Monday, February 17, 2020

Designing Legal Documents

In an email exchange with Stanford business law clinician Jay Mitchell, I learned of this intriguing post on legal document design.  Jay takes the design thinking context way beyond my "legal design" idea of using IRAC in corporate finance drafting as a means of ensuring that students are engaging with applicable law and norms in their drafting, and in doing so, he makes a number of interesting observations and points that relate to both document planning and drafting, on the one hand, and teaching planning, drafting, and overall business law practice, on the other.  Here are a few.

  • "The physical design of clinic work-products and client communications is a constant concern. It’s humbling, idea-generating, and inspiring to look at graphic design and wayfinding books and see great solutions to complex information design challenges."
  • "Our world is one of entities; structures; flows of information, money, and property rights; time periods; decision-making processes; legal, tax, and accounting principles; and dense and difficult documents — and then helping clients operationalize all this across multiple functions and geographies. Seems like we need good tools for capturing, assessing, and conveying information. Visual executions can provide those tools. They have great communicative capacity: shape, color, line, line weight, line effects, and white space are all at hand, and, as noted, people just get pictures."
  • "Design outlooks and practices seem to distill and operationalize knowledge, from a variety of disciplines, in ways relevant to a lawyer, service provider, professional writer, and producer of tangible products. Our clients notice the attention to user, context, and functionality, as well as factual and legal accuracy, in our advice, client communications, contracts, and governance materials."
  • "In a setting where students are drafting and doing other legal tasks for the first time, we need to give them room to try, receive feedback, and try again."
  • After advocating sketching (using shapes, colors, etc. on a whiteboard) with students: "Sketching enables us to visibly and slowly break down a situation, and then to build it back up, step by step. It lets, or maybe forces, us to leave out detail; it helps reveal higher-order relationships that are otherwise difficult to discern. It helps us define the problem and possible solutions. Those qualities make it a good tool for identifying the most important features in an unstructured environment . . . ."
  • "What are seen as core elements of design thinking are now familiar: observation, empathy, ideation, and experimentation. Designers focus on the realities and needs of people for whom they’re designing a product or process. They frame problems and generate lots of ideas. They test those ideas through low-fidelity prototypes, over and over. They try to “keep people at the center” of their work. These are useful notions for the clinical teacher or senior lawyer working with new lawyers." (footnote omitted)

Jay notes along the way in describing the impact of design thinking on his teaching and practice: "I’ve learned more about legal documents, about their features and footprints, about what they demand of user and thus producer. Which leads to thinking harder about what to make, what to include, and how to present information in effective ways. And to productive discussions with students not only about work-product but also client respect and client reality."  Great stuff.  I know that our contract drafting curriculum at UT Law focuses on presentation as well as content (as do, I am sure, most similar law school programs of that kind).  Jay's post is great food for thought in executing on that focus.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/business_law/2020/02/designing-legal-dcouments.html

Contracts, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink

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