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Why legal design is the answer for time-crunched in-house lawyers

Marie Potel-Saville was Vice President Legal, EMEA at a luxury beauty group in Paris before founding Dot., a legal design agency that aims to transform the practice of law by putting the user at the centre of the action.

Numbers can be scary as a GC. They can soon get out of hand. I was hired by a global cosmetic group to set up the EMEA legal division, and it was a challenge with some head-scratching numbers. My remit covered 17 affiliates in around 30 countries; and while a lean team has its advantages, it presented a challenge for a business turning over EUR 2bn in the region. The volume of queries from across the group was significant, and delivering compliance training across all subsidiaries would be beyond my available resource and, particularly, my time.

Legal had to be so user-friendly that it would be implemented easily, first-time and with minimal follow-up questions. That need was what led me to legal design.

Doing more with less is practically a mantra for in-house lawyers now, but efficiency for me was a practical necessity. I needed to have processes, documents and advice that I could deliver to internal clients just once, and know that they’d land – there just wouldn’t be time for a lengthy programme, or the bodies for a team-led approach. Legal had to be so user-friendly that it would be implemented easily, first-time and with minimal follow-up questions. That need was what led me to legal design.

Taking a legal design approach – starting from the user, through sprints, workshops, prototypes, testing and so on – is exciting to implement, but what I found in taking it to the business was that they really didn’t care what we called our approach; in a more basic sense, they don’t care how you do what you, and they don’t really care about your processes and constraints. They just want an answer: preferably yesterday, not tomorrow.

And why would they care? As opposed to private practice where clients come to you for your expertise, in-house you have to earn the right to be listened to. Your job is about delivering the most practical advice possible that immediately translates into the daily operations of your internal clients, in a way that means they don’t need to translate it into their own language. In other words, the in-house counsel job is all about reducing the gap between the law and those supposed to apply it for real.

To do that, legal design is the perfect tool.

What is legal design?

Legal design means that instead of starting with the legislation, you start with the user: his/her needs, constraints, user journey, and you insert within that journey the legal obligations or information, in lay terms, so that it’s immediately actionable by that specific team of users.

At the other end of the spectrum, it helped me confront a volume and process challenge: to produce and update the online terms and conditions, terms of use and privacy policies across all my jurisdictions. That’s three documents across 30 countries and 28 brands to be delivered or maintained. The process was entirely manual – email ping pong to chase relevant information, a manual form, information inserted into a manual template, and on and on it went.

Being busy is no excuse not to engage with legal design: it’s the reason you can’t move forward without it.

Legal design helped me overcome all of those factors, by defining the new process and the characteristics of the new tool with all the various users, while ensuring speedy completion. Interestingly, this legally designed process led us to choose Juro to automate the documents and roll them out in a user-friendly process at scale and speed. I did not know it at the time, but obviously Juro’s platform had been legally designed itself.

But rolling out wasn’t the hard part; getting users to engage with legal, to find time in their diaries, to attend workshops and to give useful feedback – that was the key hurdle to overcome. And make no mistake – as a lawyer, that’s your problem, not theirs. Business people resist engaging with legal for lots of reasons – many of which are down to the way we’ve worked, historically – but by showing them that their engagement can yield user-friendly, instantly usable documents, processes and advice fit for their own business processes, you can achieve the uptake you need.

For the time-crunched in-house lawyer, it’s the best option you have. Being busy is no excuse not to engage with legal design: it’s the reason you can’t move forward without it.

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