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.

Our first draft of a Design Space for Digital Civl Justice Innovation is as follows:

  1. Function + User Context: Ensure that you know what problem you are trying to solve, and for what kind of person’s context. We have a a selection of these functions laid out, so that we can speak consistently about them.
  2. Intended Outcomes & Metrics: What are the main and side goals that you want this innovation to achieve? In the access to justice space, we can have a common set of goals — though of course this can be customized for specific domains.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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?




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

Our Design Recommendations include checklists of design principles, description of best practices, mockups of good designs, templates & patterns for you to use, and possible new tools to learn.

Our Process section profiles how we use a combination of user-centered design and agile technology development to generate new concepts, test them, research them, and get them live.

The section on Tech Resources offers an open source tech inventory, of free tools you can use in your access to justice work. 

Design Recommendations

Make sure you know what function you are serving for your user


Some Core Principles for Good Legal Design

Content, visual composition, and tech interactions should be created following user requirements, key principles, and behavioral strategies.

Core Principles for good legal design

User Behaviors and Mental Models

These are common themes that we hear from people when we test new kinds of legal help with them.

  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

User Insights

We have extrapolated these from our design testings, and now have them as general constraints that should guide how we design new innovations.

  • 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

Some Common Patterns we’ve observed

Process to use

Some key principles at the heart of our design approach to justice innovation are being:

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)

Here are some notes on the process we use to carry this out in practice.

How to create good access to justice innovation?

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

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.

Put the Lay Person First: Even if current legal systems were not designed with the lay person 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 lay person primarily. We want not only to demystify the legal world for the non-lawyer, but we want to fundamentally empower lay people to get in charge of their lives.

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.

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.


MargaretDesign Guide for justice interventions