An interview with Jessica Didrikson & Denis Potemkin
Jessica and Denis, as an introduction maybe you can tell us something about yourself and your profession. About the things you do on a day-by-day basis, your activities in the legal sector and so on. And how did you meet?
Jessica: I serve as the General Counsel of Personal Banking at Nordea, where I have the pleasure of leading the Personal Banking Legal team. Our primary objective is to provide comprehensive legal support to Personal Banking, focusing on all aspects of the customer journey. This includes establishing and nurturing customer relationships, handling specific customer cases, resolving disputes and contributing to product and service development.
Last year, during an encounter at FLW (Future Lawyer Week), I had the pleasure of meeting Denis, whose profound statement, "Content eats culture for breakfast," left a lasting impression on me. This encounter proved to be the beginning of a valuable connection. Following our initial meeting, we continued our discussion, and I shared with Denis the ongoing efforts of our team improving our Terms and Conditions.
Denis' insightful questions and perspectives pushed us to raise the bar in our approach to legal design. It became apparent that we needed to reevaluate our methods, starting with a clear understanding of our purpose. Delving deeper, we recognized the paramount importance of placing the customer at the core of our endeavors, rather than relying on assumptions or guesses about their needs and expectations.
Embracing this newfound customer-centricity, we embarked on a transformative journey to enhance our legal design processes. By aliging our practices with the genuine requirements and desires of our customers, we aim to create more meaningful and effective solutions for them.
Denis: I am an in-house lawyer turned consultant, turned legal tech founder. My business and mission is to make contracts (and other legal documents) more human, accessible and better at doing the job they are intended do: which is usually all about building relationships and getting stuff done - in the right way. I do this as founder of Majoto, a contract design and automation start-up, and as Head of Innovation at LexSolutions, a London legal consultancy.
At Majoto, we are solving the biggest problem in contracts: that the real users of contracts don’t understand them. We're solving it by focusing not just on process efficiency, but on the contents of these legal documents and how they are communicated. We do this by turning traditional wall-of-text contracts into clear, on-brand visual documents (known as “designed” contracts), which are proven to be easier to understand than traditional wall-of-text documents. Designed contracts speed up deals - reducing time-to-contract by 50-80% - and build trust. We can then put them into digital workflows for legal teams and business users. In fact, Majoto is the only document automation solution that can build automated workflows with visual legal documents.
When I met Jessica, her passion for innovating and making a real difference was very apparent and I love people who want to walk the talk. I was glad to help Jessica’s team move the needle and impart some of the “Majoto way” - which is all about using design thinking to pick low-hanging fruit while laying a foundation for real scalable change. We are former in-house lawyers so we have a very practical approach to legal design. We’re also a technology company which means automation and scalability are core to what we do. And finally we’re cre- ative rule-breakers who love to challenge ourselves and our customers to push the bound- aries of what’s realistically possible!
Jessica, how do you see the role of Legal at Nordea and what’s different about your approach?
Jessica: Our team remains dedicated to driving positive change within Personal Banking, leveraging legal design principles that stem from purpose and empathy. This exciting evolution has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach legal matters, ultimately benefiting both our valued customers and our organization.
As we continue this path of progress, we are grateful to Denis for inspiring us and igniting a passion for customer-centric Legal Design. Our commitment to fostering a culture of continuous improvement ensures that we remain at the forefront of delivering exceptional legal support.
Furthermore, it’s my understanding that Nordea has gone through a significant transformation, in how Legal interacts with the Business. Could you possibly say something about the reason (the “why”) for transforming What are its key elements?
Jessica: In our pursuit of providing seamless legal support to the organization, we have undergone a remarkable transformation - shifting from conventional advice channels restricted to office hours to an array of automated, scalable solutions accessible 24/7. This metamorphosis has empowered us to meet and interact with our customers around the clock, ensuring legal accuracy and building trust through proficient advisors capable of addressing customer inquiries without delay, free from manual interference.
Key Elements of our Approach:
24/7 Availability: At Nordea, we recognize the significance of being legally correct at any hour. By providing continuous support, our customers interact with advisors well-versed in the necessary competence, facilitating smoother experiences and fostering trust.
Efficiency and Focus: The shift towards automation has enabled our legal team to concentrate on core issues and strategic initiatives. By automating repetitive tasks and inquiries, we ensure that lawyers can devote their valuable time to addressing complex legal matters and making informed decisions with significant financial implications.
Enhancing Customer Experiences: Our legal support aims to create better customer experiences. By combining legal expertise with a customer-centric approach, we facilitate relationships and trade, offering seamless interactions that foster loyalty and satisfaction.
Building the Brand: Legal compliance and brand alignment go hand in hand. Our com- mitment to keeping legal practices in line with the brand identity ensures a cohesive and trustworthy image that resonates with our customers and stakeholders.
Internal Legal Support:
Boosting Operational Efficiency: We strive to deliver legal advice that is not only accurate but also easy to understand and apply. By making legal support available 24/7 through automated solutions, we expedite decision-making processes and promote streamlined operations.
Time Optimization: Our focus on automation allows us to liberate valuable time for our legal team. This, in turn, empowers them to concentrate on key business initiatives, contributing to the bank's overall growth and success.
Prioritizing Complexity: With automation handling routine tasks, we can allocate more resources to tackle intricate legal challenges. By navigating unknown territories and addressing complex issues with precision, we safeguard the bank's interests and maintain our position as a strategic partner to the business. Is there a model that you apply to achieve this optimisation and to keep innovating?
In the Personal Banking Legal team, our Learn-Innovate-Automate model is the foundation of our evolution. Continuously seeking knowledge in legal development, industry trends, and legal technology keeps us at the forefront of innovation. We translate our learning into meaningful advancements, consistently striving to enhance our practices and create better outcomes for the organization and our valued customers.
This is how the model breaks down: Learn: we seek to understand our customer’s need, to assess how we do things now and understand where are the gaps and opportunities for improvement. At the same time we make sure we keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regulatory and business worlds.
Innovate: we try to improve our processes, documents and ways of working, focusing first on simple solutions and using legal design, before we’re thinking about technology.
Automate: With the 2X habit, we seize opportunities to automate processes whenever a task is encountered for the second time. This practice reinforces our commitment to efficiency, enabling us to concentrate on driving innovation and adding strategic value to Nordea's business operations.
Denis, where does Majoto come in this transformation process? Why does “in- novating through content” play such an important role?
Well, there’s some interesting research out there, about how top organisations behave, and what it takes to transform businesses that are not performing well. I’ll try to distill the essence of it. To get better (or transformative) results in anything you do, you need actions that create better results, right? So far so obvious. But to get people to act in successful new ways, they need to have beliefs. Having beliefs means believing that you can succeed, that your actions can make a difference.
That means being motivated. And it also means having values that you share with others: a common purpose as a team or organisation.
So how do you get these beliefs?
So many organisations including legal teams think that it comes from top-down edicts: “we will do things differently, we will innovate”. But real change can’t come from top-down. To get there, you need to give people the right experiences, so that they can form the beliefs that lead to the actions, that lead to the results. Experiences are those daily things they do and see others do. And they are also the stories they tell and hear from others.
So how do you create these experiences and stories?
Well, it starts with behaviour. People must start to do things differently to change their own experiences and those of others. That way, you create stories, which leads to beliefs and then actions. A culture of innovation is beliefs, which are acted upon, which lead to better results. So how does a legal team, that wants to innovate to perform better, create those behaviours and stories?
My view, which is also reflected in the Majoto design system, is that the best starting point for lawyers is to change the way they write and design content. Not starting with process or technology, but with content: the way you produce your documents, advice, reports, policies. Why content? Because lawyers are not taught to be experts in process or technology. But lawyers are meant to be experts in content. Lawyers are the kings and queens of content, it’s core to what lawyers do. By transforming content (the language, look and feel of documents and ad- vice), making it simpler, creating documents that people understand, you can start reducing or even eliminating a lot of processes and people problems. Then you can start looking at the more complex areas of process and technology, to deal with problems and improvements that better content can’t fix.
That is what we mean by “innovating through content”. And it fits beautifully with Jessica’s Innovate-Automate model. Learn is also at the heart of it because you can’t improve anything until you understand the existing context, who the users are, and what are their needs.
Jessica: Well, legal design is a key compo- nent and enabler of our Learn-Innovate-Automate model. In fact, it’s the “Learn” component that got us introduced to Legal Design.
Legal design is all about making legal docu- ments and services more user-centric rather than lawyer-centric. It requires us to learn about users and to understand their needs. A perfect match. We immediately thought about our approximately 10 million household customers – we do care about them but looking at our legal communication – no one could tell because the legal documents we put in front of them (for example terms and conditions) were too complex, full of legalese and focused too much on managing risk versus informing end users. We decided to do something about it and got started. We soon realized it is important not only for household customers but all customers, as well as all internal and external stakeholders and speaking partners.
Legal design then becomes a key part of Innovate. Since it starts with understanding users and then redesigning legal documents for them, it is an innovation tool that the legal function can control and own and bring to other functions. Another key component of legal design is simplifying things, which we have learnt is important to do before starting with process improvement work or with designing and procuring technology solutions.
Legal design also changes how we as legal communicate with the business, which changes perceptions, improves relationships, and gives the legal function a better seat at the table. Again, because we’re doing things with our business colleagues much more at the front of our minds.
So: legal design has great value both in our internal legal support and external legal communication.
Denis: I would pick up on what Jessica said about simplifying things. Technology, while it can increase efficiency, often adds complexity rather than taking it away. If you put poor, complex documents and processes through technology, you’re only perpetuating it and making it faster, which can exacerbate problems rather than reduce them. It also increases the effort and cost in implementing the technology. For example, if you’re going to automate your templates, but you have not made the effort to rationalize the number of templates and the number and complexity of template variants, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary work in the process of setting up and automating those templates. Similarly, the more complex your documents are, the harder you will have to work to automate them, set up playbooks etc. And the resulting process is going to be hard for people to understand and follow, no matter how good your tech is.
Similar things can be said about the process.
It’s actually very rare to see simplification as a top 3 objective of a project. At Majoto, we believe that simplicity should be at the core of any solution, and simplifying things should be a top objective. We’re a technology company, but we’re big believers in using legal design to simplify and rationalize legal documents first. We apply this ethos in how we develop our platform too: we solve as much as possible through design first, before building automation functions and workflows.
So legal design must be a core component for any legal team and any innovation programme.
What is the current situation at Nordea regarding this transformation. What has gone well, and what are the challenges going forward?
Jessica: Creating new solutions is easy. Changing the support culture is more difficult but with a lot of focus and consistency it is possible and the feedback we have received has been very positive.
Are other organisations doing the same thing? Is “user-centric legal documents and advice, through the application of legal design” gaining traction out there? Do people value this approach?
Jessica: I believe legal design is becoming a growing trend among companies and law firms around the world.
Denis: It is gaining traction, though there is still so much more to be done. I’m encouraged to see and hear about large multinationals who are in the process of redesigning their most important templates (in some cases this means dozens and even hundreds of templates). We also see an increasing interest in legal design on the part of law firms. However legal design is still relatively niche, many larger companies who have adopted it are still at the earliest stages of exploring it, and it has not made its way into the mid-market and SME space. “The future is here, it’s just not yet well distributed” as Aldous Hugley said.
I think there are 3 key challenges that haven’t quite been solved (and which we’re focused on solving at Majoto):
Legal design is still very much an artisanal process: legal designers working to redesign documents on, using tools that are not well suited to it at all, and producing static documents. Legal design is too focused on individual projects, rather than design systems and a design culture.
Legal teams are still too focused on process, technology and outsourcing as their got-to solutions for creating efficiency and reducing cost. Legal design is still seen as more exotic and unproven.
Document automation solutions are based on text editors and can’t incorporate, or handle “designed” documents. There is a huge disconnect between the technology that companies are embedding versus what they’re trying to achieve through legal design.
So, there’s a problem of adoption, scale, and tools.
How do you increase awareness and get people more engaged? How do you do it on a scale?
Denis: Increasing adoption and enabling scale requires the legal innovation and technology community to bridge the gap between legal design and technology, legal designers to create scalable design systems rather than in- dividual projects, and legal teams to demonstrate the effectiveness of legal design as a first-port-of-call innovation tool. Let’s break this down:
Technology: so much of legal tech, and especially contract tech, is built around existing ways of doing things: text editors (equivalent to Word) and asynchronous collaboration based on red-lining (equivalent to mark-ups shared by email). This perpetuates conventional wall-of-text documents and adversarial modes of negotiation. The adoption of genera- tive AI risks perpetuating this because it makes it easier to do things the old way. Contract technology must challenge users to adopt new, better ways of working rather than just making old ways more efficient. It must incorporate legal design at its core. Majoto does that, as does a small number of other products (like Juralio, a project planning and collaboration tool).
Scalable design systems: in my experience, legal teams tend to focus on individual projects, for example taking a simple agreement and redesigning it as a proof of concept. What usually happens after that, is nothing. The ROI is unclear, the embedment is patchy, and it proves difficult to translate the adopted design to other documents and processes. Things stall, there is little budget and other priorities take over - and nothing much else gets done for another year. Instead, legal teams must treat it as an ongoing journey, creating foundations and design approaches that can be applied to multiple projects and enable multiple contracts to be redesigned - initially in a light touch way - but with incremental advancements. In practice, this means starting to apply consistent design patterns across many documents and incrementally improving structure, language and adding more design.
Demonstrating effectiveness: I intentionally use “effectiveness” rather than ROI, because it’s broader and allows for more qualitative criteria. ROI is tricky with legal design because so often the “as is” is not measured so it’s hard to measure improvements. I believe that trying to measure the “before” and “after” can be useful but can also be a huge distraction when in fact the advantages are patently obvious: shorter, simpler documents that people understand will clearly have positive impact on process, costs, as well as relationships and individual wellness. Doing legal design smartly can also enable legal teams to bring results faster than process or technology projects, especially as it’s a solution that the legal team can drive and do the bulk of the work for. If legal teams understand the power of legal design and learn to do it well (especially with the help of people who have done it before), the business will always love and support it.
Do you think that Law Schools understand the need to change the traditional curriculum or at least give more attention to design thinking and other innovation approaches?
Jessica: It seems quite many universities offer classes in legal design by now.
Denis: It is great to see law schools starting to teach legal design and technology. The challenge here is how to make it practical. I’m not a big believer in teaching theoretical legal design.
Legal design is a real-world solution that needs to be discovered and practiced with real-world problems. It needs to be a learn-on- the-job thing. When we teach legal design at Majoto, we don’t teach theory or process or tools, we take real projects and work on them - the legal design techniques are taught and ob- sorbed during that process. In that sense, when we teach, we take real problems and it’s not that different to our real-world workshops and design process. Law schools should do more of that.
I’m also a big believer that you don’t need to be a trained designer to do legal design. Of course, a legal designer can do things with a document that your typical lawyer simply can’t. But I strongly believe that all lawyers can and should practice legal design in their day-to-day work. Sending to your procurement colleague a traffic light risk report instead of a long-winded email is legal design. Creating a contract with key terms at the front handling all the key commercials, is legal design. Creating a new legal document by starting with a content map or conceptual matrix in a Miro board, rather than ‘frankensteining’ an old precedent, is legal design. Anyone can do this if they have the right mindset and are exposed to a few tools and techniques to get them inspired and started.
There is a lot of discussion ongoing about disruption in the legal market: a big bang against incremental change. Some say the legal market is on the verge of a disruptive force that will have a huge effect on the market. Then again, others say change will be an incremental process and the market will evolve naturally. What are your thoughts on this?
Jessica: I think change is happening also in the legal industry, but we are in many aspects still only in the beginning of this journey. An ocean of opportunities.
Denis: Well, they said that blockchain will change everything, then the metaverse. Now it’s generative AI. I don’t think the legal market can or will be disrupted in a big bang way: it’s too complex and risk averse, and there are too many vested interests in keeping things changing only slowly. The biggest on-the- ground changes in legal have come from new business models, and relatively simple technologies like e-signature. But I do think that real incremental change is happening and will continue to happen, and its ultimate result will be dramatic. It does still need plenty of good stewardship and hard graft. It needs a bigger focus on simplifying things rather than making them more complex. It needs a bigger focus on design as a way of solving problems and paving the way for easier implementation of technology.
Imagine a world where all legal documents are half the usual length, written in plain English, are more user-friendly and more accessible to different cognitive abilities and disabilities. What a difference that would make to deal cycles, access to justice, trust in lawyers and trust in businesses.
I think that legal design has the capacity for a big bang change - especially if technologies are brought to bear in the right way - but slow adoption and risk aversion are going to slow things down. I’m hoping that Majoto - and people like Jessica - can play a part in speeding it up!
What’s your top message to other GCs reading this article and interested in exploring legal design?
Jessica: Try not to be limited by what you know and what you are used to working with. “Learn->Innovate”. Old tools will hold you back; new tools can take you to the next level. I have a great example of this from our work with Majoto, when we were challenged to simplify the structure of one of the documents we were working on. We realized we had too many headings and a structure that made sense to lawyers but not necessarily to our end users. With Majoto’s help, we used a dynamic agreement map to restructure and simplify the information architecture of our document collaboratively in real time - reducing our headings to just four human-readable phrases. Doing that exercise in Word would not have let to such a great result - it was the visibility of the structure in the map and the ability to play around with it in real time that enabled us to achieve a much more radical result. It’s just one example we experienced, of using different tools to get next level results.
Finally, a note about mindset. Lawyers say: we don’t own the products and the process: they are owned by the business; but business says we don’t understand a word, it’s legal and it’s untouchable. Legal must take the initiative. It’s up to Legal to take the initiative to close the gap between lawyers and business. And legal design is a great way of doing that.
Denis: I totally agree, in fact I believe that legal design and design thinking is THE way for lawyers to take that initiative. My top message: start your legal design journey now, to build those positive stories and ultimately the innovation culture you want. Make that a priority over and above technology (unless it’s technology that is complimentary).
The best way to do this, to create and maintain momentum, is to get help from someone who has done this before. This doesn’t mean out- sourcing it all to consultants. It means accelerating your progress by having someone teach you the techniques, help you with a great process and direction, keep you honest and deliver design output for those deliverables where the internal skills are not sufficient. The right support model can allow the legal team to learn, discover and maintain ownership, while being able to move things forward and being challenged to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Beyond that: build an innovation roadmap that puts design in the center, create a design system rather than redesigning individual agreements, and adopt technologies that support and complement what you’re doing. That is going to bring the most sustainable results and ROI.
About the interviewees
Jessica Didrikson is General Counsel and Head of Personal Banking Legal at Nordea. She is a former judge and entrepreneur who went into banking. Jessica is passionate about law and making legal products, services and processes accessible and user-friendly. A proud leader and member of a team that has increased its service level by making legal advice available 24/7 through legal tech and legal design. Her guiding star is customer care.
Denis Potemkin is a lawyer, legal designer/engineer and legal tech entrepreneur. Denis consults businesses on contract process improvement, is Head of Innovation at London-based ALSP LexSolutions and founder of legal tech startup Majoto (majoto.io), the world's first contract tech that can build and automate designed contracts.
Denis is passionate about design as a means of making legal processes and technology not only more productive, but also better at creating positive relationships and wellbeing. He writes about better contracts on his blog at potemkin.legal and on the Majoto website majoto.io/blog. #JessicaDidrikson #DenisPotemkin #legaldesign #legaltech #GC #contracts #change #customercentric