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How Legal Design Can Shape In-House Legal Strategy

The modern legal department faces unprecedented challenges with increased regulations, complex operating environments, a changing litigation landscape, and the downward pressures on budgets.

Within this macro environment, internal stakeholder’s needs are also evolving. Legal teams must now also address the demand for efficient and ‘always available’ service delivery as well as more complex compliance requirements.

Successful strategies to respond to this unique set of challenges will often involve the use of legal design. This is a modern approach that has been gaining traction over the past 10 years and some argue is now truly coming of age as the legal industry responds to innovation and technological advancements.

Read on to learn more.

What is Legal Design?

Legal design combines principles of design thinking with legal practice to make legal systems and processes more user-friendly, efficient and accessible. While there has been a spike in recent interest, it has been around since the early 2010s. It gained more recognition and formalisation around 2013 with the establishment of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School.

Essentially, by focusing on the end-user experience, legal design seeks to simplify complex legal documents, streamline workflows, and enhance communication within legal teams and their stakeholders. This involves understanding the needs and pain points of users (clients, legal team members, stakeholders), ideating creative solutions, prototyping, and iterating based on feedback. The goal is to create legal processes and documents that are not only legally sound but also clear, engaging, and easy to navigate.

For in-house legal departments, legal design offers a strategic advantage by improving both efficiency and client satisfaction. Here are key areas where legal design can be applied:

1. Document Simplification

Challenge: Legal documents and corporate policies are often lengthy and difficult to understand by the end-user.

Solution: Using plain language, visual aids, and intuitive layouts to create user-friendly documents.

Practical Examples:

  • One of the most popular tactics involving legal design is transforming lengthy contracts into clear, concise, and visually engaging formats. This can help to reduce misunderstandings with customers as well a speeding up contracting timeframes.
  • OneNDA is fantastic example of a legal design initiative that focuses on simple language and the concept of a universal non-disclosure agreement. This leads to faster sign-off and less time wasted on unnecessary negotiation and red-lining.
  • Comic contracts’ and the clever use of illustrations and mind-maps has also been shown to improve the end-user’s understanding and is being embraced by organisations seeking to demonstration their point of difference and enhance customer engagement.

2. Process Optimisation

Challenge: Inefficient workflows and unclear processes can both hinder productivity and increase risk.

Solution: Mapping out and redesigning legal and compliances processes to be more streamlined and user-centric.

Practical examples:

  • Implementing automated workflows for routine tasks like contract approvals or compliance checks can save time and reduce errors.
  • Re-designing processes in response to changing business requirements, capacity issues or a means to deliver a new operating model due to costs pressures.

3. Enhanced Communication

Challenge: Miscommunication between legal teams and their internal clients can lead to delays and frustration.

Solution: Developing clear communication protocols and using visual tools such as flowcharts and dashboards to convey information.

Practical examples:

  • Use of interactive matter intake platforms, or client portals, where internal stakeholders can submit requests, track the status of their legal matters, and access key documents. This approach can allow real-time collaboration, improves visibility and reduces the back-and-forth communication.
  • Legal design can also be applied to team structure such as aligning lawyers, or groups of lawyers, with business lines or organisation units. This can help lawyers build relationships, business knowledge and more effectively partner with their commercial counterparts.

4. Embedding Knowledge & Consistency

Challenge: The legal team’s response to issues can be inconsistent or inefficient, plus corporate knowledge is not always accessible or available.

Solution: Providing standardised, clear guidelines and procedures for legal teams to follow. This ensures better compliance, risk management, and operational efficiency, as well as capturing that important knowledge and experience.

Practical Examples:

  • In-house legal teams create a digital playbook with step-by-step guides for common legal processes. This resource, complete with infographics and decision trees, empowered business units to handle routine legal tasks independently.
  • Contract playbooks are a specific type of legal playbook and include protocols and actions relating to specific clauses, such as preferred positions, fallback positions, and deal-breakers.

Getting Started with Legal Design

If legal design is something that you are interested in, then these are some tips to getting started.

  1. Identify Pain Points: Engage with your legal team and internal clients to understand the key challenges they face.
  2. Collaborate for Fresh Perspectives: Work with team members who can provide new insights and ideas for creating user-centric solutions.
  3. Prototype and Test: Develop prototypes of redesigned documents or processes and gather feedback from users to refine them.
  4. Implement and Iterate: Roll out the new designs and continuously seek feedback to make improvements.


In summary, legal design improves efficiency, enhances user experience, increases compliance, and generates cost savings by streamlining processes, clarifying documentation, simplifying legal requirements, and leveraging automation.

Legal design builds on the progressive and successful foundation of design thinking and is a vital tool for modern in-house legal departments. By adopting a user-centred approach, legal teams can enhance their efficiency, improve client satisfaction, and ultimately add greater value to their organisations.

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