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What is legal design? | Q&A with Meera Sivanathan (Legal Designer)

What is legal design? | Q&A with Meera Sivanathan (Legal Designer)

Meera is a lawyer turned legal designer originally from Australia and now based in Helsinki, Finland.

Meera

The last time Meera and I saw one another (circa 2011) we were both studying at Bond University on the Gold Coast. I was studying film and Meera was studying law / commerce.

In film school we focused on creativity and design.  I can say from experience that law school is typically not focused on these things… and at least in Australia, you have to sign up to events like Disrupting Law to find the intersection of creativity + law (#sorrynotsorry for the shameless plug)!

Today, on the back of an impressive legal career both in Australia and now in Finland, it is Meera who is leading the charge in bringing a creative and design-centric mindset to the provision of legal services.

“Legal design” is a super exciting (albeit little understood) concept and catching up with Meera was an awesome opportunity to find out more.

Q&A

Meera, thank you for speaking with us Legal Forecasters!  We are intrigued by many aspects of your impressive career and particularly your move to Helsinki, your work with the Legal Design Summit, and your new role as Lead Legal Designer at Dottir Attorneys.

  1. First off, how did one of our best and brightest Aussie lawyers end up in Helsinki?   

Long story short, some new and cool opportunities came along for my partner and I in Helsinki, Finland. We decided it was the right time to make the move to the Nordics/Europe and have been making the most of it ever since. 

  1. Is the vibe of the legal profession in Finland any different to ours in Australia? 

In general, people and companies adopt a really forward-thinking mindset here in Helsinki, which extends to the legal profession. Passion for technology, design and innovation are longstanding components of the Finnish DNA with companies such as gaming giant Supercell and events like Slush (Europe’s largest start-up event founded and held in Helsinki) changing the way things are done.

This mindset, geared to disrupting the status quo and evolving with the times is embraced within the legal industry here in Finland. Amazing legal events and initiatives such as the world’s first and largest Legal Design Summit are born in Finland and gaining global recognition quickly – it’s great to be a part of this positive vibe. 

  1. What tips do you have for other Aussie legal professionals who want to follow in your footsteps and work in Europe?   

The opportunities are definitely out there. Do your research to gain an understanding of the legal environment and the firms and companies leading the way in your region of interest. It’s important to determine what you want to reap from your time working abroad. This will help you make the right choice in terms of work opportunities. Also, don’t be shy to reach out to contacts in your broader network. Based on my experience, Australians are warmly welcomed all over Europe as we tend to have a great reputation for our strong work ethic and friendly nature.

Legal Design 

  1. Can you explain what the term “legal design” actually means?  

Legal design is the application of design-thinking principles to the practice of law, to make legal systems, products, services and processes more useful, useable, understandable and engaging for all.

Presently, contracts are mainly drafted by lawyers for lawyers, our court systems are not easily navigable, terms & conditions and privacy policies are incomprehensible for most consumers and company internal policies and legal obligations are often little understood by staff. This has resulted in a large disconnect between the law, lawyers, companies and the end users of legal information and services.

With legal design, we can change this through a human-centered approach in which the users’ needs, wants and desires are first identified and then used as a basis to design and develop solutions. The result is legal information and services that are transparent, accessible, visually clearer and as mentioned above, useable, understandable, useful and engaging. When applied in a strategic manner, legal design can improve performance, innovation, brand perception, audience engagement, conversion rates and many other metrics.

  1. When did you first come across the concept?  

I’ve had the curiosity for combining creativity within the legal practice for quite some time. After several years working as a lawyer I decided to pursue this further. At the start of the year I was 1 of 16 people selected to complete a Master’s program fully focused on design-thinking at Aalto University, which is one of the world’s top design universities.

As for the concept of legal design itself; I guess it started from conversations with Jaakko Lindgren and Antti Innanen of Dottir Attorneys, who were already spearheading the legal design movement globally.

  1. What is the Legal Design Summit and what was your role as part of it? 

The Legal Design Summit (LDS) is the world’s first and largest legal design conference founded and held in Helsinki, Finland. It brings together international professionals in the fields of law, design and digital services to discuss and explore how human-centered design can transform the world of law.

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This year, I had the immense honor of hosting the LDS. In just its second year, over 600 people from around the world gathered collectively to form the world’s largest legal design movement – creating an inspiring atmosphere for change and validating the concept of design-thinking in the law. More information from this year’s LDS can be found here: http://www.legaldesignsummit.com.47

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Photo is of Justin North (Janders Dean, and TLF Advisory Board), and Joe May (Janders Dean, and TLF United Kingdom) who presented at the Legal Design Summit. 

7. Where should people look for more information about legal design?  

Currently, I’m co-authoring a book on legal design with Antti Innanen and Johanna Rantanen – both recognized thought leaders in legal design, co-founders of the Legal Design Summit and Partners at Dottir Attorneys. It’s a privilege to be working with them. The book includes insights from other leading professionals involved in the legal design movement and should be published soon…watch this space.

In the meantime, great resources can be found on the Legal Design Lab website, written by Margaret Hagan of Stanford University.

  1. How did you nab your new role as Lead Legal Designer at Dottir Attorneys and what will be your “day-to-day”?  Congratulations by the way!

Thanks Milan. It’s certainly exciting to be one of the world’s first legal designers.

My role as Lead Legal Designer arose after meeting the team at Dottir Attorneys who were already forging the legal design movement globally. With my background in law and my ongoing masters in design-thinking, and their growing company, it was the perfect match.

My day-to-day routine is exciting and fulfilling. It’s a combination of client focused work and workshops as well as external projects within the legal design space such as co-authoring a book and hosting events. Clients include private and public companies as well as legal and academic institutions. There is no ‘typical’ legal design project. I’m fortunate to work alongside talented service designers and researchers to solve an array of legal challenges – from redesigning contracts to make them more engaging, to prototyping new online legal platforms and designing better ways to communicate legal information and privacy policies on apps. We’ve also been quite busy planning and launching Dot. – a brand new sister company for Dottir Attorneys focusing solely on legal design.

  1. Do you have a view on the importance of creativity in professional services more broadly?

Every company is looking for that competitive edge. Encouraging creativity amongst staff and including those with creative backgrounds in the decision-making process can help bring on board that special x-factor solution, idea or approach that may set a company apart from the pack. Design lead companies such as Apple, Nike and PepsiCo are evidence of this. Understanding the value and benefits of creativity and incorporating it strategically is a key factor to success for professional services.

  1. Do you have a Legal Forecast. how is the legal world going to change in the next 10 – 15 years?  

The legal industry is ripe for disruption. Aside from the obvious automation and streamlining resulting from new technologies like AI, we will also see a shift in the way legal services are provided and the way legal challenges are tackled. The new age law firm will comprise both traditional legal teams as well as interdisciplinary teams of lawyers, researchers, technologists, designers and other professionals. In these interdisciplinary teams, professionals will collaborate and combine competencies to devise new ways to solve complex legal challenges as well as collaborate to design better customer experiences that bridge any disconnect between lawyer and client.

  1. Do you have any parting tips for law students?   

Work hard. Be authentic, be kind. Figure out what makes you tick and go for it wholeheartedly.

Questionner: Milan Gandhi (TLF).