What might a book about ‘doing socio-legal research in design mode’ contribute to legal design thinking + practice?

As part of the Legal Design Roundtable 2021 Rossana Ducato invited me to reflect upon how my short book, Doing sociolegal research in design mode (forthcoming 2021, Routledge), might contribute to the field of legal design. The book is designed to act as a bridge from sociolegal research to legal design, but I hope that legal designers might also be enticed to walk that bridge in reverse.

The above video presentation summarises the key contents of the book, and highlights what it might contribute to the practice of legal designers who should, in my view, think of themselves as sociolegal designers.

Like sociolegal researchers, legal designers often express a desire to make law ‘work better for people’. For example, this idea threads through many of the interviews conducted by Henna Tolvanen and Nina Toivonen for their Legal Design Podcast. Some may be motivated to make law work better for those who make and implement it from above; others to make it better for those who need must work with or within it from below. Either way we can say that these legal designers share with sociolegal researchers a sense that law is a social phenomenon; and that it we must—pragmatically and morally—work for the ‘well-being of law as a practical idea’ (Roger Cotterrell 2018).

So perhaps this book will prompt-facilitate legal designers to see themselves as sociolegal designers, and to draw on sociolegal literature exploring the whats, hows and whys of human relationships with law.

For example, sociolegal research can offer legal designers the rigour of:

  • Conceptual language (vocabulary, grammar) for communicating about law and/as wider social life;
  • Empirical knowledge: data about perceptions, expectations and experiences of law and legal institutions across the world;
  • Normative ambitions: historically, culturally, politically, economically, geographically, sociologically contextualised reasons for why legal design is important and how it is/ought to be done.

Finally, if legal designers were to see themselves as sociolegal designers they might take comfort from being part of a wider community of experts who are committed to the well-being of law as a practical, communal, resource.

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