While Elle Woods, the protagonist of fan-favourite movie Legally Blonde, ‘feels comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life,’ those of us who aren’t lawyers shouldn’t have to be. In reality, though, we are often expected to understand complex terms when navigating common legal processes such as selling real estate, getting married, and executing wills.
If you’ve ever found yourself getting tongue-tied over legal jargon and questioning the widening gap between the legal profession and laypeople, you’re not alone. One professional seeking to bridge this gap is legal design expert Meera Klemola, who has spent the years since her graduation from Bond University trying to make legal processes and systems easier to understand for everyday users.
Now, Meera is spearheading the University’s very first legal design course – the Fundamentals of Legal Design – which is available as a microcredential or a subject within related degrees. Here’s what Meera had to say when we caught up with her on all things legal design, the place this discipline has in legal practice, and the benefits of undertaking the Fundamentals of Legal Design course at Bond.
Understanding legal design
In short, legal design is the holistic application of design to the practice of law, which is achieved by first identifying the end user’s wants, needs, and desires. One of its primary aims is to break down complicated legal processes, systems, and terminologies so they’re more accessible for the everyday person.
“Using legal design, lawyers can design and develop legal solutions that really resonate with and are understandable for the end user,” Meera says. “Design principles can be applied in numerous ways to make legal systems, products, services, processes, and environments more usable and engaging for everyone, rather than demanding a certain level of legal knowledge.”
“The result is less of a disconnect between the legal industry and the end user of legal information and services,” she says.
Legal design in action will look different for every organisation, sector, and legal challenge, but Meera notes a few ways this discipline has already aided in transforming existing legal processes.
“A great example of legal design in practice is the hefty regulations around data and privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires every company in the European Union to have understandable, easy-to-read privacy policies in place,” she explains.
“If they don’t, they may be penalised with significant fines – which is why legal design has been such a critical lens to implement. Cross-disciplinary teams with legal and legal design professionals alike have worked together to ensure privacy policies are easily digestible without compromising any legal requirements.”
“This is just one project that has benefited from legal design – it can truly be implemented across all facets of the industry. Legal design can make everyday legal work more accessible and efficient, whether that’s through redesigning compliance and training processes to mitigate breaches within a company or by making legal information more understandable to speed up negotiation processes. Moreover, legal design can be applied at a systems level to, for example, redesign court processes and enhance access to justice.”
The evolution of legal design
Less than five years ago, legal design didn’t have half the profile it does today. “There was lots of rhetoric around the legitimacy of the legal design discipline,” Meera says. “I think many people and companies wondered if it was just another fad.”
Luckily for Meera – and for the millions of people faced with difficult-to-decipher legal jargon each year – this wasn’t the case.
“Legal design is now formally recognised as a discipline of the law, and we’re seeing more dialogue around the use of legal design every year,” she says.
“This dialogue is fast turning into action – now more than ever, we are seeing legal teams use legal design to solve various problems, from making policies more comprehensible to using its human-centric principles to select and implement legal technology.
“Many law firms are adopting legal design in response to client demand, and courts are beginning to leverage it to help laypeople navigate the system. Legal design has also become a commonplace topic at legal conferences and events,” Meera says.
The role of legal design in organisations
Because legal design is such a wide-reaching discipline with boundless applications, it can be successfully adopted by almost any kind of organisation or law firm. However, in its early stages of popularity, legal design struck a chord with a certain kind of legal professional.
“Interestingly, the early adopters of legal design were predominantly in-house legal teams, along with some very future-focused law firms. This is because in-house legal counsel are actively looking for ways to do more with less in an organisation, and they also have continuous pressure to achieve highly in roles that don’t just consist of providing legal advice,” Meera says.
“In-house lawyers need to position themselves as strategic business partners who strive to create better processes, whether that’s making things easier to understand, or seamlessly onboarding new legal technology so that it’s quickly adopted by users. These professionals have consequently found that legal design is the perfect tool to assist with all of these things.”
“Beyond the early adopters – now that legal design is becoming more widespread – what I’m observing is more law firms investing in building comprehensive legal design capabilities,” Meera says.
This push towards a broader and more all-encompassing design focus could take shape in many different ways, and will depend on the needs and output of the law firm or organisation in question. It might look like hiring service designers, legal designers, and business designers to support the introduction of a design lab, something that a few global law firms have recently done.
“Whatever it looks like, this new design-based approach represents a broader commitment to innovation and problem solving, and a shift in hiring that’s seen law firms actively headhunt people with legal design backgrounds,” Meera says.
Legal design for the modern professional
If you’re a law student or a lawyer completing continuing professional education, the concept of legal design might’ve already piqued your interest. But, from Meera’s perspective, absolutely anyone with legal touchpoints in their day-to-day can benefit from understanding and implementing legal design principles.
“I advocate for legal design as an additional toolkit for anyone working in the legal professional services, lawyers and non-lawyers alike. The role of the modern lawyer is changing, and clients need their legal advisors to be able to solve complex problems in a more creative way,” she says.
“It is also important to acknowledge the role of technology. Lawyers who do not keep up with technological advancements will be left behind. At the same time, strengthening skills like legal design, which cannot be automated or performed more proficiently by AI, will quickly become a valuable point of distinction for any legal professional.
“Whilst all lawyers need the traditional practitioner’s skill set to do their job, that’s now the minimum – the more they can diversify and build additional skills, the better.”
“In this market, succeeding as a legal professional comes down to staying competitive, maintaining relevance, and proactively addressing the changing needs and expectations of clients – something that legal design permits you to do far more effectively than a rigid traditional approach.”
For new law graduates in particular, legal design skills offer a unique edge.
“Often, law students graduate with a great comprehension of legal problem-solving and advising, but they don’t yet understand the business challenges presented by the legal profession,” Meera explains. “Take private practice as an example – in this sphere, success hinges not just on comprehensively and competently delivering legal advice, but also on your ability to secure new clients. Legal design, with its human-centric core, helps build such competencies, along with enhancing understanding of the innovation process and project management.”
“Legal design can also help to enhance the human skills lawyers learn in the workplace, such as effective communication and multi-disciplinary collaboration. It’s all about understanding your end user to build more authentic and meaningful relationships, which in many areas of the law, is an invaluable skill to have,” she says.
It’s this gap in knowledge where Meera sees the most opportunity for current students and future lawyers. Now more than ever, employers are looking for additional skills that relate to human-centric collaboration – think experimentation, proactivity, creativity, and perhaps above all, a keen business mindset. And, as she highlights, “legal design equips learners with all of these skills and more.”
The future of legal design
Now that legal design has established itself as a discipline with real value to the industry as a whole, where can we go from here? Meera offers a few pivotal changes we’ll see in the legal industry as legal design becomes more prevalent.
“In the context of the legal sector, the future of legal design includes having legal designers and innovation teams embedded in the operational framework of a company. Soon, we’ll see legal design move from being a discipline to a legitimate profession in the legal industry, the same way legal technology has evolved,” she says.
“When it comes to the principles of legal design as they relate to cross-professional collaboration, I think we’ll see them begin to diversify as the problems faced by lawyers and their clients become more complex,” Meera says. These problems are widespread, running the gamut from energy law to health law, privacy law, and everything in between. “Lawyers alone will struggle to sufficiently solve these complex problems, so it’s likely that the benefits of employing multi-disciplinary teams through a legal design lens will really come to light.”
“I also see a place for legal design in the future of legal education,” she says. “We’ll see legal design incorporated into university syllabi, which is why it’s so exciting that Bond is far ahead of the curve with their legal design subjects and microcredentials.”
Meera Klemola is the course instructor of Bond University’s Fundamentals of Legal Design, a new subject and microcredential. The Fundamentals of Legal Design teaches core legal design principles to equip law students and legal professionals alike with a future-focused skill set geared towards human-centric collaboration and industry transformation.