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Margaret Hagan

Legal innovation comes from looking at law from client’s perspective, says Stanford academic

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 @ 2:20 PM | By Tom Venetis


When it comes to legal innovation, the first step in creating new services and products is looking at how clients experience the legal system, said Margaret Hagan, a design expert from Stanford, during a workshop held in Toronto on May 15.

Margaret Hagan

Margaret Hagan, Legal Design Lab

Hagan directed the workshop at the Lawyering in the 21st Century forum that was organized and hosted by LexisNexis Canada and the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University.

Hagan, who is the director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, said one of the most important things to remember when it comes to legal innovation is to take off the lawyer’s hat and put on the client’s hat. It is about designing tools and services from the perspective of the people who will be using them.

Hagan suggested that lawyers need to start thinking like designers.

“The usual misunderstanding in the legal profession is that design is an afterthought. It is something to be done on the side just to make things look prettier,” said Hagan. “But design is not an afterthought. Design is really about problem solving and that is something you lawyers do every day, which is solve other people’s problems.”

The key to legal innovation is to think about how design helps people do things and interact with things. Good design makes things effortless, she said.

“We know how to turn on a light and to sit in a chair,” said Hagan. “That is good design. In the legal system, are the tools we are going to design usable and are they understandable for a person? Are they useful to what that person wants to do? Finally, are they engaging for them and will they spend time on them? We have a lot of room for improvement in the legal profession.”

Good legal innovation also comes down to getting out of one’s headspace, emphasized Hagan.

“The first thing we lawyers have to get away from is thinking of ourselves as the centre of things, or that judges are the centre of things,” she said. “We need to instead think about legal services from the perspective of the persons we are serving. They are the centre of our work.”

Hagan recounted a project where her team at the Legal Design Lab was looking at how to create new solutions to help people who are representing themselves in divorce proceedings.

“We followed these people around from the clerk’s office, to the help centres, to the sheriff’s office and to the judge,” explained Hagan. “When you look at things from their point of view, things are just crazy. Nothing makes sense to them. Why is it so complicated and arduous for them? Be we as lawyers and judges think, ‘What are you talking about? This all makes sense. Why don’t they understand it?’ You need to go out into the field and to really understand what the problems you are trying to solve.”

Hagan emphasized that whenever anyone is designing a legal product, it is important to test early and often. The idea is to get feedback from people on how the tools a team has designed work and where there are areas for improvement. If something is not working, it is best to catch it early and then to test that improved solution again. And to keep repeating until one gets it right. This will help avoid costly mistakes of designing what one thinks is an innovate legal tool only to find that it does not do what people want or no one cares for it.

Hagan recounted the time the law school came up with the idea for creating a social network for law students and faculty. The idea was that this social network would help students connect among themselves, with faculty and to help them network when it came time to look for work.

“After three years they built a perfect social network and no one used it,” said Hagan. “It was a big, costly, horrible fail.”

LexisNexis Canada has entered into partnership with Ryerson University's Legal Innovation Zone with the intention of charting and evaluating important emerging trends in legal innovation in Canada and around the globe. The content of this page is not subject to approval by LexisNexis Canada or Ryerson University's Legal Innovation Zone.