I have gone back to school – in December 2018 I joined the Legal Creatives Academy, an on-line legal design school run by Tessa Manuello.

Her multi-faceted approach to legal creativity is not based on innovation for the sake of it. It is not designed primarily to save the time of fee-earners to make a law firm more efficient. It is not based on tools first, needs second.

It looks at adapting services to user needs, not vice versa.

Design to Meet User Needs

Legal design is central to my focus on simple effective contracts. I have been collaborating with an information designer to design my 500-word contracts – initially as a training tool and then to accompany my books. We have recently worked together on a project to redesign the Federation of Master Builder’s suite of contracts.

40% of FMB members said that they didn’t currently use contracts, even though they had received the Crystal Mark for clarity from the Plain English Campaign. When I reviewed the 17-page consumer contract, I spotted nearly 100 separate items that the builder needed to hand-write into the document before the contract was complete.

The challenge from my perspective was that:

master builders needs simple digital contracts because paper wet-based contracts are a burden and a bore

Members asked for contracts that were:

  • simpler and easier to understand
  • in an editable (not paper-based) format
  • more concise.

You can read more about user needs in this article from the FMB Master Builder Magazine Dec 2018.

As part of that exercise, we deleted jargon (even if builders understand it, many clients don’t), restructured the content to flow logically, included guidance notes next to relevant clauses, and added a timeline (see image) to help clients understand how the initial date for completing their project might vary due to events, decisions and changes once the project has started. We knew that changes to the completion date – which may be fixed in a client’s head or marked on their calendar – can be a huge cause of friction.

Although the contracts are a resource available only to members of the FMB, they need to be understood by the clients. Some of those clients are home-owners who have never done a construction project before.  They may not understand the process, they may want more certainty than is realistically possible, and they want to feel in control of the outcome. The changes we made were designed to meet the needs of both the master builders and their clients.

You can read more about our response in this article from the FMB Master Builder Magazine Dec 2018.

What should you do?

Take a good look at your own contracts. Ask your staff, clients, suppliers and friends to tell you whether those contracts meet their needs and understanding. Don’t make assumptions.


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