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Legal Design Geek | Reimagining legal #4: direct access barristers

We sponsored the Legal Design Geek conference in London this October. Legal design is all about putting users first: as Margaret Hagan says, “focusing on the humans within the legal system.” We asked design gurus to take a look at some user-unfriendly legal processes - and how a design approach might improve them. This is the fourth in our series, focusing on finding direct access barristers.

Hi, who are you?

Hi! I’m Emily MacLoud, a designer and researcher with Etic Lab, with input from Emily Allbon, Senior Lecturer at the City Law School (City, University of London), legal design enthusiast and creator of student resource Lawbore.

What is an example of a legal document or process that isn’t user-friendly?

Understanding how to contact a direct access barrister.

What’s wrong with it?

First of all, some members of the public may not understand the difference between a solicitor and a barrister. It follows that they may not be aware when it is more appropriate to seek a solicitor’s help over a barrister’s, and vice versa. Finally, they may not be clear on where they would find either a solicitor or barrister or indeed when they should do so.

Unbeknownst to many members of the public, they can go directly to a barrister without having to involve an instructing solicitor or other intermediary. However, only some barristers accept public access work.

In order to find a barrister who does public access work, members of the public can either approach chambers directly or use the Direct Access Portal. Not many members of the public know about the Direct Access Portal, and if they do get there, it is difficult to know exactly what type of barrister they may need, as they will need to know the area of law first.

Barristers are often considered to be prohibitively expensive, but in actual fact, members of the public can instruct barristers for a relatively small fee. Knowing how to find information about access, and indeed cost, is currently extremely challenging.

Check out the other processes reimagined in this series: the SLA, the B2B sales contract and the privacy policy.

And what does that mean for the user?

It means that many users end up feeling lost and confused and, in a position where they have a lack of consumer choice to decide on what the best route is for them. They already feel a weighty pressure given their legal predicament and this extra hurdle makes them feel even more overwhelmed. When money is an issue, they may start relying on friends and family in the first instance, who may not be in a position to provide them with advice that is in their best interests.

"People trying to find this information may be vulnerable, and indeed scared, by the situation they are trying to navigate"

That doesn’t sound good. How would we want them to feel?

We want to make users feel empowered. We want to make it easy for users to know what options are available and in particular, increase the public’s awareness of the availability of barristers who do public access work. Important here will be creating information routes that will be understandable by all; and that take into account the fact that those trying to find such information may be vulnerable, and indeed scared, by the situation they are trying to navigate. We want to make the process of finding a public access barrister painless and hassle-free.

So in an ideal world, how would we start if we built it from scratch?

We’d start with a “one-stop shop” that would be available to all (this would probably need both an online entry point and something helpful in hard copy). It would guide everyone on their legal journey, clearly describing the steps and services available.

How might it look different?

At the moment, there are multiple doors into the legal ecosystem and within it, multiple services available at multiple stages. The re-imagined portal would be seamless and not just begin when a court or tribunal is involved, but start from the very beginning to actually help the user understand whether they have a legal problem in the first place. As a result, services like the Direct Access Portal would only be made available to litigants where it is appropriate.

And how would the experience be different for the user?

The experience for some users now is that they have two distinct problems: firstly, finding the right service and then secondly, finding the right solution to their legal problem.

The experience in the ideal world would be different. The re-imagined portal would be supportive and approachable rather than confusing. Users would want to engage with the system as it would be oriented toward their legal problem, rather than toward finding the right service.

All members of the public would know that they can access a solicitor, barrister or legal executive depending on their type of problem and its complexity. They would know of the Direct Access Portal’s existence, and would know what search terms to use. They would know what costs they could expect and could negotiate accordingly.

What would we need to make it a reality?

It would all start with the users. We’d first draft some user stories and explore what they think, feel, do and see, and then go out and run some design sprints focused on testing those user stories, finding out what problems they have and what is on their a-list. We’d then want to run a second design sprint focusing on the user’s motivation, to find out whether the user is going to find our proposed solution compelling. We’d then want to run a usability sprint, focused on checking that what we’ve made is easy for the user. We’d then, at the very end, run an architecture sprint to figure out how we can build it.

We would want to have several key people in the room with experts providing their inputs along the way. At all stages we’d want to focus on two key things: generating enough output that is valuable and actionable; and keeping the user front and centre at all times throughout the process.

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