Knowledge management is all about capturing, distributing and using legal knowledge. For a long time, this was strictly limited to providing lawyers with tangible resources that would help them produce their work, such as textbooks, law journals and legal encyclopedias. Over the last few years, however, knowledge management has had to evolve to suit the digital environment in which lawyers now work. Legal departments quickly realised that this was not as simple as uploading all files to a centralised database. The user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) of knowledge management tools are also important. 

This article will:

  • define the concepts of UI and UX; and 
  • explain why, until now, these concepts were relatively foreign in a lawyer’s world. 

UI, UX: What Do They Mean?

In short, UX makes a product useful and UI makes it beautiful. 

UX is essential because it demands anyone who is developing a product to keep in mind the user and their needs. It involves:

  • an in-depth analysis of the current process;
  • the development of a minimum viable product (i.e. a product with just enough features to satisfy users, designed to generate feedback); and 
  • testing. 

Once the testing is complete, UI takes over to make the product aesthetically pleasing. This could include anything from choosing a colour scheme to fonts, font size or even lighting. These are not based on the designer’s preferences, however. Rather, they are specifically chosen to fit the purpose for which the product has been developed.

For example, you may wish to create an enterprise search (i.e. an extensive search system that allows you to track digital information of all kinds within your organisation). When thinking about the UX of the system, the designers and developers involved would need to consider: 

  • what the lawyers will be looking for;
  • what words they usually use when saving draft contracts and other files;
  • how and where they like to store their legal documents;
  • how they will want to retrieve their legal documents; and
  • whether they should be able to save their search.

When thinking about the UI of the system, the designers and developers involved would need to consider: 

  • which colour best suits the search button to ensure that lawyers do not miss it;
  • how they can ensure that lawyers still see any filters they have applied when they scroll down the page; and
  • which symbol should appear if a search returns no result.

A Lawyer’s World

Lawyers spend a lot of time explaining. They often need to explain the law, who is right and why they are. Generally, lawyers are very good at this. This means, however, that lawyers have never had to consider the user experience of people reading their documents. They can simply ‘walk them through it’ over the phone or in a meeting. 

The key feature of UI and UX is the core principle that products should be user-centred, or put simply, human-centred. Traditionally, law was not user or human-centred. Instead, legal experts have kept the knowledge to themselves.

Nothing without UI/UX

In the context of knowledge management, it is important to understand that there are two types of users. These are: 

  • lawyers (people who do the legal research and use precedents to draft contracts); and
  • clients (people who receive legal advice, negotiate and implement contracts). 

Today, lawyers use many products with highly developed UI and UX. Why should lawyers be satisfied with inadequate search engines or ugly precedents when their fridge can order milk before the bottle is empty?

Similarly, people who receive a piece of legal work are no longer satisfied with a 50-page document written in legal jargon. Many clients want legal services to be more accessible, leading to the rise of companies that specialise in providing legal assistance and free online template contracts online.

Key Takeaways

Traditionally, knowledge management has been focused on tangible resources, the user experience of which was not the focus. In recent years, however, knowledge management has had to evolve and create new digital tools, such as UI and UX.

UX focuses on the experience of the user and ensures that the product fits their specific needs.

UI focuses on the aesthetic of the product so that its look and feel aligns with its requirements.

Both users of knowledge management, lawyers (creating legal content) and business stakeholders (receiving legal content), are demanding a more user-centred practice of the law. This demand provides an opportunity for knowledge management to leverage and incorporate the fundamentals of UI and UX.

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Melanie Gilbert
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