Virtual courtroom in a mobile van: Moving India towards Design Innovation in Law

Legal design can be used to simplify law for laypersons, and to improve the efficacy of legal solutions by reducing the time required for completing legal processes.
Virtual courtroom in a mobile van: Moving India towards Design Innovation in Law
Legal design

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted us to re-think our ways and has inspired innovative minds to come forward with solutions. One such example is of MG Priyadarshini, Principal District Judge (Adilabad, Telangana) who launched a virtual court connecting mobile van.

This attempt to provide seamless and effective access to justice in the current times is an example of legal design and frugal innovation in law, catalysing inclusivity and accessibility in the legal sector.

What is Legal Design?

Legal design is a way of making legal services more usable, useful, and engaging by applying design thinking methodologies in law to provide user-centric solutions. It focuses on bringing a culture of innovation in law by transforming the legal language, traditional processes, and by solving legal complexities. As may be misunderstood by many, adding the flavour of design does not mean making legal documents aesthetically pleasing or colourful. By using design approach and processes, legal outcomes can be improvised by putting the users at the focus of every product or service.

The application of legal design can be broadly categorized into socio-legal and commercial. Socio-legal application serves law students, academicians, laymen, policy makers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It helps them make sound legal decisions, and keeps them conceptually aware of the legal nitty-gritties.

As a commercial tool, it has the ability to automate legal processes like developing document automation mechanisms, digital contracts, contract simplification etc, reducing the time for provisioning deliverables.

Why Legal Design?

Here is (one of) law’s dirty little secrets: you have already designed how you deliver legal services. Problem is, you, like most of us, did it poorly. And that’s because most of us didn’t do it intentionally. So most of our clients suffer through an accidentally mediocre user experience. And sadly it has taken decades for design thinking to infiltrate the business of law. But it is finally here”, Marshall Lichty, The Lawyerist.

Traditional legal practices are not sufficient to meet the needs of the current dynamic legal market. With the onset of heavy automation and rapid advancement in technology through artificial intelligence and blockchain, legal practitioners and law firms are being forced to re-think their business models.

While we appreciate the innovation, we fail to predict the behavioral changes it will bring in the legal ecosystem. Legal design models and processes can help stakeholders adapt to change by creating usable products and services. This can potentially enhance the user experience of the stakeholders.

The language of the law should not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it", Judge Learned Hand once said.

Other problems with our profession are accessibility and inclusivity. Use of jargon, layers of legislations, and procedural complexities has made law inaccessible for laymen. This has alienated the class of people who are in dire need of justice as obtaining legal service is time consuming, expensive and inaccessible. Legal design can be used to simplify law for laypersons, and to improve the efficacy of legal solutions by reducing the time required for completing legal processes.

Goals of Legal Design

Legal design aims at improving the legal process by designing solutions as per the needs of the people. It fosters innovation in the field of law by simplifying complex legal language for effective understanding and communication. It aims to realize the virtue of access to justice.

By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, legal design promotes cross-professional inclusion in the legal field by encouraging lawyers to work with technology professionals, designers, and web-developers to improvise the existing legal service.

Who will it Help?

Legal design caters to a number of stakeholders by understanding their needs and their pain points. It helps develop solutions which are relatable to the users including law firms, legal tech firms and start-ups, independent legal practitioners, law students and paralegals, law Schools and Professors, policy design and policy makers, user experience designers and graphic designers, legal aid organisations, NGOs, and think-tanks.

How can it help?

In the current COVID-19 crisis, the legal field is grappling with a swift transition to technology-based legal processes. One way in which legal design can help with the said transition is by creating more user friendly interfaces and user experience. Visual Law can also be used as a tool to make process more seamless. Visual law is an intersection of Law and Visual Design that can transcend into projects like making visual contracts for clients, creating infographics for legal awareness, or making complex legal jargon simpler to understand.

By reforming traditional systems and rethinking the delivery of legal services, law firms can benefit extensively by adopting legal design. With end-users looking for better experiences, law firms are realising the need to focus on creating tailor-made, client-centric legal solutions by gaining deeper insight into their clients’ needs. As a matter of practice, client servicing has remained one of the core priorities of law firms. Legal design can be used as a tool to devise more innovative solutions to get a deeper understanding of what the client needs.

One such example is ‘Whitespace Legal Collab’, an initiative by Baker McKenzie. By focusing on multi-disciplinary collaboration, they have re-defined legal services and launched a platform that would allow creative problem-solving to thrive. This initiative brought together academicians, designers, executives, information technology experts and lawyers to prototype solutions at the interface of strategy, law and technology. This has also opened up new avenues and clients with a focus on solving increasingly complex, multijurisdictional and law-related issues.

Using technology, legal tech applications and products can be created to eliminate the chain of repetitive work. Legal products can also be understood as the result of an application of law that offers automated document creation, such as “Contract Express”. It is complete document automation software which can create template agreements and simplify the drafting process.

Using design process, more innovative and tech-oriented solutions can be turned into built-in software or applications which can be developed and bought by law firms or practitioners to enrich their core legal functions. Legal design methodologies can be considered while developing such products.

Often in commercial litigation matters, written submissions become highly technical due to the nature of the case. Imagine a scenario wherein our lengthy written submissions can be re-designed in a simpler way, promoting the ease of readability for the judges. It is otherwise taxing for judges to understand industry-specific technical details. With the help of legal design, this complex information can be made simpler and easy to follow.

Similar work has been done by Amurabi, an international legal innovation agency. By following a design process and conducting user research, they analysed how judges approach written submissions. The main pain points were that judges could not read 30-40 pages for every matter in the day as it is not human to absorb all of it in a limited time. As a solution, they re-designed the written submissions by making graphic changes to ease reading and strategically enhancing key facts, important arguments and exhibits.

With the inception of the concept at Stanford, more law schools are seeing merit in introducing legal design in their course structure. Law schools are developing labs and encouraging students to get trained in legal design through project-based learning. This growing roster of design-driven legal innovation programs include- Stanford Legal Design Lab, Northeastern University's NuLaw Lab, Chicago Kent Law Lab, and Harvard Law School's Access to Justice Lab.

Legal Design can also help policy makers re-think and re-draft existing laws and policies. Depending upon the policy formulation mechanisms in each country, government bodies in charge of policy making can benefit from the principles of legal design.

With this huge catalogue of ideas, legal design has great potential to serve the ends of justice effectively using innovative tools and methods.

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