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Design Thinking Application to Transform Legal Education

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

by Gunjan Saxena

Over the last number of years, legal educators have grappled with a significant challenge: we lack practical education and immersive experiences to explain complex concepts that are essential for understanding the law. Law has traditionally been ill-equipped for practical teaching in classrooms. Teachers have tried to make it interesting with debates, moot courts and mock parliaments, or even case study methodologies. Unfortunately, they could not find enough room for practical placement in the classrooms, and the problem has remained, with law remaining largely unengaging for its readers.

Legal Design promises to humanize the experience of law, using experimentation as the basis for developing various techniques making law relevant to its users. According to a study conducted by Legal Design Arc, 80% of people believe that law is full of jargon and complex to understand. Its text-heavy form and fossilized antique books kept the legal brains frustrated for the longest time until legal design came to the rescue. To this end, firms like Legal Design Arc have introduced Course Transformation as a solution. But before we understand how this works, we need to delve into why such a solution is needed.

Legal Design to the Rescue

The era of Legal Design began in different parts of the world, where creative minds uncovered a range of ways to make law more engaging. Beginning from artistic scribbles on notebooks for memorizing cases, swiftly moving towards designing software which can help in navigating through the contractual legal jargon, Legal Design has paved the way to ease the workload for lawyers.

In the past few years, Legal Design has brought back legal services into the modern context by connecting the modern person's needs with the offerings of the industry. In her definition, Margaret Hagan defines legal design to include a number of tools such as games and illustrations. These new tools, however, underscore the importance of improving legal education as well. To be able to practice law in this modern way requires it to be taught in the same format. Unless the academicians explore the tenets of legal design in the classroom, future lawyers would not be able to appreciate the opportunity for legal design and technology to improve both the profession and its accessibility in society.

The challenges of our legal education system

Legal Education seems to have witnessed a blaze too. Recently, many outspoken people have remarked that in the future educational institutions as we know them today would become redundant. Educationalist Erica McWilliam has mentioned a shift from the teacher as the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” to the “meddler in the middle” for the educators of the future. This makes one imagine how the education system can change after a complete automation to technology, with empty classrooms and virtual monologue lectures, no campus meetings or physical activities. This might be an exaggeration, but, what if something akin to this becomes a reality? Then the following challenges are foreseeable.

Possibility of Monologue Information Delivery

One challenge is, what if remote learning becomes the backbone of education? What if minds will mostly be fed with information? What if the information is one-sided and one is not left with the bandwidth to synthesise? These perspectives are terrifying. A formalised usage of technological innovation here can help

Technologically challenged academic infrastructure

Another challenge is that academicians in the field of law are often not tech-equipped, nor is the infrastructure that we utilize to teach law. This poses a threat to objectivity in legal teaching. While placing equitable relevance to the breath-taking campuses we have built it is also important to equip them with what is considered as important infrastructure in the modern times. We need to build technology driven campuses and institutions, where innovation and research is geared towards achieving excellence. This dream cannot be realized without technology becoming one of the inner circles in our well-equipped campuses.

Complexity of legal language

A third challenge is that the language of the law is complex and wordy, creating difficulties in the general public accessing it. Some may ask how we can make it easy. This can be illustrated with an example. Let us consider computers, mobiles and the internet. There is a peculiar language that the internet and software use, the visual language of icons, ideograms or pictograms. These have made our life much simpler than one could possibly imagine. The idea of using ideograms to describe something like a folder or a gallery makes things more comprehendible. It makes it easier for the user to explore and navigate through a new software. This language of ideograms has made the internet accessible in principle to everyone. It helps to minimize cultural, linguistic or social compartmentalization. This is an exceptional achievement in technology. Legal Design aims to bring this kind of utility to law. It is fair to imagine a number of ways in which one can develop tools and techniques which help in building this kind of accessibility using illustrations, infographics, videos or animations. The list is endless.

The challenge posed by the OPEN SOURCE, OPEN CONTENT movement

We need to start with legal education and understand how our universities, which are threatened by the incoming of the “open source”, “open content” movement, can automate themselves to maintain their identities as valuable centres of knowledge. There is an urgent need for automation in teaching, learning, assessments, activities and discourses. This can be done through effective usage of technology. Our classrooms need to not only reference antique books but also provide uninterrupted access while teaching. The PPT centred one-sentence learning would need to be replaced by interactive and immersive explanations through visual, auditory and psychological immersion. This is the area where legal design steps foot to design courses, and transform traditional teaching materials and methods to more technologically synchronized and efficient learning methodologies. As academicians our approach to inculcate the skills of understanding and problem solving in students remain the foremost objective. This can be well structured through the use of tools like illustrations, stories, videos, animations.

Learner friendly teaching methods

Our lecturers also need to be equipped with all the relevant material in a format that appeals to their tech-enthusiastic audience. We need to impress upon them the fact that classroom lectures cannot be converted into remote classes for post-pandemic world education. The problem here is not that the pandemic has brought us to our screens but the fact that we had brought the screens into our lives long before the pandemic began. As our children grow they improvise and understand things better from their screens. They understand better when their visual and auditory senses are equally engaged. This change is bound to force the evolution of the way in which the mind processes information. For example, a student who is exposed to technology from a nascent age will want to access more information in less time as compared to those who used books or physical libraries to search for reading material. Such a change requires our education systems to evolve and adapt too.

Course Transformation to bring together Legal Education-Design & Technology

The main problem that faces this kind of propelled transition to accommodate and resolve these challenges is the fact that the skillset of our academicians is not technology synchronized. Most academicians find themselves struggling with creating such content for the classes. Ventures like Aclara and Legal Design Arc have come to their rescue by providing Course Transformation services for an effective transition of courses to technology. The Course Transformation techniques use legal design tools for Content Transformation to build material that is comprehensive yet immersive and technology-friendly. Alongside Content Transformation, it is important to develop an effective process of course delivery as well. This includes planning of lectures and assessments. The fact that traditional course process includes classic assessment methods like MCQs, short and long answer questioning, essay writing and presentations, which seem to have become irrelevant to remote classrooms in full, as students are well equipped to access all the information online. The material and information available online is accurate and publically available, making such assessment methods a grand failure. Therefore, a detailed research and analysis has been done by Legal Design Arc to develop novel processes for remote learning which entail more effective assessment and coordinated course outcomes from students. This is known as the Process Transformation technique developed using legal design, offered by Legal Design Arc.

Such work of fine-tuning the education system to the needs of the new age reaffirms the importance of legal design and how it can help in building a dedicated technology synchronized education system, one which resists irrelevancy and chooses to evolves to meet the needs of its learners.

Gunjan Saxena is a legal designer and ‘Design Thinking’ enthusiast. She works as an Assistant Professor at the School of Law, UPES Dehradun and is the Co-Founder of the International Journal of Law and Jurisprudence and Legal Design Arc. Gunjan holds a Masters of Law in International Business Law from Queen Mary University of London.


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