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Creative Design: A challenge for legal project managers

Lawyers are not known for creative design and presentation of their work output.  Recently I had cause to read through an IP licence agreement.  Page after page of block text and cross-references.  It was pretty hard for me to keep track of where I was in the unfolding story of the IP licence assignment and rights and obligations of each party.

Trawling through all that block text – and much of it boiler-plate – I could feel my concentration and energy levels just leaching away.

I am a lawyer by training and I found this exercise pretty tedious.  If this was the effect on me, imagine how a non-lawyer client must feel after having read something similar sent through for review.

In fact, imagine the effect on a client before they start reviewing and they skim ahead and see all those clauses done up in the standard legal style.

A more creative approach

After reading through the IP agreement, quite by chance I came across another.  This one however is presented completely differently.

Cartoonist Bob Sikoryak has faithfully transcribed the wording of Apple’s ITunes standard licence, presented the in the form of a variety well known cartoonists.  You can see a few examples here, and I think you will agree they are stunning.

(All images reproduced here by kind permission of Bob Sikoryak).

Apple ITunes licence in the style of 1950s romance.

Bob’s Apple licence cartoons first appeared on Tumblr.  They have now been coloured and collected together in a book, due out in March.  You can find more information about this here.  I am going to buy a copy and after seeing these excerpts I suspect you will too.

Apple ITunes licence in the style of Peanuts.

To compare and remind yourself (because of course you have read through it all before haven’t you?) you can take a quick look at the Apple IT Tunes standard licence here.

Which version would you prefer to read and which version would you understand better; the format of the standard ITunes licence agreement or the cartoon version?  No prizes for guessing, but I much prefer the cartoon version.

Coming across these cartoons after reading though a licence agreement presented in traditional format got me thinking again about ways in which lawyer communications can be improved and the role that legal project managers can play in this.

Graphical representations of legal knowledge and systems

I started out as a legal expert system developer.  To be precise, it was more legal knowledge engineering than software development.  This was way back, during legal AI v1.0 in the late 1980’s.  Knowledge engineers were taught to use graphical tools to help capture and represent domain expertise residing in the heads of subject matter experts.

One of my early tasks at Masons solicitors (now Pinsent Masons) was to create Gantt charts to help the firm’s construction lawyers communicate better with their clients.  Since then I have used flow charts for process mapping and system design of legal processes and legal workflows.

The point is that, even in my limited experience, using graphical design tools to help develop legal solutions and enhance communication of legal concepts has a solid foundation.

Using graphical tools in law is not new but it has been considered more relevant to back-office technologists rather than those on the front line, driving the client engagement.

There are signs this view is changing.  I believe this change presents opportunities for legal project managers to develop and promote innovative modes of lawyer-client communications.

The Legal Design Lab

The Legal Design Lab at Stanford University, headed by Margaret Hagen, has done some great work regarding legal design.  The Legal Design website is full of ideas, inspiration and practical tools concerning communication design which is defined as:

the use of color, text, composition, and other elements to get a message across to a user.  Visual design and graphic design are subsets of communication design — they focus on how to use visuals to communicate information.

Amongst lots of really thought provoking stuff on this site are some examples of complex design structures: Gantt charts, swim lane diagrams, flowcharts, checklists and more.

All of these will be familiar to project managers, including legal project managers, especially those with a background in IT.

A challenge for legal project managers

Usually, the most obvious immediate benefit of employing legal project managers is that the quality of client communications improves.  Applying the usual range of charts used by project managers can do wonders for staid legal communications.

I’d suggest the latest work and thinking about legal design presents opportunities for legal project managers to go further.

Clearly most legal project managers are not going to be talented cartoonists, although if you are, more power to you.

Apple IP licence in the style of the Simpsons.

As a legal project manager you will almost certainly have a solid understanding of how to use graphics to turn data into meaningful information.

Looking at the Apple licence cartoons and the work of the Stanford Legal Design Lab you should also be inspired.

Time to move on from Gantt charts.  How creative can you (or dare you) be?

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