Legal Design Summit – Helsinki

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Legal Design took centre stage between 10th and 13th September 2019 in Helsinki, Finland at the LD Summit 2019. It was a magnificent, entirely free event. The equivalent of this, considering its quality and length, would have easily cost in the region of £1,500 per ticket in the UK, I am sure. The human and enthusing atmosphere would have been difficult to match by anybody else than the not-for-profit organisation which is now in charge of the three year old event originally conceived by a small group of Helsinki co-conspirators back in 2016.

Legal Design

This is a term that is not conclusively defined, but at its heart is embedded the concept of customer centricity in all its permutations.

LD is mostly identified as the process of designing a specific legal service by using design thinking methodology. In this sense, it is the application to legal services of a concept originating in product design. This kicks off the customer centred approach of the design process with a period of intense empathising with the end user. Following almost limitless ideation, the eventual production of an initial low-spec prototype of the service is then repeatedly tested on customers, iterated again and again, until it becomes good enough to be polished into a higher spec output.

However, legal design in a “pure” sense is using design to visualise and structure agreements and processes so that the customer/client/end user can recognise, understand and manage them with clarity and ease. Examples can be found on Juro‘s, Aclara‘s or Amurabi‘s websites, for example.


On application, I was lucky enough to secure one of the limited places on the legal design sprint “Brainfactory”. This ran for 3 days before the Summit itself, a one day conference for near 600 participants from 30+ countries. For the factory, eight teams of four diverse participants each came together for an intense 44 hours of continuous, full-on process of developing solutions to one of five challenges set by law firms and public bodies. The experience of the service design process in action, and the amazing people I worked with, accelerated my understanding of problem solving by design thinking methods manyfold. My team consisted of Pieter-Jan Franssen, co-founder of Belgian legal tech consultancy Ethel; Marcus Norling, graphic designer for Swedish law firm Hennes Snellman; and Maarit Hannula, in-house general counsel at Helsinki finance company Taaleri. Merilampi, a top Helsinki corporate law firm for whom we developed a new on-boarding experience, stated that we had “provided immense value to their processes” and is considering the solution at strategic level. Our mentor was Alexandra Sabbe-Ferri, founder of Sagan-Avocats in Paris and pioneer of applied legal design in France.

My Brainfactory Team
My three team mates, representatives from Merilampi Law and our mentor Alexandra Sabbe-Ferri

The Summit

At the design summit itself, the programme of the day was packed, and most of the speakers added further tickling of already busy brains. A vanishing number of presentations did not quite hit the common focus of the summit (strap-line: “Design Thinking will Change the Practice of Law”), such as for example Microsoft’s sales heavy and vanilla contribution. Overwhelmingly, the summit speakers whisked us onto different levels of legal design consciousness and ecstasy, and blissful intellectual (over-) stimulation. This is no overstatement! It was incredible!

Outstanding amongst all these LD Kings and Queens were the following, virtual LD Emperors and Empresses, my top five:

Sebastian Hartmann Global Head of Technology Strategy, KPMG, Franfurt

Sebastian presented on the “Next Generation Management Playbook“. His razor-sharp analysis and clear presentation focussed on the impact on law firms of an ever increasing need for innovation, research and development. Sebastian demonstrated via his cumulative slide stack the effect of this impact on an outdated business model focussed on billable hours and hierarchical pyramid structures, as well as on the sector’s key resource, its workforce. The presentation was a thing of beauty, no kidding! An online scrum of requests for his slides followed which Sebastian answered with kind, authentic engagement with each individual, a credit to him and his organisation. Read more about his analysis in his team’s article, “Next Generation Career Paths in Professional Service Firms“.

Only a few steps into the journey of the all new Law Firm Playbook

Marco Imperiale Lawyer and Innovation Officer at LCA

Marco proceeded to list “10 Reasons why not to do Legal Design“, a surprising choice of subject for the summit! His witty, entertaining and persuasive presentation dealt with each sector barrier to the adoption of LD by law firms. These included: “we don’t have the budget”; “we are a serious law firm”; “our clients would not appreciate it”; “it’s not a priority”; “our competitors are not interested in it”; and “we already have a marketing department”. I would challenge law firms’ Heads of Innovation/Technology sitting through this to come away without immediately wanting to have a go at incorporating some LD into their work streams.

Marco Imperiale - one of the reasons to adopt LD
One of the reasons to adopt LD!

Hallie Jay Pope President, Graphic Advocacy Project

The clever, fast paced and creative Hallie came to us from Brooklyn where she dedicates herself to using visualisation to facilitate access to justice for a variety of disadvantaged sections of her community in the US. Hallie creates comics and other illustrations to explain legal matters such as appeals against school exclusions, how bail bonds work, or how to vote in Texas without photo ID, and she talked to us about “Visualizing Social Justice: How Legal Design Can Build Community Power“. While the benefits are clear within the field of access to justice, it is quite easy to spot synergies even with more sophisticated client environments. A fact already partly underlined by my Brainfactory team mate being employed by a law firm as a graphic designer!

A comic about sentencing in death penalty cases …

Marie Potel-Saville (Founder and CEO, Amurabi)
Elisabeth Talbourdet (Project Manager, Amurabi)

On we moved to an in-depth presentation by Marie and Elisabeth showcasing the power of process analysis and illustrative design in even the most complicated corporate transactions. Their presentation on “Legal Design for Real-Life Compliance: Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Financing of Terrorism and Anti-Corruption” included a visual of the flow of risk in activities within an international group. This was something to behold. Designed to battle lengthy codes of conduct, mindless training exercises and box checking processes, the pair set out their client journey in compliance and left everybody wanting to illustrate and visualise their most tedious practice areas, at once.

Keeping the lawyer’s eye on the money/risk flow.

Matthias Dobbelaere-Welvaert (Chief Creative, Ethel)

The summit was brought to a close with a bang, and tears of laughter, by the unimitable Matthias. Heading the legal design and tech consultancy start up Ethel in Ghent, he is clearly cut out for a second career as stand up comic should it all go pear shape. His “Final Keynote: We Need to Break Out of the Echo Box – So What’s Next?” was a quick fire of sharp observations, presented with a foul mouth and intelligent wit that had everybody doubling over with roars of laughter. His question to his business partner when coming off stage (was that ok?) added to the hilarity of the situation – if ever anybody fretted mistakenly about their performance, it was Matthias – can I please hire you for the next law event in Bristol!!!

What’s next: Legal Ninjas?

The Party

After all this, delegates were invited to a (free again!) after-party at Dottir Law, a fresh technology and start up law firm that is walking the walk in respect of legal design. Co-founder of the summit, owners of legal design agency Dot Legal and “advisers to the coolest tech event in the world – Slush“, their new managing partner Johanna Rantanen welcomed us in their funky offices to NY live jazz, Asian cabbage wraps and Loganberry Vodkas. We carried on into the small Nordic hours, putting legal services delivery to rights.

Dottir Law – walking the walk!

Back at the Ranch

It’s now been a week since I returned from this most amazing event. It confirmed my journey into design thinking and its application to legal services delivery, beyond any doubt! Based on my training and experiences over the last couple of years, including studying design thinking and participating in LegalGeek’s Legal Design conference last year, I have started to speak to firms back home about the potential of LD, and ways of starting to harness it for their practice. Just sharing my insights with teams is often a good start! New found friends from the summit will visit Bristol soon and share their expertise with our professional services sector too, no doubt. After all, collaboration across sectors and countries is key here.

Regarding future lawyers, our universities need to incorporate innovation into their curricula. While Legal Tech education has sprung up in a handful of programmes (particularly in postgraduate courses), the broader design and business skills required for legal innovation capability are not covered widely in undergraduate or postgraduate legal education. This needs to change.

Design Thinking Will Change the Practice of Law – I could not agree more with the summit’s strap-line, actually.

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