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What is Legal Design with Joseph Stoker

Legal Design is a new player in the game of legal innovation. In essence, it is taking the principles of User Experience (UX) Design and applying them to legal services with the aim of making them more client centric.

Joseph Stoker, Head of Legal, Privacy & Compliance at dotdigital, is an advocate and recent convert of Legal Design. He says he fell down a "rabbit hole of contract design" during an extended Covid-19 lockdown, which led him to the green pastures of Legal Design.

Stoker's curiosity was originally piqued by a niggling feeling that the role of in-house counsel wasn't living up to its full potential. He discovered "Beyond the Wall of Contract", a legal dissertation text by Stefania Passera which explores contract visualization (using visual elements such as diagrams and image to make contracts more understandable and searchable for users).

Stoker used to associate contracts solely with words - lots of words - and Passera's dissertation revealed a more creative, human-centric way of designing contracts so they're not pages of clunky legal speak no one else can understand. Intrigued, he ventured even further down the rabbit hole, eventually discovering Legal Creatives and the teachings of Tessa Manuello who is a world authority on Legal Design.

Digesting theory, conversation and thoughts from emerging leaders in the Legal Design space is one of Stoker's key recommendations for any lawyer with an interest in the field. Listening to Legal Design experts is what gave him the confidence to adopt it into his own practice.

You might be wondering, in a tangible sense, what Legal Design or a highly tailored legal service look like as an end product? Think comic book-like employment contracts for English-as-a-second-language speakers; visually rich legal documents for business users that appreciate diagrams, charts and a visual presentation of data; perhaps highly tailored intake portals that cater to very specific company needs.

Legal Design is about taking the time to think. How can I best communicate with my client, then achieve that by going above and beyond a typical word doc filled with more legal-speak than my client needs or can comprehend? With a mixture of creativity and communication with the client/end-user and legal pragmatism, all kinds of innovative tailored legal products can be dreamed up.

Stoker believes the key to adopting the principles of Legal Design comes down to embracing a mindset change. You can want to make your services more creative, but you have to be driven by a deep desire for connection, building a bridge between the client and the law.

He says understanding is the pillar of legal design. "Seeking to truly understand what a person or organization wants and needs." This allows counsel to determine pain points and create client objectives.

Next comes the fun part, or as Stoker calls it, the "ideating phase". Once you know your client's desires, it's time to dream up every possible legal solution, the good and the bad, and apply a lens of creativity. You may surprise yourself with your scheming. Prototype those crazy ideas, visualize them on paper (or being realistic, on screen).

Stoker stresses the importance of storyboarding and communicating back with your client. Feedback is priceless in the Legal Design process as it is what allows you to create a helpful and innovative solution. "Communication, understanding and discussion all the way through is absolutely critical," he stresses.

Returning to the mindset shift Stoker determines as critical to Legal Design, he says unlearning typical lawyer tendencies is key. "Perfectionism gets drilled into you at law school." Meaning lawyers have a tendency to view their legal opinion as paramount.

He implores in-house counsel to stop thinking of themselves as the subject matter expert or needing to have the final say on a legal matter. Rather, put on your creative client-centric hat, he advises. Think about how you can use your knowledge to provide a bespoke legal product a client actually understands. Make it fun, he advises. Who says law has to be boring?

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