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Why good design should matter to lawyers (and everyone else)

One of the hot topics discussed at the  British Legal Technology Forum 2020 was Legal Design. And it got me thinking …

Although it’s a bit of a buzzword, the concept of legal design is nothing new. There’s no question that the application of human-centred design to make legal services more usable and engaging will greatly benefit the user experience. But most lawyers will primarily be thinking about the content of their output, not necessarily how it looks or whether the formatting is on point.

Of course, it is a good thing to put more energy into any piece of communication to make it more understandable. Indeed, attempts to make legalese easier to grasp should be applauded when you’re trying to explain your product to a mass consumer audience who are not lawyers. Clear communication should be at the heart of good design, but the challenge is how do you achieve that clarity when you’re dealing with complex contracts and legal documents?

Are better graphics and improved aesthetics the be-all and end-all?

Different parts of the legal industry are affected by the umbrella term of ‘legal design’ in different ways. In Brochet’s case, the end users in our clients’ firms tend to be corporate lawyers who edit and produce one-off documents intended for a specific client. In my opinion, this fundamental – and repeated – task shouldn’t justify bringing in a whole team of designers, admin support or even technical help, beyond perhaps the initial set up.

We spend a great deal of time and effort designing templates with our clients and their end users in mind. For us, design isn’t all-singing, all-dancing flashing graphics and logos. It’s low key, quiet and discreet. Good design means a more user-friendly product that’s more engaging and readable, which improves the whole experience.

Good practice in design

So, how can you help a lawyer who is drawing up an agreement for their client? By providing intuitive, easy-to-use templates where careful thought has been given to the typography – criteria such as line spacing, typefaces, margins and line lengths. Whilst not glamorous, these are key considerations, the end result being a legal agreement that’s well structured, with clear legible type.

When we’re working with a law firm’s marketing department on their business development documents, another effective approach brings in the flair of their design team by allowing them to continue working in Adobe InDesign. With better typography in mind, we can also provide access to a library of standard diagrams, or predesigned blocks of copy that require minimal editing, which again saves each user time and improves their efficiency.

Another key area for us is the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). Just adding another button to someone’s desktop software doesn’t necessarily improve the experience for that person. If we’ve done a really good design job at our end, they won’t even notice…the user interface will be highly intuitive, and the resulting user experience will make the task at hand easy for them. Clients of ours, including Womble Bond Dickinson and Field Fisher, have made minimal changes to the ribbon we installed on the Word interface their lawyers use on a daily basis. That, in my opinion, speaks volumes about how the more intuitive you make the design, the more valuable that design becomes.

So, I’ll leave you with this thought…good design should achieve the following three goals (in order of priority!):

  1. Enrich the user experience
  2. Positively impact effectiveness and efficiency
  3. Visually engage the user.

And if all three are sorted, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Do you agree? Come and find us at stand B3 at the British Legal Technology Forum, Old Billingsgate, on Tuesday March 10th and let’s talk more about what makes good design.