In this week’s podcast, LEGALTECH MATTERS host and Editor-in-Chief for Legal IT Insider Caroline Hill talks with Nicole Bradick, the Founder and CEO of the legal and justice technology design and development agency, Theory and Principle. They discuss recent changes in how law firms and legal tech developers are approaching product development and the importance of UX/UI for product adoption and success. Read transcript
Meet our Host and Guest
Editor-in-Chief Legal IT Insider
Caroline Hill is a former lawyer in the city. She has been a senior reporter at Legal Week, news editor at Legal Business, and took over as editor of the Orange Rag in 2014/15.
Founder/CEO, Theory and Principle
Nicole is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Theory and Principle, a legal and justice technology design and development agency. She was previously the Chief Strategy Officer at CuroLegal, the Founder of Custom Counsel – Freelance Legal Network, and a litigator.
An Insider Look into the Importance of Design in Digital Products
Welcome to LEGALTECH MATTERS, a Litera podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology, and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
Hi everyone and welcome to the latest LEGALTECH MATTERS podcast. I'm joined today by Nicole Bradick who is founder and CEO of Legal and justice product design and development firm Theory and Principle. Hi Nicole.
Hi. How are you today?
Good. Thank you. So, Nicole is a leading industry expert in legal tech product design and development and the driving force behind some of the most ambitious digital products in the legal industry. And as we saw in a recent expletive written talk at Legal Geek, which is one of the things we're here to talk about. She's really not afraid to tell you if your product design is awful. Um, that talk at Legal Geek was one of the most talked about. Um, it was something that I wrote about in my right of the Legal Geek conference because it was one that everyone came up to me and everyone was commenting about it on LinkedIn. So, I really wanted to talk to Nicole but bit more about that. But I think we're gonna um judge just was curious because you, so you started out as an attorney. Um, and then you founded Freelance Legal Network Custom Counsel, but it was your role as chief strategy officer at legal development firm, CuroLegal that led you into product development right? And then before you before you founded Theory and Principle.
Correct Yep that is right.
And then so that was so you found a theory in principle 2018. Before we get on to the Legal Geek. So, what changes have you seen in the last few years in the way that law firms and corporate legal teams approach product development.
Yeah, ah so first let me just say the only reason anybody watched my Legal Geek talk is because I was on right before Joe Wicks so that is the only reason anybody talked about my talk at all. It was just good placement. Um I would also just like to say before I start that I look really good this morning because I thought this was a video thing and not just audio so I want the audience to know that my hair looks really good and I put on make-up so I look really nice right now. So if you guys can just visualize I have really nice skin and I have mascara and I curl up my hair. Um, okay, thank you, thank you.
I can vouch for what you look lovely, and I and I've taken a screenshot although I'm not going to lie the screen sort didn't come out too well. But anyway.
Ah, um, yeah, so when we started this company five years ago at that time I sort of I recognized that the market was ready to support an agency like ours which is you know, very heavily focused on UX/UI.
Okay, so but.
Um, but it was new right? Like at that time we were doing a lot of market education around the importance of design in digital products but a lot of firms were sort of dipping their toes into creating products client-facing products and internal products, but they certainly weren't caring about design and it was really sort of still function over form. Um, and so you know big part of our role and I think even today a big part of our role is around education. That's why we do talk sort of like Legal Geek is to sort of educate the market around the import of design and I think you know I think we have been sort of one of the biggest voices educating the market about this? Um I think over the course of five years and really over the last year that has started to resonate I think with firms and I think um, you know most of them still aren't hiring internal designers which is fine because I don't think most firms can support a full-time designer but they are hiring like us.
They are hiring external designers. They are caring about this and starting to think about it and starting to you know, put some money into the design or at least they're they are coming back or having people go back to existing products and saying. Okay, hey like you know we built this. It kind of looks like crap. Ah can we think about how we can make this better. Can we think about the user experience a little bit more um you know how can we rework this product to make it easier to Use. So I Do think there's sort of a renewed not renewed because it wasn't there before a new focus. On not just the function of the product but the form and I think that's um I think that's fairly new. But I think that's not just law firms I Think that's legal tech generally I think that's also like legal tech products. Ah you know, private you know companies like B2B companies are also doing that too. But that's really competitive like that's because the competition requires it now.
Yeah, it's interesting because law firms. When you talk about client-facing tech products I mean it really hasn't been that long has it I mean I think that law firms to an extent for a long time congratulating themselves on providing tech like client services at all, you know and like and I guess there was and you know I guess that there was sort of you know, certainly looking for quite a lot of publicity about it but has there been in terms of the clients that's receiving those has there been demand from their perspective to improve the UX or not really different.
Well I think everyone as consumers of technology all of our expectations rise. We are so used to tech that is so easy to use in our day-to-day lives and then in work we're. I mean I think especially as lawyers our bar had been pretty freaking low. I used to joke all the time about how easy our job as designers historically was - like we would do the simplest like most basic UX things and we would blow the minds of our clients. And like it was very like laughably low how like the bar. Um, but that bar is rising right? Especially as the legal tech vendors are getting more competition are wising up and doing a better job with design. So as those products are getting easier to use, you know the lawyers, expectations are rising and you know clients they don't have time to kill fussing around learning your product. They do not Um, so if it's not easy to use, you're going to lose them your time is going to have been wasted building this thing. So it really just, like all around I think expectations. Especially if you're serving say you're serving tech companies. You have really no excuse there - like you need a good product that's going to impress them and it's going to be easy to use - I mean ease of use is critical for adoption. It's critical for a lot of things but then also there's the sort of the first impression that comes with you know user interface and you know if you want to appear to be like a modern firm. You need a modern interface. There's just so much that goes along with a good a good UI.
You know I call, and I think I'm sure I’m not the only person but um, and no doubt I'm plagiarizing it but call it the Apple effect so because lawyers you know a long time. Not even that long ago but lawyers were told you know. But this is what it is and the vendor legal tech vendors would say right? Well, we've built this and this is what it is and you will use this and obviously adoption has been really low and then with lawyers having and everybody having I say Apple but obviously you know our own devices of whichever brand you might use. Um the tolerance. As you just said is low isn't it and we're so used to. We've become I think the real people say how much has the industry has evolved and I think that's the main The main thing isn't it. We're all so used to using tech - the younger generation are so used to using tech and the experience is so good. Actually I think that there's now been pressure on everybody. They've gone back and they've gone when it comes to legal tech products. They're just like what water on earth know and they I think that the other risk is that they were then going out in know terms of shadow IT they were then going out and go well actually I'm just going to use something else, but.
Yeah, for sure I mean and you know we've done some pretty amazing projects in recent years where we've done like full redesigns of legacy products that like had ah gazillion users and they never had a designer on staff. Um. Because it just wasn't an imperative It's no fault of the company, it wasn't an imperative. It wasn't a client requirement. Um, but it is very much a requirement now. You just cannot get by. You cannot win deals. You cannot have adoption. You cannot show like strong daily usage of your product without it.
Yeah, so what I'm gonna say before I come on to the Legal Geek. So what would you say are the most common mistakes that you see law firms or corporate legal teams making in terms of product design?
Um, I mean the most common mistake is just not using a designer I mean that's that is the most common path which is you know they will often rely on like a frontend developer or like just not a designer. Um. You know I've got the best frontend developers in the world. But good Lord they cannot design. They I've never met a frontend developer who can design. It's just and no matter how much they tell you they and they cannot um so just not designing is a challenge. Um, and it's hard because, you know, even if your firm can keep developers on staff like full-time and keep them busy. It's very difficult for an organization that is not like a development agency or like ah a tech company to keep a developer. Ah sorry a designer fully busy. It's just it's very difficult so you need to have some relationship with somebody who's a designer.
Um, that's the biggest one. Um, the other thing I would say is having inconsistency across a product suite, so they'll sort of create a bunch of products willy-nilly and not have like a design system across them. Um, like right now we have ah an engagement with a wonderful big law firm. Um, who is has recognized that and they're having us create a design system for them so they can sort of make sure across their product suite and you know because different groups across the firm are making different products but they want to make sure there's uniformity and a uniformity of experience across the different products and, which also again speeds up development time too because all the developers no matter what group they're in are all working from the same playbook so uniformity across product suites is important and that's very rarely happens.
Um not testing with clients but I feel like that's that is a thing I've been saying for a long time so that feels a little stale now but still is the case. Um, and then also you know I mean it's it. It sounds funny coming from somebody who is a has a shop that you know half of our half of our company is a custom development shop. Ah but just building generally is often not the right path. Um, when there's something that can be done off the shelf. So I think that that can often be a mistake when there are suitable off-the shelf solutions that have that have serviceable interfaces, not always giving be the best interface. But if there's something that's close that it will have a decent interface then that's often the best place to go at least to like prototype those this solution to your clients.
Um, so let's come on to Legal Geeks. So, I think you said that the core premise was that historically um that I think we've really touched on this actually that legal communications been ah, ugly boring and serious now tell me that was a reference from Legally Blond.
From the greatest legal film of all time. Yes, Legally Blonde. Yes, this is the scene where Elle Woods tells her father that she is going to law school and he says, I forget, he calls her peanut or something so but peanut ah lawyers are, or law schools are for people who are boring ugly and serious. Um and I think that really like so my talk was really about legal communication like not just about digital products. So about how we communicate legal information and how like historically we've always felt like the things that are about the law are weighty and serious so they need to be boring and ugly and serious and I think ah most recent studies around how people ingest and receive and ingest communications and information show that people tend to trust and ah, information more if it's modern and attractive people tend to there are ways that people can better ingest information and it is not the way in which we normally provide information as um as lawyers like if you send something over in a giant spreadsheet. Or you give them information in walls of text. That's just not the way people learn, people read, people understand information, people ingest information. So, the talk was really about how can we communicate with people like human beings and like on our websites looking ugly and boring is not maybe the best way to communicate trust.
Um, and I will say like a lot of firms recently have tried to go the modern route and have like way over done it in some ways. Um, but there's ways to communicate like trust and seriousness and weightiness of the information without having to be ugly boring and serious. You know we don't need the suits. We don't need you know people seriously shaking hands. We don't need but massive walls of text and we don't need giant spreadsheets in order to communicate Legal information.
It's interesting. You say about going too far because I think from a brand perspective, it’s really important to get it right? isn't it? So you know if your serious heavyweight. In fact, um, you know, no matter what firm you are, you don't want to be going out there with some cartoony like well. Um, maybe you do, but I imagine it's quite hard to work out how to get it right? You know in terms of you want to be. You are serious. The law is serious. They are doing really important work and I guess you know it's like how do you get that balance between being bright and engaging and also being weighty and serious.
Yeah, and I think so I mean so much of this is really about ah the same thing about product right? is like trying to put yourself in your client's position and like what do they want to see from you from you law firm. What do they want to know about you? What do they want to learn about you. What is the impression that you want to give them. What do you want them to walk away from um and you know I think that it's just it's that sort of empathy for the client that is kind of lacking all across. Um.
And I don't know we created this product to solve one of these issues we created this product map engine. Um and the problem that we're solving is like all of these law firms are creating these 50 state surveys for their clients right? So their job like in the US is to keep their clients up to speed on what are the regulatory differences across different states. People do it in Europe. What's what are the regulatory differences across countries, and they send them to their clients in these massive spreadsheets which are extremely difficult like as a from like a pure like brain your ability for your brain to ingest and receive that information spreadsheets are the worst thing.
Like people cannot receive that information so we created a very simple visualization where you upload that spreadsheet into a map people can scan over the map. They can see the high level they can drill in if they need to right? Like that's what providing like decent information and in good modern interface is all about like that's a really micro example. But that's like if we did that times you know a thousand times like all the way that we communicate information like let's give them like the top level and then let them like drill down and get the more important stuff. Um, our clients are going to be in a much better position to like be able to find the information they need really quickly and then be able to drill down.
We just need to think about them and like. What situations they are in when they need that information and um and I think that's sort of the piece that we're always missing is like just thinking about where the client is when they might need that information and where they are when they might need to hire a lawyer what they might be thinking about what they might be looking for and in the firm that they're looking at.
Needing to access it quickly because there's so time poor, We're all time poor on we and you haven't got time to go I hate Excel I'm going to confess to that. No one do you think? um, it might be a no, you might tell me tell me if this is a stupid idea. But now we're all hybrid working and we're not. You know we're not getting together and is there even more need for this like is it even more like I'm thinking with people's websites I suppose and I mean it was always important and um, but is it even more important now that we're sort of quite remote and is this does this become and more of a priority.
I think the way we share communications with our clients is more important now because we're so bombarded all the time think about all the things that ding you during the day like holy shit like you're dinged in so many ways and it's all so much information and like. There are so many things during the day that you just kind of push aside. You're like okay, can't deal with that. Can't deal with that and then you forget about half of them and so if there are things that you need to communicate with your client like you need to think about different easy more streamlined ways of telling them these things that will catch their attention or that may not need to catch their attention but are there for when they need them.
Yeah, yeah, and it makes so much sense. Um, with I know this is a million-dollar question and we've haven't really got enough time to. So do it justice but just for a law firm I think one of the things that that they struggle with is where to start like and actually I think um, gosh you know design thinking is I went to a design thinking conference and it just blew me away and in terms of breaking things down into little tars and etc. which I know you live by? Um, But how do they start like if they're gonna if they're thinking Oh my goodness we really need to revamp you know is there a good place to start or is that very dependent on the firm.
Um, yeah, so but we're actually not like huge design thinker design thinking practitioners. We actually just use like a ah lot more like basic business principles and like basic product market fits scientific. Um, ah.
Like more old school principles than design thinking and so the kind of things that we do honestly is like we'll take like we will recommend that a firm go like if there is a particular like segment of the firm or particular area that they think needs to be addressed. Um, we'll do like an old-fashioned swat exercise.
Strength weakness opportunity threat and then from the swat, then you can start looking at okay what are the what are the opportunities and what are the threats and then from there you can start to create like these um I'm a big fan of 2 by 2 grids right? Like. What are what are the things that we can address that are going to be most impactful and take the least amount of effort and like start with everything in the bottom left hand corner and some might be a technology solution. Some might be a process solution. Some might be ah, another thing solution. But the and then you start ideating on. What are the possible solutions to these various problems. Um, and that's like it's a very old school like business 101 stuff and I don't think you need any particular tricks or fancy. Um, you know idea stuff to do any of that.
Um. And I think that the low-hanging fruit presents itself pretty quickly. Um, if you get a group together and do that that sort of thing and you know I think I think there are also some you know good practices that you know design thinking plucks from which are like. If. You've got a bunch of people in the room I think putting things on note cards and people working silently is a good idea to get out the ideas from people who might not speak up. Um, but um, but I think like that's where that's how you start right? You start by finding that low that low hanging fruit and doing it in methodical way and it presents itself and they may not be technology solutions I'm not the first person to say that you know this this is like this is this is like basic business 101 shit.
Um, yeah. Yeah, okay, um, do you think? um, like you worked with Linklaters on the Linkcubator I can't like the name Linkcubator in 2020 is that not you?
Think I did a talk with them.
Okay, so but so well, that's my bad So or maybe it was who did a talk with but so my point was not necessarily about that to be honest with you. Um, it was about um so they engaged their trainees. Ah yeah, maybe there's a talk sorry that's my bad. But so you talked with them about it. But so they that was the series. Um, they did sort of a series produced by Trainee and they they've been getting my thinking was around they engaged Junior lawyers and I wondered there seems to be so much So many bright minds throughout law firms in terms of the sort of things that they could be doing how much you seeing them really harnessing that how are you seeing them engaging people across the firm you make they are They are people across the firm able to sort of voice their ideas in terms of products that they could bring to market or design or whatever it might be.
Yeah I think some firms are really doing a brilliant job of this. Some firms have set up like really good structures on how to like collect and incentivize um product ideas. Um, but it really needs like a good structure that has a reward system and has like space and time and you know billable credit for it. Um, and like though I always in forever point to Kennedy's as like the firm that is doing things most brilliantly like they have set up like. Really smart award reward system for bringing ideas up through the ranks but that there's definitely others that have created like really strong systems and programs in place for that sort of thing I would say is definitely the exception to the rather than the rule.
Oh interesting. Yeah, it's about giving them. The space isn't It is all very well sort of in theory saying that you know you? but actually if you're just driven by the billable hour. Ah then luck with anything else when it comes to um so this year um you released the virtual law clinic and so you do a lot around the Access to Justice space where I wanted to come on to so um to virtual law clinic for anybody who doesn't know so you make it easier for law firms to manage their pro bono matters so they can assign matters to lawyers. They can monitor case status. They can track progress you were working. Simpson Thatcher was your first client I was just wondering. Um, if we can talk about that so that came out of beta earlier this year right?
Um, yes, yep, we launched that earlier this year.
Yeah, and how's that doing is I mean is that something that um I know this is slightly separate but from you know the legal geek and all the other stuff but I was just wondering how what the uptakes like and whether that's sort of helping firms to manage Pro Bono which obviously there's so many firms that they' On. They've got so many targets etc. I get the feeling that it's. With law firms that they're a little with respect, they're a little bit all over the place sometimes so I just wondered how it was with a using good uptake with that.
Yeah, so yeah, we built that in partnership with Simpson Thatcher and the idea is like not just to help the admins manage pro bono and but also to help the lawyers have the space to come in. And you know so often like the law firm lawyers are collaborating with outside counsel on pro bono matters. But they're also collaborating with like the legal aid organization that brings the matter in and they typically don't know the space that they're working in so they need to review training materials. They need to have those forms at their fingertips. They need to be able to like text the client. We have the ability to text the client directly that we have the ability for them to request documents directly from the client. So as a whole workspace for the lawyers too in order to make pro bono easier so to encourage more lawyers the center for pro bono so it's sort of ah a workspace both for the admins but also for the lawyers. Um, and so the platform is. Has been doing very well we're selling it not only to law firms. But also um, we have law school clinics that have very similar model for student lawyers that that were onboarding um nonprofits who also have similar models of managing. Non-profit lawyers like private lawyers who come in and do that and we're also exploring corporate legal departments who manage pro bono in this way as well. So it's got um, a lot of potential use cases. Obviously we built it with Simson Thatcher with the law from use case in mind. But yeah we see a lot of different. There's a lot of different organizations in the legal space who are in this same space of managing wide ranges of volunteers who are coming in not knowing this the space that in which they're volunteering to help but our trained lawyers. So yeah, that's all part of um.
This the second half of Theory and Principle that we're going to be doing a big announcement about called the Theory and Principle studio which is really like a collaborative um product workspace where we encourage people to come in with their ideas who want to build something but don't necessarily want to own it or don't have a team to build it. Um, and that's sort of where map magic generated out of, and virtual law clinic generated out of and so those are sort of our two anchor products that we've brought to market and so we step being sort of a big part of the company going forward.
So obviously when I first introduced you yeah as you said that so that you're very much about the Access to Justice space is that is that what you're hoping. Are you hoping that more people will come forward and you'll be, you'll be using your skills, sort of help more in the AJ space.
Um, so we've always we've been extremely fortunate. We've always been able to do sort of our work has always kind of been 1 third, 1 third, 1 third. We've done like one third work with nonprofits in the justice space one third work with um, large international law firms and one third work with legal tech companies. That's always kind of been our balance of work and um and I think everyone on our team likes it that way for us. It gives us like a great you know balance of different types of work, and you know our hope is to kind of maintain that one third, one third, one- third balance as we go forward.
So, one thing perhaps as we wrap up. So, what are you not seeing so whether it be corporate legal or law firms or you know in that you work with a lot of different organizations and you've brought a lot of different products to market. Um, what? Ah I'm kind of putting you on the spot here. But. So, what are you not seeing is it is it is it possible to say you know what are you thinking? Goodness me, you know, really, we should be doing more of that.
Um, like in like types of products or like what do you mean.
Well just in terms of that you know you thinking do I suppose I suppose if there was a gap you would fill it.
Well, I mean that's the thing is you know the type of thing that we're looking for in like in our studio model is like we do have a really interesting vantage point right? because like we are very unusual that we so we can work across the market right? Most companies are either focused on like contract space or the justice space or like we kind of work across the market.
So, we get this really interesting vantage point that I think not a lot of companies get um and we get to talk to a lot of different people working across the market. Um, so we're looking and where we encourage people to come talk to us about like you know it. My job would be so much easier if only X product exists. So or um, you know we're looking for these opportunities for these like low-hanging fruit things that um, that solve these like you know these niche problems that we can you know the thing that we are extremely good at is designing building and launching products. We do it better than anybody on the market. We've built more products than anybody in the market so that is our strength and we are extremely good at it.
So, we're looking at people who have these problems that are like these itching things that they want solved and then we can solve it and we can find a business model for it and ship it. Um, so I think is that's our greatest strength and I think we're looking for people with ideas to bring to us that we can then you know execute and have great partnerships.
Okay, well will it I think we'll leave it there. But thank you Nicole and just to reiterate Nicole looking fabulous um
Nicole Bradick. I'm so glad you reiterated that it's very important to know.
And thank you so much for making the effort to look beautiful for my podcast. Um I've appreciated it because I can see you as you're recording even though you’re listening in will not be able to appreciate it. Um, but Nicole fabulous.
Thank you, You're welcome.
It's really lovely chatting to you as always? um and if anybody wants to get involved, I'll put the contact details the code contact details alongside this podcast. But thank you very much I'm well done on your Legal Geek talk and I will chat to you soon.
All right? Thank you so much.
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