Legal Tech Needs Legal Design
I have a confession to make. Only two years ago I didn’t know too much about the “legal tech.” And to be truthful, I was also rather skeptical about the difference that software tools could make, because I felt that the solutions that were out there, would have required more investment than they could have given me in return.
I was a busy General Counsel in an international company with operations in seven different countries. My days were full of urgent matters that needed attention sooner rather than later. But the days also included many repetitive tasks that were not very complicated in the legal sense, yet required a lawyer’s attention.
Occasionally, something unexpected happened or a big project was launched that changed planned schedules. That was at the same time a good and the bad thing at the work.
The good thing was that I liked the versatility of the job: instead of focusing on a narrow area of expertise, there was no limitation on the subjects that the in-house legal department was expected to give guidance on. The bad thing was that the time per case at hand was always limited, and you needed to find the right “altitude” that differentiated from case to case.
But how does this relate to legal tech? Well it is simple: my time was quickly consumed by running through the daily work and putting out fires. There were times when it was very difficult to sit down and spend a proper amount of time on planning and development, let alone finding time to closely follow what was going on in the legal markets, except in the areas that were directly linked to the substantive matters of the work. Due to this way of working, there was no time to get familiar with the opportunities, or invest a lot of resources into thinking about bringing legal tech solutions into use.
Sometimes I hear or read comments about in-house legal departments being too slow and unwilling to make any changes in the way they operate, in particular relating to low implementation rate of legal tech solutions. Every time I hear that I get a counter reaction: Surely some of us lawyers are change resistant just by nature. But in my view, that is only a minor reason. The two main reasons are: lack of knowledge of the possibilities out there. Secondly, and even more importantly – many of the existing legal tech solutions are just not resonating with lawyers. The user experience is poor, they often require a lot of investment (both time and money) to take into use, and there is just no fun in using them. In short - they are badly designed.
I am happy to see that the first challenge relating to lack of knowledge concerning legal tech is diminishing by the day. Legal tech as a potential game changer is getting more and more attention not only in lawyers’ own circles but also in the press: non-lawyer journalists are interested in writing about the rise of alternatives that have the potential to improve access to justice and lower legal fees.
Legal tech events are organized with increasing speed, and legal tech associations and meet-ups bring likeminded people together all over Europe and the US. Some say its “hype,” but others think that “finally there is something happening in this field of business.”
Nevertheless, I find it difficult to find anything negative in this development, as it is spreading the knowledge that there are alternatives out there to help us manage the pressure that we lawyers face with swelling workload and compliance requirements (whereas the resources never increase in the same pace). And the technological solutions create totally new business opportunities for law firms as well, if the firms are open to developing their business to the direction where the customer is truly designed in the middle of the focus instead of the law firms’ own traditional processes.
The second issue is more burning: OK – now that we have the knowledge that there are technologies that can help us. But if the first impression is that it requires too much from us to take new solutions into use, it will be an uphill battle to get the team (and business users as may be applicable) to implement them successfully.
This is not specific for just legal tech products, it is valid for any other field as well: When people are busy doing their daily work and the cognitive load is significant, the last thing they need is a new software that they need to learn to use. In the worst case, sitting for hours in a training session, forgetting most parts of it during the next few weeks and then being frustrated trying to figure out how it worked when the need is there.
I am not surprised that many software implementations fail at the end to reach the wanted results because the people are not using the product to the extent they should, or they just find the old way easier at the end even if the new way would have helped them.
I am sure most people would happily welcome a new, better way of doing things, but if the solution feels difficult, they will not change. And at this point most software providers are quick to laud how their product is NOT difficult, you just need to click here and there and in their view “this is very clear.” But my opinion is that it does not matter if the product is or is not difficult to use, if it FEELS like it’s difficult, that is enough to create a barrier in the potential users’ minds against it.
So, this is where the design comes in. Instead of blaming lawyers for being too change resistant and old fashioned with their Outlooks and MS Words, the legal tech providers should create products that the customers love. This means first understanding the user’s needs, relevant processes, different stakeholders and what is the real problem you are intending to solve. And then, solving that problem with a design-oriented solution. In the end, this should result in the creation of a solution that puts the user into the focus, and that is supported by truly intuitive user interfaces, simple design, and rewarding user experiences. Something that FEELS fun to use.
The design thinking is making its way into the legal field as well and that is just great. The “hype” around legal tech in general has so far taken most of the attention, but the legal design is gaining also momentum.
As one of the speakers at the world’s largest Legal Design Summit in Helsinki, Finland on 1.11.2017 put it: “Legal Design is the new Legal Tech.”
The awareness in this area is increasing all the time and it can only benefit all stakeholders: the lawyers as users of legal tech products, law firms as providers of legal services and most importantly – the end-user, whether it is a consumer or a business owner at a company.
The core of legal design is not about making visually pretty documents. As Margaret Hagan (Director of the Legal Design Lab, Stanford Law School & Lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design) puts it: It’s about looking at the legal system through “designer’s glasses.” Focusing on the human experience, solving peoples’ problems, and seeing the system as touchpoints in a flow is key to achieving this goal. This applies to the public legal systems as well as to the business of law.
Coming back to my confession at the beginning: I believe that now that awareness of the legal tech is gradually increasing, that part of the problem is getting solved. Next, if vendors, law firms, and in-house legal departments take design-oriented approaches to the use of legal tech to solve real problems, we will see a rapid increase in the implementation rate of these solutions.
This will benefit us all: lawyers in law firms, in-house legal departments, business owners at companies, private individuals, public authorities, and so on. Whether through access to justice, access to knowledge, improved workflows, increased efficiencies or new opportunities to serve customers.
About the Author
Kaisa is Co-founder and CEO of Contract Mill, a company providing design powered document automation solutions that enables lawyers and business owners to “Be More”. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur and founder of Contract Mill, she was General Counsel of an international company headquartered in Switzerland. Kaisa holds LL.M. Law from University of Helsinki, Finland, and she also studied in University of Tübingen in Germany and University of Stockholm, Sweden. Kaisa serves also as the Ambassador of Finland in the European Legal Tech Association.