs. Some of the questions I’ve been asked:

Law By Design Question

  • How can I find a good idea for a legal startup?
  • What information design is attractive and engaging for a legal audience?
  • How do we prepare law students for taking charge of their own career and opportunities?
  • How can we use technology to get more lay people to be smarter, and more in control of their legal experiences?
  • How can I get young lawyers to use my product?
  • How can I get my team to work in a more collaborative and quick way?

Questions for Legal Design

I don’t presume, at least in this first version, to answer all of these questions in detail. But I hope to give the reader — and the ask-ers of such questions — a way of working that will guide them to answers on their own. If you take nothing else away from the book, I hope that it is a thoughtfulness and intention about how you work, a sensitivity to how others experience your work and work product, and a drive to make things better, and do it quickly.

If you come here with an interest in becoming a designer, or even specifically a legal designer, I hope that the following chapters will set you on this path, from which you can seek out many more formal and rich resources about how to practice design. Initially, my goal is to just shift legal professionals from being unconscious designers — creating services, developing technology, creating policies and legal systems — to conscious ones, with more attention to users’ voices, experimentation and testing feedback, and the need for more creative and ambitious ideas.

Legal Design - moving unconscious designers to conscious designers

This journey to becoming a designer who knows the design approach’s processes, can use its full toolset, embodies its mindsets, and can lead innovation efforts in an organization will not be an easy one. But the great thing about design is that it is a muscle that can be trained. As you become more conscious about prototyping, about user experience, about visual communication, and all of the other mindsets, methods, and mechanics discussed in this book, you will be moving forward on this journey — to the point that eventually these will become habitual, instinctive, and you’ll know quickly what ‘good’ design is and what strategies you can use to get there. It’s not magic or genius, it’s something you can work toward.

Becoming A Designer - the journey by Margaret HaganThat said, this book is also a work in progress. I’m publishing it here on the web after having sketched it out, written hundreds of notes about it, made Google doc drafts, Evernote drafts, webpage drafts, notebook drafts. I’ve been planning it out since I started my fellowship in Autumn 2013.


Book plan

An early prototype of this book, from the back of my sketchbook.

Here, several years later, and I’m willing to show the first version of it to the Internet public. That said, I want it to continue to grow, to become livelier, current, and useful to the people who end up at this site with some kind of mission — surely ones that I can’t predict now, even with the shortlist of questions I listed out above.

Another sketch of what this book might be

One of my many planning sketches, to prototype this book

Please enjoy this initial version of Law By Design, and in the spirit of design — let me know how it could be made better for you.