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HomeAfrica & Middle EastCatalyzing Contracts: One Visual at a Time

Catalyzing Contracts: One Visual at a Time

There is a legal language that is more universal than text, that can communicate across language and cultural barriers: it is the language of visual images.

Professor Michael D Murray

Olga V. Mack, Vice President, and CEO of Parley Pro at LexisNexis gave a Ted talk in September this year, titled, “The Universal Language of Law”. The talk takes one on a thought-provoking journey, from drawing attention to the statement “Legalese is no one’s first language,” to, drawing parallels to the significance of the emoji face mask as the image that kept us safe during the pandemic. Olga further clarifies it’s not the need for artistic or aesthetic aspects alone, but it’s all about implementing Functional Visuals in Law.

Over the years, Legal Design principles have been making a tremendous stride in redefining Contract Design- seen in diverse endeavours like the One-Page Employment Contract, the making of OneNDA, and the first Legal Design and Visual Law software, UX DOC based in Brazil. This year, the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) identified User-friendly Contracts and Other Legal Documents as one of the Gamechangers in the Seven Most Promising Categories of Justice Innovations for fostering Access to Justice practices. The HiiL Policy brief on User-friendly contracts was published as well in March 2022. The policy brief delves into the potential of contracts visually designed and aims to address concerns around the question: “How might we increase access to justice for people by scaling and improving user-friendly contracts?” Additionally, the policy incorporates, ‘Critical Success Factors’- user experience optimization, the much-needed mindset change, sustainable financial model, are a few factors highlighted.

Legal Academia Perspective

When one tries to understand the scope of Contracts being visually depicted, it will be incomplete without mentioning the intensive research and study conducted on the prospect of visual contracts by academic luminaries out there. A few of the prolific and comprehensive lines of research work worth mentioning include;

  1. Legal Design pioneer and Stanford Legal Design Lab Executive Director, Margaret Hagan explores designing interactive Consumer-Centric Contracts. Recently, Margaret contributes to the ongoing venture on Insurance Contracts, published by the Legal Design Lab on April 2022, which is also part of the Insurance Initiative, in collaboration with Legal Design Lab and CodeX at Stanford.
  2. Professor Michael D Murray enlightens readers with a holistic point of view and deliberation on Visual Law possibilities in “Toward a Universal Visual Language of Law.”
  3. University of Western Australia Professor Dr Camilla Baasch Andersen and the Founder of Alternative Contracting, Peter Corner, closely envisage the potential of Comic Contracts and the need for visuals in their jointly written research publication published in QMUL Transnational Commercial Law Review.
  4. Stanford Professor Jay A. Mitchell analyzes various nuances along with pertinent questions answered as “If visuals are so great, why aren’t they used in Contracts?”, and visually contracting scenarios in the research publication on visual communication and commercial contracts.

In Legal Practice: UX principles & measures

Speaking about User experience (UX) in legal documents is a rare find. But not long ago, information design agency, Hey Plain Jane and legal, compliance, and risk-management consultancy, Novation Consulting, based in South Africa, provided a quintessential take on UX from the legal practice perspective with their joint research paper titled, “‘U’ is for User- Applying UX Principles to Contracts, a pink paper by Hey Plain Jane and Novation Consulting.” The paper elaborates broadly on how each UX principle can be applied in a contract design setting, which is a great learning resource for legal professionals to understand the design link to create efficient visual contracts as well.

There are numerous ways to strategically practice effective Contract Designing processes mainly by focusing on plain language, visual design, and information architecture. One of the strategies by Olga V. Mack, includes metaphorically representing abstract concepts. Contract Design Specialist, Stefania Passera, notably observes, “Language and design are concrete ways to convey your relational intent and make contracts clearer and more usable.” Furthermore, Stephania suggests World Commerce & Contracting’s Contract Design Pattern Library for inspiration to get started in Contract Design.

As rightly evidenced by the 2022 HiiL Policy brief on the significance of visuals in User-friendly contracts, the visual vantage point in revitalizing law is gaining prominence day by day. Raising awareness and providing requisite training around Visual Law possibilities are crucial to address both at the forefront of legal academia and legal practice. The path ahead directs engaging in meaningful conversations with stakeholders and promoting visual advocacy to truly transform the legal sector for the better- beginning with one visual at a time.

Brincy James George
Principal | Legal Designer
Legal Design Desk

Picture by Magda Ehlers

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