What’s the legal fuzz about?
Since most people haven’t even come across the concepts we already started taking for granted, and since law school graduates are fond of a nice breakdown of the facts, we’re bringing you this Legal Tech & Design 101 post.
First we’ll do a little deep dive in the world of Legal Design, after which we will continue with a brief explanation on Legal Tech.
Let’s start with the definition set out by Margaret Hagan -the Godmother of Legal Design- who is a practicing lawyer, director of the Stanford Legal Design Lab and a lecturer at the Stanford d.school.
Legal design is the application of human-centered design to the world of law, to make legal systems and services more human-centered, usable, and satisfying.
It is a way of assessing and creating legal services, with a focus on how usable, useful, and engaging these services are. It is an approach with three main sets of resources — process, mindsets, and mechanics — for legal professionals to use. These three resources can help us conceive, build, and test better ways of doing things in law, that will engage and empower both lay people and legal professionals.
Personally I’d describe it as a combination of ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Human Centered Design’ applied to legal concepts, products or services. The former being a 5-step iterative process used to create products and services the beneficiary will actually want to use or engage with, while the latter is a mindset and tool to be applied alongside Design Thinking to create a positive long-term impact.
Although the perspective of design thinking is wider than the one of human-centered design and both approaches are treated as two different methods of working, they have a lot in common and should be reconciled. Which -to me- is exactly what Legal Design intends to achieve.
Legal technology -known as Legal Tech- traditionally referred to the application of technology and software to help law firms with practice management, document storage, accounting and so on.
However, since a few years Legal Tech has become more associated with technology startups disrupting the practice of law by giving people access to online software that reduces or in some cases eliminates the need to consult a lawyer, or by connecting people with lawyers more efficiently.
Unfortunately there is no common definition of Legal Tech. However the following one provided by Anna Ronkainen -founder of TradeMarkNow and lecturer at the University of Turku- synthesizes what it’s about.
Legal Tech is technology (mainly) used in courts and legal practice for doing things which conventionally have required the assistance of a lawyer.
Building upon the latter, Legal Tech can be described as leveraging innovation, technology and software to provide legal services of better quality in a less costly and easier way. And this is where Legal Design comes into the picture.
So what this all boils down to is the dual application of technology to (a) help facilitate the practice of law for lawyers and other legal practitioners, and (b) help consumers gain access to legal expertise and the judicial system.