Design in legal education: an edited collection

Design in Legal Education (Routledge 2022), co-edited by Emily Allbon and Amanda Perry-Kessaris, is a visually rich, experience-led collection exploring what design can do for legal education.

In recent decades design has increasingly come to be under- stood as a resource to improve other fields of public, private and civil society practice; and legal design—that is, the application of design-based methods to legal practice—is increasingly embedded in lawyering across the world.

This collection brings together experts from multiple disciplines, professions and jurisdictions to reflect upon how designerly mindsets, processes and strategies can enhance teaching and learning across higher education, public legal information and legal practice; and will be of interest and use to those teaching and learning in any and all of those fields.

Find out more

  • Visit the microsite for downloadable artefacts, abstracts and author biographies
  • Listen to the editors (transcript below) discuss what legal design means to them, their pathways to legal design, and what the book is designed to do. Illustrations by Adam Doughty.

Rough transcript

Emily: Hello, my name is Emily Allbon

Amanda: And I’m Amanda Perry-Kessaris

Emily: and we have co-edited a collection on Design in Legal Education, published by Routledge in 2022.

Amanda: we wanted to give you some context for the book by sharing our thoughts about legal design, about our own pathways to legal design, and about what the book is designed to do.

So Emily, let’s start with a big question: what is legal design to you?

Emily: It’s all about potential to me. It refers to the application of design principles to the world of law in order to bring new understanding of its products, services and systems to those who need to use them. What’s most interesting to me is the promise of new ways in which we can open up the law. Strip away the mystique, the jargon and the unnecessary detail but add in meaning, give people agency and allow them to be in control of their situations, transforming their experience from one of confusion, impotency and frustration, to one where people understand how the law, its processes and institutions apply to them and can take action accordingly.  

I love that design as a discipline has given us new ways of looking at law more holistically.

Emily: how about you, Amanda?

Amanda: I tend to think about legal design in terms of Nigel Cross’ term ‘designerly ways’. And I focus on three of these ‘ways’—mindsets, process and strategies. For me it is important that designerly mindsets are simultaneously practical, critical and imaginative; that designerly processes emphasise experimentation; and that designerly strategies emphasise making ideas visible and/or tangible. I’m interested in how these ways can connect with, reinforce and challenge lawyerly ways.

Emily: So legal design means different things to different people. And we all come to it from different routes too. How did you get here, Amanda?

Amanda: About 10 years ago I was thinking about how visual methods might help communication across different disciplines (especially economics and law). I started studying design part time at University of the Arts London, eventually completing a masters degree. The most important thing I learned during that time is that design is about much more that designed outputs. It’s also about the mindsets and processes and strategies that designers use to get to that output. Since then I have been thinking about how lawyers can, as Ezio Manzini calls it, work in ‘design mode’; whether they are engaged in legal practice, activism, policy making, research or, the focus of this edited collection: teaching. 

Emily: Prior to my career as a legal academic I did an MSc Information Science and was a law librarian. This gave me an interest in how we organise and manage information, as well as lots of insights into how people seek information. Learning law later on in life in my mid-20s, made me interested in the ways in which legal knowledge was communicated and taught.

In 2002 I launched a website for law students called Lawbore. Back then it was primarily a space to encourage law students to find high quality online legal resources that were free to use; because most would not have access to fee-based Lexis and Westlaw in their future workplaces.

I instinctively knew that function and visuals were both key to the design. For the tough student crowd, I needed to make the site engaging, fun even. This wouldn’t seem a big thing now, but back then, sites for law students were lists of links, they were serious and bland. Dark colours and a formal tone. I went with colours, with quirky informal reviews, a jaunty logo and each category had a visual attached to it, so that however deep you got into the site, you always knew where you were. It was quite home-made in ‘look’ – I think the original logo for criminal law was a photo of my dad in his police uniform.

It grew popular, first amongst my own students, then across the UK, and then internationally.

I guess the power of design to make a difference to people’s understanding of law really hit home then, and it is something that has been a big part of my work for the last 20 years.

Over that time the legendary Information Design Summer School run by Rob Waller and the Simplification Centre has been really inspirational to me.

About 9 years ago I started to come across pockets of work that bore similarities to mine, and then later that I realised it had a name: legal design!

It’s been brilliant to see the impact that legal design projects have had on people’s lives and to work on projects with organisations, using design elements to change the experiences of their users, or to work with their staff to learn design techniques themselves. My most recent project is a website called TLDR, the less textual legal gallery, which showcases this kind of work.

Amanda: OK so now we have some context, let’s talk about our book on Design in Legal Education. What is it designed to do?

Emily: For me it’s to spark ideas, highlight initiatives and to celebrate the growing significance of design within the legal arena. We were really keen to focus in on legal education, but see this across a wide spectrum – so in a traditional teaching & learning context, in a public legal education setting and within practice. We also wanted to put the spotlight on some new voices alongside more established ones, working in different fields, balancing out the practical with the theoretical.   

Amanda: Yes, and we have tried to capture a wide range of examples from across the world, in different sectors and from diverse perspectives; but there are so many more. One good place to begin to find them is the Legal Design Podcast hosted by Henna Tolvanen and Nina Toivonen. Also we wanted to highlight the need to stay critical of legal design—to keep asking how it fails, who it excludes, what damage it might do, in what ways is it just reinventing the wheel? Its still new field of practice, still in its honeymoon period. So there is no doubt (and hopefully!) a lot more critique to come, including from us.

Emily: So all that remains is for us to encourage everyone to buy the book before it’s all replaced with bigger and better things!

Amanda: yes, buy it quick before it becomes obsolete!

Emily: Yeah exactly!

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