Design Guide for Justice Interventions

Over the past 6 years of our Lab, we have been through many design and evaluation cycles of new types of justice innovations. As more people work on creating new tech, designs, and policies to make the justice system more effective + human-centered, we need a Framework. 

If we follow best practices, make intentional choices, and leverage research and evidence — then we can spend our limited resources to create more effective innovations.

In this guide, we present practical advice and resources about how to create, implement and scale access to justice innovations.

Steps to Make an Effective Justice Innovation

How do you build a new product or service that can help people through the legal system? 

Here are 6 areas to focus on, to make sure you are harnessing best practices and likely to succeed.

Step 1: Focus on a Specific Part of the Justice Journey

There are many different kinds of justice innovations, depending on the step in the justice journey that your target user is on.

What phase of the system are you trying to help with?

  • Discovery and Engagement. To help a person find that this system exists to help her resolve her problem, and to build her trust and engagement to participate in it
  • Orientation and Triage. To help the user understand the system that they’re in, explore different paths they could take, and get a sense of what dynamics are at work.
  • Process Navigation. To support the user going through a sequence of steps in order to resolve her issue.
  • Strategy-making. To help the person choose among different options and deploy information to their situation.
  • Following through. To assist the person in completing tasks like filling in forms, attending meetings, and meeting deadlines.

Step 2: Set the Goals & Metrics You’re Aiming to Achieve

What would success look like for your intervention?

Is it about one of the following justice goals?

  • increasing rates of participation, and lowering default rates?
  • increasing procedural justice?
  • lowering administrative burdens?
  • increasing legal capability?
  • improving substantive justice outcomes?
  • improving social and poverty-related outcomes?

Once you know which outcome you are trying to affect, then you can choose which metric and instrument to use, to measure whether you are having the intended effect.

  1. Intended Outcomes & Metrics: 
  2. The Channel or Order of the Intervention: How is this new innovation being delivered — what form does it take? This could be the type of technology, or personal service, or document, or policy or rule.
  3. The Framing of the Content: What messaging techniques are you using to make people engage with this content and to achieve your outcomes? Especially borrowing from established research insights, known psychological or emotional barriers, and best practices from clinical relationships between lawyers and clients.
  4. Visual and Interaction Patterns: How are you laying out the intervention, and allowing people to engage with it? What are the details of how people can interact with this thing? And are you leveraging established patterns that we know are effective techniques?
  5. Evaluation Methods and Instruments: How will you vet and evaluate the intervention, both at early stages when you are still validating and refining it? And at later stages, when you are further downstream?




Design Principles

Core Principles for good legal design





  1. TL;DR: People do not want to read long pieces of text. Not lay people, not legal professionals. Solutions must break up text into usable and manageable sized chunks. And supplement text with visual media, interactive features, and other ways that adjust from the Big-Blocks-of-Text default style
  2. Give me stories, give me anecdotes. Even if I don’t trust Yahoo Answers, I want to read through it and see what real people have experienced in similar challenge areas as I am in.
  3. Boil down to a clear process-based version. Show me steps, show me beginnings & ends, show me the possible pathways between.
  4. We want transparency! Make it clear what steps will be happening, what I can do, what you will be doing
  5. I don’t want to talk to lawyers, I’d rather hack answers and strategies together myself rather than enter into an engagement with a lawyer. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost, I don’t know whether I can trust you versus everyone else, I don’t know how this is going to spin out in the future.
  6. I want to be normal, tell me what other people would do, this is what is average, this is what most people would choose




  • People do not want to read
  • People want visuals
  • People do not want to talk to lawyers
  • They want legal advice
  • They do not want crowded lists of information, they want clean & limited options
  • They want peer-to-peer sense, less hierarchical divide between lawyer and client
  • They want some limited control over what is happening, but also hand-off points
  • They want transparency about the process and the cost








Common Legal Help Patterns 



Innovation Process to use

What are the practical steps to use, to develop justice innovations that are:

  • Human-centered (with people’s needs and situations motivating the system design),
  • Participatory (with many different people’s voices included in decision-making)
  • Experimental (making prototypes of new ideas, and testing them through lab tests, field tests, and randomized controlled trials to see what produces the best outcomes)?

Being intentional with the process you use can help make better innovations that serve the public better.

The design process is motivated by some main strategies, to ensure that the way you’re developing the new intervention is sustainable and effective.

  1. Build Teams and Infrastructure to Spread Innovative Practices & Culture: From for-profit law firms to non-profit courts and legal aid groups, our mission is to develop methods for user-centered innovation in the legal sector. This means bringing design & technology skills to these organizations, and creating new types of cultures and organizations that are more creative, experimental & user-centered.
  2. Hold Exploratory Sessions to Put the Lay Person First: Even if current legal systems were not designed with the layperson as the primary user, our work is. We want to put user-friendly interfaces on top of obscure & intimidating systems.  And we want to change these systems at their core, to make them serve the layperson primarily. We want not only to demystify the legal world for the non-lawyer, but we want to fundamentally empower laypeople to get in charge of their lives.
  3. Involve Open Learning: We want to build a publicly available knowledge base about how to bring about innovation in the legal sector.  This means being open about process, success, and failure — sharing best practices — and creating products that are open-source and usable by others.
  4. Use Agile, Intentional Prototyping: Our design work aims for implementation & real-world impact, but the best path to get there is through rough, early prototyping of ideas that can be tested, edited and scaled.  Quick, short pilots testing out specific propositions will get better feedback, more learning, and a better ultimate outcome than long, cautious development cycles.




Design Process - journey of a design team along the process path






MargaretDesign Guide for Justice Interventions