/  ALTACON   /  An introduction to legal design
Meera Klemola

An introduction to legal design

Like in every industry, the legal industry continues to search for new ways to innovate and drive change within the sector. We can improve the legal sector for both lawyers and the users of law by taking a design approach to solve legal challenges and to drive legal innovation and efficiency.

Thinking like a designer and adopting a design approach can transform the way an organization develops products, services, processes and even its relationship with clients and consumers. Over time, several industries, such as healthcare, government, management and even financial services have adopted a design approach to achieve better outcomes, better understand their core users, improve services and product offerings and of course promote innovation. In fact, studies conducted by both the Design Management Institute and Mckinsey find that design-led firms outperform their competitors by up to as much as 211%. It is now time for the legal sector to start implementing design strategically to drive legal innovation and to solve legal challenges.

So, what do we mean by ‘legal design’?

‘Legal design’ is fast becoming recognised term, however, it is not intuitive to understand and is yet to be defined definitively by the academics who coined the term. These leading academics in the field such as Helena Haapio, Stefania Passera and Margaret Hagan prefer to provide us instead with a ‘manifesto’ on what it means to practice legal design, which can be found on the Legal Design Alliance website. Essentially, ‘legal design’, refers to the application of a design approach by those working in the realm of law (law firm, in-house, educators at law schools, court officials etc.) to:

  • Generate viable, feasible, desirable and novel solutions to a legal challenge/problem;
  • Drive greater legal innovation and efficiency;
  • Promote more agile and experimental working methods and attitudes; or
  • Create a legal environment, system, service or product that is user-friendly, engaging and understandable by those using them.

It is important to highlight that legal design goes beyond visualisation of documents (a common misconception). It is about cultivating and embracing a design approach to the creation and provision of legal services.

What is a design approach?

When most people hear the word ‘design’, they think of disciplines such as graphic design (drawing things), industrial design (creating products), furniture and interior design and perhaps UI or UX design. These design disciplines seem rather different to the other and at the same time seem even further away from the daily practices of a lawyer. It is not immediately evident, how design can be useful to lawyers and legal teams.

What most people fail to understand, is that whilst each of the design disciplines listed above may appear different, there is a common thread. That common thread is the approach a designer takes to creating the end product or outcome.

The traditional way of tackling any challenge is to jump straight to finding solutions. A designer does things a little differently. Rather than jumping straight to solutions, a designer always starts with:

  • Building empathy with the intended user. A designer first gains an intimate understanding of the person who will be using their product or service – their psychological, emotional and physical
    needs, goals, motivations and pain points. This defines the needs that a solution must meet. It is then used as a basis to generate solutions.
  • Asking why? A designer seeks to first understand why a current problem or challenge exists and identify the root causes.

Only once equipped with the above knowledge will the designer start creating solutions. This empathic outlook, followed by an agile and experimental way of generating ideas, testing, validating and finally implementing a solution is known as the design approach.

There are several frameworks for the design approach or creative process taken by designers. Examples include, the Double Diamond model by the UK Design Council, Stanford’s Design-Thinking process and Google’s Design Sprint. While these frameworks serve as a good starting point, more often industries will build on these frameworks to create a design approach specific to that said environment. For example, at Observ Agency, we include legal research, that is understanding the legal requirements in force, as a key step to the design approach for law.

How is legal design being used?

The legal sector has recently started to apply legal design to tackle an array of challenges. Legal design is being used as a strategic tool to help legal teams and legal professionals to, for example:

  • introduce new ways of working and thinking to drive a culture of innovation;
  • make contracts and legal information more understandable for users;
  • create legal compliance training that will be adopted seamlessly by company members;
  • develop new client services that are truly ‘client-centric’.

Legal Design is also being embraced in legal tech development to ensure that the legal tech will actually be wanted and used. The empathy-informed outlook combined with the use of rapid prototyping techniques, reiterating and testing with users also helps to quickly validate (or discard) ideas. This not only saves resources and time, but increases the chance of successful legal tech development.

More courts and governments are adopting legal design to develop solutions to address access to justice issues. For example, how might we design a court that is easy for illiterate people to navigate? Or how might we increase accessibility to rights in our digital world?

Where does competitive advantage lie? Exploring the value of legal design.


If you’d like to know more about legaltech implementations, then register now for ALTACON on 31 May, 2019 in Melbourne’s Docklands. Meera Klemola, Founder of Observ.  Meera will share some practical applications of legal design, introduce you to its working methods for legal innovation and explore the role design plays in shaping the future legal profession. Check out the program packed with national and international legal + technology luminaries and thought leaders!

Register now.


About Meera

Meera Klemola


Meera Klemola is a leading expert in ‘design for law ‘and a founder at Observ, Europe’s premier legal design agency. She works with clients including multinational brands, top-tier law firms and universities to help them tap into design as a strategic tool to modernize legal thinking, introduce better ways of working and innovate new legal products and services. Known for her fresh insights on the legal sector and where it’s going, Meera is a sought-after keynote speaker, panel member and lecturer at company retreats, universities and global conferences including Legal Geek (Europe’s largest legal conference), Daimler’s ‘Digital Life Day’ and Germany’s Brand & Design Congress.