Legal design is a new approach to justice system innovation. It offers a powerful way to understand the human experience of courts, legal aid, and solving life crises, and then to use this understanding to generate and vet promising new products, services, and policies.
More law schools are developing labs and classes, in which students are trained in legal design through project-based classes. This growing roster of design-driven legal innovation programs include:
- Stanford Legal Design Lab
- Northeastern University's NuLaw Lab
- Chicago Kent Law Lab
- Harvard Law School's Access to Justice Lab
- University of Arizona's Innovation for Justice program
- Suffolk Law School's LIT Lab
- Georgetown's Iron Tech Lawyer program
- Brigham Young's LawX program
- Michigan State's Legal RnD
- Vanderbilt's Law and Innovation program
These programs offer a rich resource for organizations working on access to justice innovation, including legal aid groups, funders, and strategists. These classes all involve partnerships with legal organizations, to scope discrete opportunities for innovation and to create working prototypes of new tools, services, and policies. Students often come from interdisciplinary backgrounds, including law, engineering, policy, medical school, design, architecture, and beyond, so that they are able to create more holistic, robust solutions.
How Law School Design Programs Partner with Legal Organizations
Most of these programs explicitly focus on training students on access to justice innovation. At Northeastern's NuLaw Lab, Director Dan Jackson has been leading law and architecture students to create new prototypes that have been installed in Boston Housing Court to improve the user experience around privacy, mediation, and preparation for their day in court. At Michigan State's Legal RnD, Dan Linna has developed partnerships with local housing courts and legal aid groups to gather data, devise new communications with litigants, and evaluate outcomes of them.
At Stanford Legal Design Lab, I have led partnerships with the California Judicial Council, local legal aid groups like Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Project Legal Link, and self-help centers in Bay Area courts. These partnerships tend to begin as classes, in which teams of students meet with leaders of the organization to understand their key challenges. Then the student teams go through a cycle of the design process to further understand the status quo from various stakeholders' perspectives, then define key opportunities for change and target audiences to focus on, and finally develop new prototypes of solutions and test them.
After one class, if the partner is open to moving forward, then we move toward either follow-up classes or a more dedicated design team to work on carrying forward the solution from proof of concept to trials to pilot. This involves more dedicated software or service development, in which our Lab's software developer, Metin Eskili, takes a lead role to create a proper new tool. Our team also plans out small-scale user testing of the new innovations that we run at courts, in our university lab, or online, to get litigants' input on the developing versions of the new solution. These tests help us to refine our ideas further. Then, when the new solution is operational, we work with our partners to design pilot runs that we can study, through observational research or through randomized control trials.