16 March 2021 by , and Dispute Resolution Alert

Draw me a picture: Legal design thinking and the law

The law is often criticised for being turgid and inaccessible to the ordinary person. Those creating and engaging with the law have been regarded as scholars, wordsmiths and orators, but technology is threatening to change all that - changes that will see the world engaging with the law in a whole new way.

The digital revolution takes the emphasis away from the written word - not replacing it but enhancing it through innovative structuring, visualisation, images, diagrams and even videos. The law is traditionally slow to embrace change but Legal Design Thinking or LDT is a concept with the potential to accelerate that change specifically because it brings creative solutions to everyday legal issues. LDT is a way to make the law more accessible by integrating legal concepts with technology and design.

In their article titled “What is legal design?” Emily Allbon and Dr Matthew Terrell highlight the presentation and communication of information in a fair, efficient and simple way that aids understanding. They anticipate a new world where legal design specialists, artists and even psychologists will work alongside lawyers. An example they use is the recent empowering of street vendors in New York by providing them with a visual depiction of the most commonly violated laws and giving them an understanding of how to operate within those laws. They apply the same principle to contracts where people presented with a more visual explanation more readily understand to what they are agreeing to, language barriers are bridged and there is less chance of disputes arising. If there are disputes, the parties are more likely to understand whether the dispute is a legal one and how that dispute might be resolved. A popular example is the use of comic contracts, which adds to the contract a comic-strip type of explanation where the images are as important as the words and a binding contract is created that is understood by all parties involved.

Data transformation brings with it progressively more complex legal problems some of which cannot be easily solved with traditional problem-solving processes. Design thinking, already a well-established business tool, presents information by using, for example, icons and structured hierarchies to communicate complex issues in a richer more visual form that can cut across cultural and language barriers. LDT is intended to assist lawyers in their understanding and analysis of intricate issues and aiding their communication with clients and opponents.

Where artificial intelligence is generally aimed at automation of more mundane tasks, LDT introduces a multifaceted approach that can assist lawyers with their most complex tasks. It is not suggested that lawyers abandon their traditional tools of critical analysis, logic and objective reasoning, but instead they can pair those skills with the richness afforded by the digital revolution and design thinking. In fact, universities should be incorporating these new skills into their curricula alongside all of the traditional skills.

There will be those who stick to the traditional but for those who are prepared to embrace the change, these are exciting developments.

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