How To Design a Legal Contract as a Pro? Lawyers Share Uncommon Tips
Can contracts be a part of visual law? Is a legal design contract even necessary for lawyers? What benefits does it provide, and what problems can arise when you use legal design in your business? We have interviewed twelve experienced legal professionals to learn from their firsthand experiences with contract design and are ready to share all the details.
What Is Legal Contract Design?
Curious about what legal contract design means? Simply put, it’s a modern approach to framing legal agreements to make them more relatable and digestible. Here’s what you need to know:
- It incorporates clear language and visual aids to demystify complex legal jargon, making contract content more accessible and understandable.
- It employs a logical layout structure to guide participants efficiently through the contract.
- It goes beyond textual transformation — emphasizing the crucial role of client-attorney communication in shaping the contract. The attorney must reflect their client’s needs and perspectives in the contract’s structure, terms, and clauses.
Looking for a more comprehensive dive into the world of legal contract design? Check out our detailed guide on how this innovative approach can enhance contract comprehension, encourage clear communication, and elevate the overall client experience.
Legal Contract Design Helps You Create Better Contracts
Legal contract design helps craft better contracts in many ways. By automating essential steps in the contract drafting and review process and using simplified language, lawyers can free up their time to focus on other tasks. Those tasks may include the research and client interactions that tell the lawyer what contract the client needs.
With this shift in focus, contracts can become less generic and more customized to the parties’ needs. But what else can be offered by a legal contract design? Let’s share what the experts we interviewed think about it.
Improved user experience
Sometimes, the problem with contracts is that they are often designed with no consumer in mind, so they are not user-friendly, and the language used can lead to miscommunication. Legal contract design combats that issue by “prioritizing the user experience,” according to Andrew Thrasher, a legal design consultant. Making a contract easy to understand will immediately improve client satisfaction. A legal marketing specialist, Isabela Godoy, noted that rapidly understanding a contract makes us feel more confident when signing it.
Another expert, Linnéa Simon, a legal consultant and legal designer, shared that adopting a more “empathetic approach” is the key to mastering legal contract design. So, always put yourself in the client’s shoes and write in a way the client can understand. When clients begin to feel more confident in their knowledge, that will spill over into their trust in their attorney, thus improving business, added Shannon Villalba, a business and intellectual property attorney.
The biggest goal of most new initiatives is to save time. When students go into law school, they probably don’t plan to spend their work hours buried in paperwork and going back and forth with clients over the specific terms of a contract. However, until recent years, this was the normal routine for contract attorneys, but it can now be avoided with the help of legal contract design.
“We all just have 24 hours in a day. Let’s spend that on real things that drive big revenue for organizations,” shared Sarah Ouis, founder of “Law But How?” Legal contract design helps by clarifying everything from the beginning, reducing the need to review contracts with clients repeatedly. According to Tessa Manuello, founder of Legal Creatives, “well-designed contracts speed up negotiations,” so the faster you can get through the document, the quicker you can get back to your other work.
No matter how much some would like to deny it, business is a big part of being a lawyer. If you want to build a successful brand, legal contract design can help. Thus, improving the contracting experience benefits your relationship with your clients and “adds value to the entire brand,” according to Isabela Godoy.
Providing a better contracting experience will allow you to create better relationships with your clients. Your brand can grow and become more trustworthy in the industry with more positive reviews. In fact, it is right, as the founder and legal designer at The Visual Lawyer Dominique Meert said, “Better contracts mean better business.”
Some people may think that contracts are designed for the courtroom, so they use complex legalese. However, contracts are actually meant to minimize the risk of litigation. Many risks can arise from a poorly written contract, but a streamlined legal contract design process can help avoid some of those risks. Sihem Ayadi, founder and CEO of Juridy Legal Design, says, “With fewer ambiguities, you can reduce the risk of misunderstandings.”
Potential Drawbacks of Legal Contract Design
But what about the flaws? As it usually is with new initiatives, they can be difficult to implement. Though the benefits of legal contract design far outweigh the drawbacks for many legal professionals, what follows are some trade-offs to consider.
Need for continuous feedback
“As with any change management project, redesigning your contracts requires a strong, reliable feedback loop with your clients,” shared Andrew Thrasher. Without quality insights, you run the risk of creating a contract template that’s not suited to your client base. Therefore, communicate with your clients before, during, and after their contract is complete. Then, use their feedback to improve your services.
Risk of oversimplification
A big part of the legal contract design is making the documents more accessible for the parties to understand. However, that goal should not oversimplify legal terms to the point where all meaning is lost.
“Think of “legalese” like seasoning in a recipe: Excessive use can make documents incomprehensible while skipping it entirely might weaken legal enforceability,” said Linnéa Simon. Andrew Thrasher and trial attorney Barry P. Goldberg agree that oversimplification might “dilute the weight and legal standing of the contract” and lead to “unintended consequences.” That is the exact opposite of what legal contract design aims to achieve.
Overreliance on visual aids
Another common misconception about legal contract design is that it’s all about “using fancy colors or adding beautiful icons,” Tessa Manuello pointed out. The rule is simple: if visual aids can make the document more functional, you’re designing legal contracts correctly. Conversely, too many or improper visual aids can be distracting and unnecessary.
Moreover, accessibility issues and cultural differences need to be considered. “Some parties may struggle with visual comprehension,” shared Barry P. Goldberg, “[so] the incorporation of visual elements might not be universally effective.” Finally, visuals in legal design contracts may add ambiguity rather than make the subject easier to comprehend. “Pictures might lead to broader interpretations than words alone,” added Linnéa Simon. So it’s fine to use them, but make sure they’re not working against you.
Large initial investment
Switching to legal contract design doesn’t come easy initially. For starters, “lawyers need to either develop a new set of skills or hire someone who has them,” said Isabela Godoy. Either way, it is a time or financial commitment for the firm.
Paradoxically, what will save you resources in the future will require a lot of resources to implement in the present. Tommaso Ricci, a lawyer and legal tech specialist, shared his experience: “The initial investment for creating a well-designed contract can be significant, especially when incorporating high-quality visual elements, which may involve collaboration with external designers. Any investment should always be planned to consider the expected ROI.”
Resistance to change
Most new initiatives are met with resistance to change. Sihem Ayadi said about the implementation of legal contract design that “traditionalists within the legal industry may resist these modern changes, seeing them as frivolous or undermining the gravitas of the profession.” This reaction is understandable and expected. It can be difficult to see the benefits of legal contract design initially, especially when focusing on the drawbacks.
“In the beginning, it may feel like a waste of time and money, as it requires the contract drafting process to take much longer,” shared Isabela Godoy. Showing employees and colleagues how the initiative can save them time and resources will take some time. Sarah Ouis recommends starting small, implementing one template or use case, and reporting back on those before adding more.
Another issue with the design of legal contracts is that the contracts may look too informal. Adel Sheikh, founder of The Art of Law, shared his concern: “People enter into contracts to formalize an agreement, so if the contract looks too informal, they may think it’s non-binding.” At this stage, finding that balance between user-friendliness and professionalism is crucial.
Why & How Can You Rethink the Layout of Legal Contracts?
Sarah Ouis had the best answer when asked why lawyers should rethink the layout of legal contracts. She asks, “Why not?” Here are some reasons for changing the way you approach the design of legal contracts as a lawyer and how to put legal contract design into action.
Create a user-friendly format to promote understanding
What’s the biggest problem with contracts? Tessa Manuello answered, “Nobody really understands them!” Creating a more user-friendly format with the client in mind can be very effective in making your legal design contracts easier to comprehend. Barry P. Goldberg likes to structure his documents, focusing on user experience. That may mean “incorporating headings, bullet points, and concise language to break down complex clauses, and using visual aids to elucidate the sequence of events.”
To get started, Isabela Godoy recommends searching for inspiration in your clients’ field to understand their language regarding legal design contracts. Finding common ground may also mean “focusing the contract on what matters to the parties,” said Sarah Ouis.
Tessa Manuello and Adel Sheikh agree, saying, “Business terms first!” and advising lawyers to “pull the most important terms into a summary page at the front.” Because attorneys are taught to be meticulous and detail-oriented, looking at the contract may feel counterintuitive. However, that will allow you to design “a more transparent and approachable contract,” according to Andrew Thrasher.
When you think you’re done with the contract, Dominique Meert invites you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it speak my client’s language?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Is it well-structured and split into sections to help guide the eye?
- Is it structured according to the reader’s logic?
- Can readers easily find what they need, understand what they read, and use that information?
- Is the layout adapted to the communication channel?
- Are visual elements used meaningfully?
Integrate technology to save time
According to our experts, the contracts lawyers make without legal contract design aren’t as good as ones done keeping in mind legal design.”Once we acknowledge that, we can accept technology’s tools to save time and create better contracts. Using digital tools and platforms for contract management can facilitate more straightforward navigation and updates,” said Sihem Ayadi.
Adopt a modern approach for the modern consumer
Gone are the days of pen and paper! Though many people continue to work the old-fashioned way, we must admit that the modern consumer requires a modern approach to legal contract design.
Sihem Ayadi advises her colleagues to use the digital revolution and “consider incorporating interactive elements like clickable Table of Contents, definitions that appear on hover, or even embedded video explanations for complex terms.” Additionally, Tommaso Ricci recommends using collapsible sections for more straightforward navigation.
If we forget the format our predecessors used, we can create a new legal design contract format that suits today’s audience better. “There is no need to stick to the usual A4 when we don’t even work on hard copies anymore,” said Shreya Vajpei, a legal tech innovator. Instead, consider the format that is more relevant than ever — digital. Also, Tommaso Ricci aims to make contracts “accessible and legible across a range of devices,” such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The modern contract does not have to look anything like the contracts we’re used to. It can be more like “a piece of art,” said Shannon Villalba.
Work with Legal Contract: Expert Tips
The lawyers we consulted shared many useful tips, some less common than others. To make this guide comprehensible and concise, we gathered some of the most useful ones.
When drafting legal design contracts, you won’t get it right on the first try. The best thing you can do is start simple. Consider the needs of your client and the purpose of the contract. Start by outlining some crucial details and elements that your contract should cover.
You don’t need any professional legal tools at this stage. “A whiteboard is your best friend!” said Adel Sheikh. Dominique Meert recommends creating “easy-to-use templates in Word” to get the ball rolling. “Make sure that your redesigned documents can easily integrate with existing contract automation, CRM, or other systems.”
Focus on clarity and functionality
Tommaso Ricci said it best. “Less is more, but clear is king.” In legal design contracts, you want to find the perfect balance between being concise and exhaustive. Mention everything that needs to be included, but don’t repeat yourself or overuse legal jargon. Effectively navigating a 100-page contract with cross-references and pages of tables is nearly impossible. Therefore, keep it simple, using clear and functional language while maintaining professionalism and enforceability.
Andrew Thrasher encourages all legal professionals to ask themselves the following questions when drafting a contract:
- Can my clients easily navigate and execute the document?
- Can my clients understand the contract without deep legal knowledge?
- What parts of this contract are most important to my clients?
Consider your audience
Writing legal documents does not always mean writing for the courtroom. Because contracts are for the parties involved, don’t fall into the trap of overusing legal jargon. The people reading, using, and signing the contract probably rarely speak legalese.
Shreya Vajpei pointed out that attorneys who switch to legal design contracts usually enjoy a “lower turn-around time for the agreement because all stakeholders (sales, clients, lawyers of the clients, etc.) immediately understand what you are trying to communicate.”
Adel Sheikh says the trick is to “treat your contract like a product.” The people using the contract should come first in your considerations, not a judge in a courtroom or your colleagues who are equally skilled in legal jargon. Contracts are just a reflection of people’s relationships, and it’s people who should understand those texts; it’s people who should follow regulations. Therefore, everything should be clear for every party in the contract.
Communication with clients is a big part of legal contract design. “Rather than just presenting contractual clauses, explain how each clause benefits the client,” advises Barry P. Goldberg.
Anticipate your client’s concerns and try to address them before they arise. Explaining the contract’s benefit to the client will give you the role of a true advocate and ally. That, in turn, “fosters transparency, instills confidence, and sets the tone for a collaborative and positive attorney-client relationship.”
To shift the focus to the client, Sarah Ouis invites lawyers to ask themselves the following questions about their clients:
- What do they know? Are they legal-savvy or business-savvy?
- What do they need to know? What matters most to them? What will be the deciding factor?
- What do they want to achieve? Do they want speed, revenue, and certainty?
Give it a logical structure
A person with no legal background will have difficulty going through pages of legalese with no aid. Your job is to structure the content of your legal design contracts to make them easy to navigate. “When your contracts aren’t user-friendly (badly structured, written in legalese), it can lead to miscommunication,” said Dominique Meert. Use the tools you have to make the design of your contract user-friendly.
Adel Sheikh encourages all contract writers to look at their headings — “Are they functional, and do they make sense?” Many people turn to headings for help when navigating contracts, so ensure the phrases used promote and do not hinder understanding.
Another great tool is a summary page “because, let’s be honest, most people aren’t going to read the whole contract once it’s been signed,” added Adel. Adding a summary to the beginning will allow the parties to return to the contract and refresh their memory whenever they see fit. If you’re unsure what to include, Shannon Villalba recommends these classics: “fees, payments, duties, contract length, and when the contract ends or how to get out of it.”
“Legal contracts should never be one-and-done,” Sihem Ayadi pointed out. You will return to your contract and reiterate the terms before it’s ready for signing. Additionally, the parties’ situations and laws and regulations guiding the contract may change as time passes. “Your contract should be designed to allow for ongoing changes and flexibility,” added Andrew Thrasher.
Use graphic elements… sparingly
Graphic elements in legal contract design are an ongoing debate in the legal field. The rule of thumb is “content first, visual design last,” according to Sarah Ouis. Effective design will hardly be helpful without the right content to fill those pages. However, once you’ve got the bread and butter of the document down, visuals can enhance the client’s understanding of the contract.
Tessa Manuello recommends a client-centric approach to legal design contracts. “Incorporating visuals such as colors, icons, or even using bold formatting can serve as visual cues, guiding the reader’s attention to crucial information within a document.” Perhaps they will enjoy color-coded clauses, typefaces, and flowcharts to make the document easier to navigate. “Bubble graphics with explanations can be used to educate your client on provisions they might not understand,” said Shannon Villalba. Graphics, text boxes, bullet points, and bold lettering are all practical tools.
However, be aware of the level of risk associated with graphic elements. “Some jurisdictions are more flexible in their acceptance of graphic elements in contracts, while others may not recognize them,” shared Linnéa Simon.
Adopting legal contract design has endless perks — think enhanced user experience, boosted efficiency, and a leg up in the competition. By morphing complex contracts into easy-to-understand tools, we satisfy clients and restore trust in the legal process. Plus, embracing simplicity and empathy speeds up contract negotiations, freeing up more time for activities that drive productivity. And who can beat the brand edge that comes with an unbeatable contracting experience?
So now comes the question — how can we dip our toes into implementing legal contract design? Here you go:
- Self-revision: Revisit your existing contracts and evaluate their readability and complexity.
- Learn from the best: Seek out well-designed contracts as inspiration.
- Invest in resources: Get legal design tools and resources that can enhance your contract design process.
- Feedback and improvement: Gather client feedback and tweak your contracts to improve understandability and user experience.
As we sail into this new age of legal framework, let’s adopt a client-first approach, highlighting clear communication, logical structures, versatility, and smart use of visuals. Legal contract design isn’t just a passing trend. It’s a forward-thinking game changer that is all set to breathe new life into legal practices, rendering it more efficient, flexible, and user-friendly.
What are the principles of legal design for contracts?
The main principle of legal contract design is implementing a user-centric approach. That can be done by implementing visual aids, clearly structuring information, highlighting key details, and using plain language. Most importantly, the design of legal contracts has to be effective for the reader as well as legally binding.
How can I manage risks when using legal contract design?
Consider the drawbacks of legal contract design mentioned in this guide and try to address them sooner rather than later. Make use of digitalization tools, but don’t forget what you were taught in law school. It’s all about finding balance and looking at the bigger picture.
How can I organize a complex legal contract?
When you’re embarking on a journey of the design of legal contracts, start with the general view and narrow your focus as you go. Utilize the principles of legal contract design and consider your client’s needs. Why do they need a contract? What is the contract meant to achieve? That will be the soul of the document. Add a summary page to the beginning and highlight the most important information. Use visual aids to improve comprehension.