Design in Legal Services

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Design in Legal Services

Key Takeaways

  • Large, global law firms are at the forefront of the movement to incorporate design thinking principles in legal services. Many of these firms who are leading the charge have developed Innovation teams dedicated to transforming the legal space to become more user-centric, valuing the approach of human-centered design which lies at the core of design thinking.
  • Legal design consultancy firms have sprung up across the world in recent years as the design thinking methodology has begun to infiltrate the legal services market. So far, the research shows that these consultancies have focused on niche areas such as contract re-design and the development of legal technology solutions.
  • Law schools have begun to include Design Thinking courses in their curriculum with a focus on human-centered design to equip their students with a problem-solving methodology to bring about change and solutions to today's most pressing legal issues when they enter the profession.
  • Applications of design thinking in legal services at non-industry companies include the re-design of legal documents such as non-disclosure agreements and data privacy statements to build trust with stakeholders and in one instance, an in-house legal teams's use of the methodology to improve its internal productivity.


According to the Margaret Hagan, who can be considered the pioneer of legal design, 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." In this research brief, we examine key players in the emerging legal design industry across multiple strands.

First, we look at law firms that have incorporated design thinking in their practices, whether through internal or external workshops and programs, leading to new user-centric legal solutions. Second, we examine a new type of company that has materialized to support the market — legal design consultancies — that work with law firms, in-house legal teams and lawyers to implement changes in their services based on design thinking. Next, we explore schools that are preparing their students to use design-thinking in their future careers to approach the problems of the legal industry with a fresh, human-centered perspective. Lastly, we provide case studies from companies that are not based in legal sector but have used the principles of legal design to improve the products they offer in the legal business.

Law Firms

Leading, global law firms have taken up the charge of innovation the legal services sector. Consequently, some firms have implemented innovation programs among their staff and stakeholders to address the needs of their clients following the design thinking methodology. These firms have reported significant, lasting improvements to their services and are encouraging others to join them in their endeavors to transform the legal industry.

1) Paul Hastings, LLP

  • Paul Hastings, LLP is a leading international law firm offering legal expertise to a diverse clientele including top financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies.
  • The team at Paul Hastings, LLP have introduced design thinking and innovation into their practice supporting the emerging social enterprise industry.
  • They collaborated with Business Models Inc. and used the design thinking framework of "Empathize — Define — Ideate — Prototype — Test" to develop scalable business models that the law firm could use to meet the needs of social entrepreneurs. The process included:
    • interviews with more than 50 social enterprises to evaluate their legal needs
    • a 2-day collaborative brainstorming session between social enterprise entrepreneurs as well as lawyers from Paul Hastings
    • early prototyping through custom-designed websites and events that resulted in reaching 1,536 people, including having 135 people attend preliminary events
    • further interviews with social entrepreneurs for pivoting solutions
    • final three business models to serve the social impact community.
  • Furthermore, the law firm counts Nicola Shaver as its Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge to advance its innovation strategy and initiatives with an empathetic approach, the first stop in the design thinking process.
    • Shaver is an IDEO-trained design thinking facilitator and completed her MBA with a focus on innovation and leadership. She was named the Innovative Leader of the Year in 2020 by the International Legal Technology Association.
    • On the adoption of design thinking in legal services, Shaver writes, "law is quintessentially a client service business. In order to excel at client service, lawyers should be regularly considering their client’s needs, understanding their clients’ businesses, and alleviating their clients’ stresses... Design thinking is one way to start moving the dial back towards true client service."

2) Linklaters

  • Linklaters is a global law firm that serves a wide range of clients in banking, construction, data, energy & infrastructure, intellectual property, tax, trade law and many others.
  • Linklaters is dedicated to innovation in the legal space with an Innovation team and landing page that states "Innovation lies at the core of our purpose of delivering legal certainty in a changing world. It runs through everything we do at Linklaters — our legal advice, the way we deliver our services to clients and the way we run our business."
  • The company offers design thinking training to all their lawyers to encourage more client-centric mindsets.
  • In terms of their work in the legal design space, Linklaters has used the process to improve its service delivery in structured finance transactions by moving data from lengthy work tables into curated Excel reports that clients can easily introduce in their financial models.
  • Another recent application of legal design thinking in their work is the re-design of their training contract offer letter. The firm transformed the letter from the traditional Word document to a digital version that is more engaging aesthetically, does not require printing for signature (being environmentally friendly, important to the younger target population) and is laid out more sensibly by grouping similar information (see picture, blurred for confidentiality).
  • To achieve the new design, the Innovation team and the Graduate Recruitment team worked with a legal design agency, Observ, to engage Linklaters trainees and LPC students as the "end-user" in a collaborative effort of reimagination.
  • Feedback from a trainee presented with the offer letter stated "I liked how it clearly showed all the information and was easy to follow, as well as being aesthetically pleasing".

3) Baker McKenzie

  • Baker Mckenzie is another multinational law firm, and can be considered one of the largest globally by headcount and revenue, boasting 16 practices.
  • Baker McKenzie has invested in an innovation program, called Reinvent with the focus areas of "Engage, Improve, Explore".
  • The program encompasses its complete repertoire of change initiatives aimed at better client outcomes including their service design, alternative legal services, legal project management team, Global e-Discovery and Data Advisory teams, Reinvent Fellows and LegalTech Startup.
  • Reinvent appears to have been born out of an Innovation Committee set up in April 2017 to address changing client needs, new industry dynamics, and the broader role of digitization across the economy.
  • This committee was formed working alongside Peer Insight, a boutique consultancy, known for applying design thinking to services and business models, in order to challenge the legal industry's traditional capabilities-focused approach and "deliver legal advice in a way that makes sense for [our] clients."
  • A recent event held by Reinvent was an internal innovation hackathon in Johannesburg to design new or improved solutions to pain points being faced by clients in Africa that are practical and client-focused.
    • The winning solution, the Global Africa Hub, addressed the need for a single point of client contact for African legal work, promising cross-practice collaboration and faster, more cost-effective turnaround for clients.
  • Another initiative of Baker McKenzie's legal design practice is the Whitespace Legal Collab, bringing together academics, designers, executives, information technology experts and lawyers in an environment ideal for creative problem-solving to complex legal problems in climate risk, smart cities and data governance.

4) Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

  • Kelley Drye & Warren LLP is a US national law firm with a focus on litigation, regulatory, real estate, corporate and bankruptcy lawyer. Most recently, the firm has launched an environmental, social and governance practice.
  • Kelley Drye partnered with Design Build Legal, a company focused on legal innovation and service design to make legal work more transparent, efficient and client-centric.
  • The partnership consisted of two separate day-long events, one of which was a Design Thinking workshop.
  • Of the workshop which saw collaboration among lawyers, staff leadership and Kelley Drye clients, Chief Information Officer, Judith Flournoy said "We have been able to realize the benefit of a Design Thinking approach and utilizing Client Insights Interviews to explore topics of importance to the clients of the firm outside of legal representation."
  • The outcome of these events with Design Build Legal was the META Advisors Claims Management website which is a tailor-made digital interface designed to reconcile and manage bankruptcy claims.
  • The team used the design thinking methodology to work with their client, META Advisors, and capture the real user problem before delivering a solution that resulted in significant time savings and improved security, accessibility and accuracy of pertinent information.
  • This project was recognized as one of the top three submissions for the 2020 Legal Innovation in Operations Project by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), honoring law firms that have achieved innovation and design excellence in legal operations.

Legal Design Consultancy Firms

Legal design consultancy firms offer expertise in both law and design in the development of a new business or product. Legal designers are able to think in a human-centered way, and not a law-centered way when approaching a problem, allowing them to guide clients, typically in-house lawyers and law firms, to more user-centric solutions.

1) Dot, Finland

  • Dot, is a Finnish legal design consultancy that wants to make the law more accessible and legal products more user-friendly.
  • Dot works in the legal design space in a number of ways including:
    • Contract design that is easy to understand, negotiate and implement
    • Lean legal processes that apply strategic design-thinking principles to increase transparency, improve brand image and engage target audiences
    • Workshops and design jams to teach law firms the tools, techniques and importance of design thinking as it applies to legal services
    • Legal tech solutions through the process of ideating, prototyping, testing various solutions to meet the needs of users.
  • An example of their legal design consultancy is their work with the Finland Arbitration Institute to produce the "FAI Process Map", an online tool to provide pertinent information such as timeframes, prices, steps and relevant law related to arbitration.
  • According to Antti Innanen, CEO of Dot, design in legal services is "about listening to the clients and then develop a solution. That kind of process has not been used in law before since it is usually very top-down"

2) Legal Design Arc, India

3) Amurabi, France

  • Amurabi is a legal design consultancy firm based in Paris, France that combines legal and design expertise to create a satisfying legal user experience through human-centric, multidisciplinary innovation.
  • Amurabi specializes in the redesign of contracts, compliance programs, privacy policies, internal legal platforms, environment and social action plans and reports, and complex facts in litigation cases.
  • An interesting legal design project recently undertaken by the firm is their work with CNIL to create interfaces empowering kids and teenagers to better exercise their data protection rights as 1/3 of internet users.
    • The process was carefully executed starting with an analysis phase followed by focus groups to collect insight on the internet usage of various young age groups and their understanding of privacy and their personal data.
    • The information was then used in a co-design phase hosting workshops with minors or parents, researchers and designers to draft interfaces considering graphics, UX design, accessibility.
    • After numerous iterations with stakeholders, the final interfaces were used to create a toolbox, method kits, case studies and YouTube tutorials for designers to use when working with minors and creating interfaces to address the challenges of children's privacy protection.

4) This is Legal Design, Germany

  • The team at This is Legal Design focuses on four core services in legal design:
    • Service and Product Design — addresses agile design projects from idea generation to implementation in an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, designers, developers and users to solve the specific problem.
    • Get Hungry Workshops — leads participants in a fast-paced, practical introduction to Legal Design considering user-centered innovation to develop new legal solutions.
    • Visual Communication and Design — redesigns a legal document, for instance, a non-disclosure agreement or compliance guidelines, considering the end-user.
    • Interactive Keynotes and Panels — creates a learning experience around Legal Design for various clients such as universities or NGOs.

Academic Programs/Courses

As the concept of legal design grows, more law schools are promoting its practice by teaching design thinking courses as part of their curriculum. As Magaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab and a lecturer at Stanford Institute of Design, observes, “Often, students are taught in classes that are team-based, and in partnership with a court, non-profit, law firm, or corporate team. Students will interview lots of stakeholders and identify new ways to improve the legal system, and then start building new solutions that can be piloted.”

1) Vanderbilt University

  • The Vanderbilt Law School offers the Program on Law and Innovation, launched in 2015, to equip their students to navigate the rapidly changing legal industry throughout their upcoming careers.
  • As part of the program, lecturer and Director of Innovation Design, Caitlin Moon offers the "Legal Problem Solving" course, described as human-centered design (HCD) for law.
  • The course seeks to act on the recommendation of the ABA's 2016 Report on the Future of Legal Services that "the legal profession should partner with other disciplines and the public for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services."
  • As such, the course focuses on three core items for students: using HCD mindsets and methods to
    • think intentionally about their legal careers,
    • supplement their “thinking like a lawyer” toolbox, and
    • create solutions for challenges faced by local legal organizations.

2) Queensland University of Technology, Australia

  • Queensland University of Technology School of Law offers a course entitled "Law and Design Thinking" which introduces students to the five-step methodology that takes a human-centered approach to problem solving.
  • The course has students work in teams to employ problem-based learning with a focus on improving access to justice.
  • The assessments done for the course include:
    • A portfolio documenting the "empathize — define — ideate" steps in the design thinking process as applied to the problem of access to justice or another chosen complex legal problem.
    • A group project producing a report with visual aids outlining how the design thinking methodology was used to approach the selected legal problem and showing a range of potential solutions and justification for the final solution (prototype).

3) Duke University

  • Duke University has an initiative "Duke Law By Design", led by Jeff Ward, the Director of the Duke Center on Law & Tech.
  • A group of faculty at Duke University who have completed the design thinking training through IDEO U desire to engage students and faculty in the human centered design process while reaching out to partner organization and service professionals in the community.
  • Through this initiative, the course "Designing Creative Legal Solutions" was co-developed by Ward and Rochael Adranly, Chief Legal Officer at IDEO.
  • Topics addressed by the course in past iterations have included legal issues such as eviction procedures, improving forensic reports, human trafficking, measurements of project and attorney success and access to justice.
  • A student of the course reported, "Too much of law school centers around case law and legal theory. In design thinking, students are encouraged to problem solve and incorporate lived experiences. It’s practical and freeing! It also made me feel closer to the Durham community by interacting with and learning from real stakeholders."

4) Campbell University & North Carolina State University

Case Studies

These case studies provide a perspective of legal design within the commercial legal sectors whereby non-legal companies and organizations have used it to support their own operations.

1) AIRBUS Defense and Space

  • AIRBUS Defense and Space implemented legal design to create improved non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for their collaborations with startups.
  • The company collaborated with legal designer Astrid Kohlmeier to lead this project.
  • The purpose of the new designs was to build a sustainable relationship based on trust between AIRBUS and the smaller, less experienced startup companies they aimed to partner with.
  • Initially, AIRBUS staff assumed that "start up companies don‘t want NDAs and don’t take care too much about legal issues". However, by carrying out the "empathy" stage of the design thinking process to understand the reality and needs of the user, that is, start up companies, the project team found that they want to protect their intellectual property but wish for NDAs that are clear, transparent and accessible.
  • With the re-structured, shortened and simplified NDA, these companies felt like they were taken serious as a business partner, creating a trustworthy partnership from the beginning.

2) Telstra

  • In 2016, the in-house legal team at Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company, began holding Innovation Forums alongside Herbert Smith Freehills, a partnering law firm.
  • These forums included design thinking workshops and innovation sprints among the lawyers to address productivity issues within their work.
  • The results have led to a series of small, effective changes in their service delivery to internal clients including:
    • answering queries in a set time frame
    • reducing internal lawyer-only meetings by 52% in time by differentiating between decision-making and information-sharing meetings
    • reducing reporting time by 60% with a simpler report that met the needs of the new CEO compared to the previous one
    • reducing time spent on review of internal legal communications by 29%
    • automating NDAs by building an instant tool for clients to use.
  • Overall, the team at Telstra estimate that between 2016 and 2019, they have saved over 40,000 man-hours of work by using legal design to reframe some of their processes.

3) August

  • August is a digital marketing agency that has used legal design to make their data privacy policy more accessible.
  • The company has created a user experience centered around data privacy, deemed "a data privacy adventure", with a mascot named Fernando who walks the person through an interactive, simplified version of their privacy policy.
  • The result is that users gain knowledge of how their specific data is collected and used in a refreshingly easy and engaging format. Additionally, the site visitor can choose to read the typical, plain-language version of the text but really, would you?

Research Strategy

We chose to present and elaborate on examples of law firms/consultancies/academic programs/companies that were not previously provided to us in order to broaden the scope of the research outcomes. To choose those included in this report, we looked at reputable news articles and blogs that focused on legal design and/or design thinking in the legal industry such as the Financial Times, the LLM Guide, the Technolawgist, the Impact Lawyers and the Law Gazette. From these articles, we looked at the examples they used and investigated them further to deliver the detailed insights in this report.

Did this report spark your curiosity?


  • "I am a professionally certified change manager, an IDEO trained design thinking facilitator, and a champion for the adoption of legal technology, the optimization of client value and innovative client service delivery. In 2020, I completed my MBA with a focus on innovation and leadership."
  • "...clients’ legal issues are becoming more complex. But, to successfully navigate these changes, legal professionals must better develop and exercise their creative problem-solving skills. "