Benchmark Standards for Justice Innovations

When planning out a new justice project, or evaluating how a current pilot or program is operating, Benchmark standards can help your team evaluate.

Benchmarks establish expert criteria, distilled from past projects and research. The benchmark principles, checklists, and criteria can be used to review what you are creating. Judge your initiative against these expert best practices, and identify how your project stacks up.

Legal Document & Notices Benchmarks

For those working on legal communications, like court summons, notices, help sheets, and letters from justice organizations, there are benchmark criteria from the Simplification Centre to use.

The Simplification Centre is a UK group that works on simplifying government documents. Its 16 Benchmark Principles go over how to evaluate your FAQ, info sheet, government document, letter, form, or notice.

The Simplification Centre’s Benchmarking Tool

The Simplification Centre uses criteria around the following 4 categories and 16 indicators. You can use their 35-page document to follow exactly how to do this benchmark review.

  • Language Criteria: how easy is it for people to understand the words?
    • Directness, to make clear who’s doing what
    • Plain words, so the vocabulary is easy to understand
    • Grammar and punctuation, so it’s good standard English
    • Readability, so people can follow along
  • Design Criteria: the visual layout enhances usability
    • Legible fonts and text layout
    • Graphic layouts, with tables, bullet lists, graphs, charts, diagrams
    • Structure, so the organization fits the function
    • Impression, that it’s attractive and approachable
  • Relationship Criteria: the document build a relationship with the user
    • It’s clear who is communicating
    • There is a contact point, and way to contact
    • Audience fit, with the knowledge and skills of the users
    • Tone, that matches the context
  • Content Criteria: the document delivers content to fulfill the purpose
    • It’s relevant to the user
    • The subject is clear
    • Action steps required of the user are clearly laid out
    • It’s aligned with the organization’s aims and values
See more details on the Behavioral Insights Team’s experiments/goals at

Behavioural Insight’s Benchmark on Terms and Conditions

The UK Behavioural Insights team released a best practice guide on how to communicate complex legal terms and conditions to the public. This was meant particularly for privacy policies & online terms and conditions. But their benchmarking principles can be carried over to other legal communications.

The BI team lay out what techniques are effective in getting people to understand complex terms and conditions – -and which ones do not have any support in the evidence. This list of green, yellow, and orange techniques can help your team decide which strategies to use to improve comprehension.

Court Forms Benchmarks

Overall Form Benchmark Metrics

What makes a successful form? Legal Design Lab has established metrics for the overall performance of a court form. This is not only about the user-friendly design of the form itself (see below for benchmark principles on form design). This is about the overall performance of the form, in its role in a person’s justice journey and the court’s administration of justice.

1. Metrics around “Pre-Form” Uptake

  • Discoverability and reach of the form. How many people who are likely to need this form are actually finding it?
  • Usage rates of the form. Of those who find the form, how many actually engage with it – -and try to fill it in or file it?

2. Metrics around the “Form Itself”

  • Usability of the form as a way to enter in the necessary information. How many people actually complete the form? How many do it in the correct, intended way?
  • Readability of the form questions. How easy is it for a person to understand what the form is asking for?
  • Clarity of what the form is asking for. How clear and direct is it for a person to know what to put into the form field? How hard is it to get the information that is being requested?
  • Cost of filling in the form. How expensive or burdensome is it to fill in the form and supply all the required things necessary to complete it? Do you need to hire someone or go through a service-seeking journey to be able to fill it in?
  • Time to fill in the form. How long does it take to fill in?
  • Substantive Justice of the form. Does it help them raise defenses and counterclaims that will help them get a better disposition/settlement? Does it help them present their story and evidence to the judge in a way that leads to a better disposition/settlement? 
  • Procedural Justice of the form. Does the person then feel the justice system is transparent, fair, and open to them? Or does the form experience make them feel the opposite?

3. Metrics around “Post-Form” Process & Decisions

  • Filing rates. How many of the completed forms are filed with the court?
  • The acceptance rate of the form’s output. Of the filed forms, how many are accepted by the clerk and entered into the record?
  • Judicial usability of the form entries. When the judge and clerk are reviewing the case file, triaging it to the correct process, and making decisions about outcomes — is the information in the form usable and useful to them?
  • Substantive Justice outcomes. Do people who use the form better represent their case, claims, and evidence? Do they get the judicial time to spend more time on their case and take care in applying the law correctly? Do they raise more claims and defenses persuasively? Do they end up with judgments more often in their favor?

Form Experience Design Benchmark Principles

For the second stage of Form benchmark metrics, around the “form itself”, the following set of design benchmarks can help improve the usability and lower the burdens of using a form. It can also increase uptake of the form in the first stage.

Margaret Hagan (of the Stanford Legal Design Lab) presented a design guide to court forms (especially in their paper, PDF version), with benchmark principles for these legal documents in particular.

These benchmark principles include:

  • Have a clear navigation scheme & glance-able structure. Can a person ‘get’ the key zones of info & tasks within a 1-minute glance-over?
  • Be calm & readable. Don’t overcrowd with info and tasks. Does it make the person feel more capable or less? Does it have distinct zones of work?
  • Support stressed-out users. Does it have off-ramps to info, examples, & assistance — especially near the hardest tasks?
  • Be easy to fill in. Have consistent, ample space to fill info in. Make it clear through spacing, boxes, lines about what is ‘right’ and ‘normal’ to put in.
  • Don’t prioritize ‘insider’ tasks & info over the user’s. Are user tasks in high-priority places? Are insider tasks put in discrete, low-importance places?

Legal Technology & Design Benchmarks

A2J Tech Benchmark

The Washington State Courts established Access to Justice Technology Principles in 2004 and updated them in 2020. These principles can be benchmark standards, to measure a new justice software, app, data initiative, chatbot, or other technology project.

These Benchmark principles include:

  1. Equitable access
  2. Openness, privacy and safety
  3. Accountability and fairness
  4. Maximizing public awareness and use
  5. Usability
  6. Accessibility
  7. Plain Language
  8. Cultural Responsiveness
  9. Enhancing Human Interaction
  10. Language Access

Our Lab group, through its series of workshops, interviews, and tests, has established some key principles about what makes for a good legal service design. See more in recent papers, like A Human-Centered Design Approach to A2J and A Design Space for Legal Capability. This applies to in-person, paper, or technology-based services.

  • Desire to be Smart and Strategic: People want to get the legal problem ‘done right’ and resolve in as much of their favor as possible. They want to protect their money, family, house, employment, and security. But this is threatened by the legal system — which feels obtuse and impenetrable. Does your service make a person feel more empowered with knowledge and strategic about what to do?
  • Avoidance of Text: Even if people want to be strategic, that does not mean that they want to engage in lengthy reading sessions of complicated passages of text. They want to be smart, but they don’t want to do this through reading memos, legislation, or even long guidebooks. Does your design accommodate this reluctance to engage with dense text?
  • Avoidance of Too Much Content: They do not want crowded lists of information, they want clean & limited options. Does your design clarify the main menu of options that a person might have in a given scenario? Does it lay out the steps to take? Ideally, a design can be ‘simple’ on the user front-end, through a ‘smart at the back-end’ strategy.
  • Desire for Visuals: People want visuals. Does your design use illustrations, icons, photographs, maps, and diagrams?
  • Concern about engagement with experts: People do not want to talk fully about their problems to lawyers who might be ‘expensive’ or ‘intimidating’. This might be because of a worry about ‘is this really free’? It also might be a dynamic around hierarchy and talking about intimate life details. Does your service design give people preparation or support for people to make use of lawyers — or have other more approachable service-providers?
  • Desire for peer engagement: Many people want a peer-to-peer interaction. This might not be for the expert advice (when they might prefer to speak to a lawyer in a hierarchical relationship). But they do want to talk to other people, who have been in similar situations, and who can help them with ‘what is normal’ and ‘what happened before’ in other similar stories.
  • Desire for customization, specificity: People want specific legal advice, that is custom to their specific scenario. Does your service ensure that the person feels they are getting ‘specific’ help, while still following ethical rules about what is permissible? Does your service give specific step-by-step pathways?
  • Desire for mix of DIY and handoffs. Many people wanted to have a mixture of self-service and expert-service. They want some limited control over what is happening and to feel they were contributing to the progress of their case, but also hand-off points when others could take care of it. Does your design have a process-based approach, that lays out what the steps are — and which stakeholder is responsible for which step?
  • Desire for transparency: They want transparency about the process and the cost about what is going to happen. This is a foreign world, and they feel insecure about how burdensome or expensive it is going to be. They also want transparency over the steps & timeline. They want a Bird’s Eye View of what this legal process will be.
  • Need for different modes for different user types. Any legal service design needs to have different features, ‘skins’, and other modes that can accommodate different kinds of users, with different accessibility issues or information preferences.