On the final day of Justice Week, Friday 28 February 2020, I attended the Legal Design Sprint competition at the offices of the Bar Council.
I arrived with little appreciation of the power of legal design. Legal design is described as a vehicle for “visualising legal concepts and processes to make them more accessible to a variety of audiences”. This definition does not communicate the skill or vast utility of legal design. Put simply, the legal design process takes information, which may be overly complex or opaque, and reshapes it into a format which is digestible to its end user.
The Legal Design Sprint challenged law students to look at the resources of well-known organisations and to use legal design to elevate those resources. In the course of the event, we heard about the invaluable work of the School Exclusion Project, the Equality Advisory and Support Service, Disability Rights UK, A-Law UK and the Public Law Project. The students had taken materials from each organisation and re-packaged the information for their individual target audiences following comprehensive research and testing. They identified “pain point” communication obstacles and found ways to address these issues.
The standard of competition was extremely high. The judging panel, which included Catherine Bamford (Director, Legal Engineering at Deloitte Legal), Rae Digby-Morgan (Principal Consultant at Wilson Fletcher) and I, was impressed by the way in which the students had solved various accessibility issues and presented their designs with flair.
The winning team, University of Birmingham’s Erin Conely, Mary Connolly and Luned Jewell, had reformulated their assigned website to improve its accessibility. In doing so, they created multi-media resources using British Sign Language and Welsh, as well as amending the general presentation of the website’s resources to ensure that the website was easy to navigate and utilise.
My lasting impression of the event has been the realisation that many online publications are written and presented in ways that are not immediately accessible to the public as a whole. As a profession, we should be mindful of the necessity of access to justice for all, and when we write to provide information to the public, it needs to be presented in ways which are clear. Often, legal design can fill a communication void to ensure that those who need to gain access to information are able to find and use it. We need to be aware of the many barriers that stand in the way of those trying to access information in relation to the justice system. We must proactively help organisations, alongside designers and innovators, to facilitate access to legal materials.
Justice Week aimed to promote the rule of law and to educate the public on citizens’ rights and obligations. The Legal Design Sprint was a perfect example of the steps that can be taken, in a relatively short period of time, to include those who are excluded from legal resources. The legacy of this event must be a shared determination between legal practitioners and designers to make online legal resources accessible to all, for the benefit of society as a whole.
If you are interested in learning more about effective legal design, you can find out more via the The Less Textual Legal Gallery, which is curated by Emily Allbon, Senior Lecturer in Law at City Law School.
Joanne Kane, barrister and Vice Chair of the Bar Council's Young Barristers' Committee