Legal Design Summit in Helsinki: From strategy to culture

We’re reporting from the Legal Design Summit in Helsinki and will update you with highlights of some of the sessions and our interviews, so keep an eye on this post. The Summit brings together specialists in law, design and digital services. This year the event is now free and not for profit to open it up to a wider community, so well done to the team led by CEO Pilvi Alopaeus.
Design thinking is far from new, but within the legal sector is slowly gaining traction, driven by a number of factors including the ‘Apple effect’ and the need to deliver legal services differently with a better user experience.

The path of legal design
Dan Jackson, executive director of NuLawLab.
NuLawLab, founded in 2012, is an interdisciplinary innovation laboratory working to “imagine, design, test, and implement pioneering approaches to legal empowerment.”
“Legal design has matured enough to look at our history, where we are today and our future impact. It’s happening all around the world,” Jackson said in his opening keynote.
In the US, legal design is gaining the most traction in academia, where there has been a rapid uptake from law schools, all applying design in some way.
In Europe, organisations are increasingly using legal design in their practices and more people are doing this work across the industry and justice sector.
In Asia, grass root organisations such as Namati are doing great work equipping people to understand and shape the law. Their community paralegal programme is helping to take on injustice: they have built a global network of paralegals dedicated to legal empowerment and serving the community.
In the States there are commercial legal design agencies engaging with the largest law firms but that’s “still the exception to the rule.”
He says: “In academia in the States we are sharing challenges and not competing. It a community of common interest.”
Here are some of the organisations making good headway in legal design:

“It’s great to see large organisations such as Microsoft embracing the opportunity of legal design.”
Legal design is in proliferation mode. “As we’re in proliferation mode I want to encourage all legal designers to embrace as much of the creative potential of legal design,” Jackson said.
NuLawLab combines art and law. It has transitioned from traditional design thinking towards exploring the application of creative arts such as dance, poetry, and theatre. “We’re hoping to explore that radical concept and find solutions – people are looking at us as if we have three heads, like when we talked about legal design six years ago,” Jackson said, “but law students love it. There is a tremendous opportunity for students to see law as a creative medium.”

He adds: “I continue to be of the opinion that law is the most creative concept that humans have come up with. Law is founded on history and precedent and we forget that once upon a time this was a radical and creative idea. We have to own and acknowledge that, and understand that it is a creative medium. It is also a means for advancing the common good and right now it’s under threat. Design pays attention to what is going on around us and we have to call that out.”
Jackson closes with a quote from US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said: “Happiness, I am sure from having known many successful men, cannot be won simply by being counsel for great corporations and having an income of fifty thousand dollars. An intellect great enough to win the prize needs other food beside success.”

Marco Imperiale, lawyer and innovation officer from LCA
In order to push forward with innovation and legal design, there are three underlying criteria:
Active listening
Change of perspective
Marco gave us – and dismantled – ten classic reasons (aka excuses) as to why a firm or legal department should not to innovate/engage in legal design.
– We don’t have the budget – BUT a good law firms always finds appropriate funds for relevant matters – if not this year how about a formal commitment for next year?
– We are a serious law firm – BUT ‘serious’ means close minded, backward thinking and boring. Professionals can be forward thinking and able to have a good time.
– Our clients would not appreciate it – BUT do we have specific feedback on that? The answer is no.
– We have always done it this way! BUT If we are really interested in improving efficiency a proper legal design strategy can be surprisingly effective.
– Legal design and innovation are not a priority – BUT the best law firms are always ready to change their priorities if the clients are asking or if it’s a way to increase profit in which case can be surprise in ly flexible.
– When the content is good the form its done in doesn’t really matter. BUT have we have tried a comparison on normal engagement letter and one where legal design has done it work? Once you see the difference, you won’t go back. So the way forward is introducing the comparison.
– Our competitors are not doing that. BUT tell me about the bit about being leaders in your brochure. It’s better to start now than being behind and having to close the gap.
– We already have a marketing department. BUT legal design requires specific skills and you have two options: invest your own resources/training or hire external consultant.
– We are not consultants – but how about having perspective that it’s not us against them and see what the best practice we can import.
– Our content is already clear enough – but have we ever had a discussion? An anonyomous internal survey? Have we ever asked for feedback from the clinet about the clarity of our documents? Most of the time the feedback is no.
“Innovation is a step between stubbornness and grit,” Marco said. “With stubbornness, you get a negative answer, you ask again.
“With Grit, you get a negative answer, you ask why not. You do your homework. You provide arguments that support your thesis. You submit a new proposal. And you cross your fingers!”

Speaker’s corner:
Meera Klemola, co-founder of Observ Agency
Meera, can you tell me a little bit about your career history?
I was a lawyer at K&L Gates in Sydney and I moved to Finland, where I qualified in global innovation and design on a Stanford course founded by Larry Leifer 50 years ago. So you can see that legal design is not new! I’m now completing a second Masters in international design business management here at Aalto looking at how you integrate design thinking across companies.
It’s ranked as the sixth best course in the world: Helsinki is one of the leading regions for strategic design business. It is so well embedded in their philosophy.
I’m from Australia, where people take a classic approach to legal design – it’s about the aesthetics. But it’s really about how you get from an idea to a product using a human centred approach to really speed up innovation.
That’s a good point, how would you define legal design?
Legal design is the whole process from concept to process to output. Yes it’s about creating a product aesthetically but design as a process is design thinking. My co-founder Emma [Hertzberg] and I take the full approach to solving complex’ problems.
How do you start the design thinking process, particularly at a traditional law firm?
In all honesty, a law firm has to be ready. It’s counterintuitive to the way lawyers are taught. People are a product of what they are recognised and rewarded for. Having been to both law school and design school, the rewards are polar opposite. At law school if you follow the rules and mitigate risk at all cost you are rewarded. Design school is the opposite: the more divergent path you take the better your results and you are always taught to see failure as a necessary step. The same skill set that make lawyers excellent are the same skill sets that hinder their natural ability to innovate.
We ought to focus on onboarding these new skills – giving them a new approach to thinking and doing. That could be a contract that looks better, but often you’ll have gone through an entirely process to make it more useful and engaging. The legal team ought to view the contract as a strategic tool.
“Tell us about the work you and Observ Agency have done with Linklaters in reimagining their training contract?”
At Linklaters Shilpa is looking at many ways to innovate and this is one.
She wanted to reimagine the training contract not just to provide the information in a better way but also to see if this could be a point of differentiation, to communicate better what Linklaters is about; what its core aims are and what is important. We created a team of many stakeholders across Singapore and the UK.
They have now released this newly designed training contract. What people fail to understand about legal design is that we set KPIs and try to measure impact, and Linklaters has noticed an increase in uptake as well as very positive engagement from its trainee community and the wider partnership. From a business efficiency perspective, the document has gone from being paper based to fully digital and that accords with the ideas of future lawyer.
Are you working with legal teams on client contracts?
I can’t say who but yes we are working with law firms and in-house teams on core contracts and I’m excited to start. Maybe people have thought of this but this is the first time they are taking action – in the last 18 months we have seen more commitment. That’s something to do with changing client expectation. This recognition that law cannot go on as it has. The best experience wins. Consumers have so much choice now, and if you don’t deliver, they can just switch.
Why should people in legal tech care so much about legal design?
Creating new technology is easy but creating tech that people want to use is hard. They have to need it and it has to have a good UI or it won’t be as successful as it could be. With a design approach you validate along the way: build; validate or discard. It baffles me that the people who select technology aren’t the ones that have to use it. People sourcing technology should always get the people who use it involved. The legal tech solution that works for your competitor may not be the right one for you.