Legal Design to Enhance the Client Experience of Working with a Lawyer
Details of contributors
Jacinta Gallant, B.A., J.D. and Taylor Smiley, B.A., J.D. of Innovation for Lawyers Inc.
We are collaborative lawyers and mediators practicing as a firm at Waterstone Dispute Resolution and developing innovative resources like Our Family in Two Homes
Location of contributors: Canada (Prince Edward Island)
What was the justice challenge that you were addressing and for whom?
We wanted to improve client engagement with lawyers to support a healthier separation process for families. We decided that client preparation for effective dispute resolution was a vital (and missing) piece of the work.
Separating and divorcing couples face emotional, practical, financial, and legal challenges. The law and its application to their family situation is usually not that complicated and yet, a lawyer’s office remains the primary point of contact for most people. Many couples are unaware of dispute resolution (DR) options that are highly productive and sensitive to the needs of their family. This means many couples end up with a lawyer in the role of “protector” and advocate/warrior in the adversarial “rights-based” legal system, which is destructive to family relationships. Clients are strongly influenced by the lawyer they first consult after separation. The lawyer’s approach strongly shapes the family’s experience of separation and divorce. Innovative approaches to family law have been around for more than 25 years and include interdisciplinary “team” processes that provide emotional, legal and financial support and expertise – but these processes are still not “mainstream”. Today, many (and in some places, most) family lawyers do not work with consensual, client-centred DR approaches, and persist with a “lawyer as expert and advocate” approach to client representation.
What was the issue with previous alternatives?
Clients lack awareness of healthier DR options, or if they are aware of them, often do not choose them.
Many family lawyers who want to deliver DR options have trouble establishing a sustainable “no court” practice even though they strongly believe in healthier DR processes. These lawyers often feel “soul destroying” stress managing an adversarial practice while trying to build a DR practice.
Clients often don’t know how to effectively participate in DR processes, and lack confidence that they can get what they need.
No one had paid attention to “training the clients” – to actively engage clients in self-reflection and learning that enhances their ability to participate in a DR process. We set out to fill this gap.
What was the design process and/or tools that you used?
Client Workbooks: Initially, we created Our Family in Two Homes, a workbook that brings together exercises for self-reflection, self-discovery and communication patterns, with legal information and open “problem-solving” questions to help prime clients for the deeper conversations they needed to have with one another, and with their lawyers (or other divorce professionals). The workbooks are grounded in learning theory from the insight approach to conflict and the content came out of years of experience working in the mediation room with separating couples.
We engaged with a design and marketing team to ensure the workbook was inviting and engaging, with lots of white space and a mix of “check the box” exercises and more open, probing questions. The workbooks start with reflection: “who are you?” and “how do you show up?” in your couple communication and decision-making pattern. Only after the first 13 “opening” pages do we get into legal information or discussion about areas the clients need to problem-solve. The workbooks do far more asking than telling!
Marketing to Clients: We created marketing products that speak to the public about how the workbooks can help, including social media graphics and promotional videos. Examples of websites that include our 90 second promotional video are HERE: and HERE (scroll down). We now see social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Linked-in using the resources from our Marketing Pack. Example HERE
More Workbooks: Over time, we developed two more workbooks: One for couples separating with adult children and one for couples who are planning their future together (for prenups and marriage contract consultations).
Did you face any particular challenges?
We struggled to find our ideal “customer”. Initially, we focused on selling the workbooks to experienced collaborative lawyers who would use them with their clients. Given the extremely positive response we got from working with our own clients in this way, we thought it would be an easy sell – but many lawyers were resistant!
We had to develop training materials and tutorial videos to help lawyers learn how to use the workbooks in a way that engaged the clients’ learning – and let the client do the work outside of the lawyer’s control.
We have since found that our best customer is a lawyer who is highly motivated to change the way they work, and who wants to move out of the “lawyer as expert” role in family law. Then we discovered that other divorce professionals wanted to work this way, so we created a version of each workbook for non-lawyer professionals to use with their clients.
Describe your end product
Our Family in Two Homes – for parents separating with minor children
Our Family in A Few Homes – for couples separating with adult children (and, in fact, we have used this workbook for couples with no children – we might have to create a third one for that group!)
Designing Our Future Together – for couples starting out and who want to consult about prenups or marriage contracts,
Marketing Materials that divorce professionals can use that promote them as innovative professionals using client-friendly preparation tools.
Training in how to use the workbooks in a way that enhances client learning and reflection, and how to work with the workbook themes “in the room” with clients.
What has been the impact of your innovation on the justice challenge? Have you had feedback from your end users?
Clients who use the workbooks consistently say that they feel respected and supported when their lawyers give them the workbooks. Many have said they wished they had the workbook years ago – it might have helped them stay together. Clients have said, “This is a breath of fresh air” and “I can’t wait for your next workbook!” They say they have “learned so much” about themselves and that the workbook “helped make sense of what is going on”.
Clients save money because they are better prepared for each engagement with a paid professional. And when they have questions in between meetings, the workbook acts as a reference and guide because it has lots of helpful information about the law and the questions that should be taken into account.
For lawyers, they consistently say that working this way has changed their work for the better and that they are happier at work. They say they have learned new things about themselves and how they experience their personal and professional lives. Many say this approach has helped them integrate their personal values with their professional work.
Divorce professionals say the workbooks help with interdisciplinary teamwork, like collaborative practice. A common framework and approach makes it easier to efficiently help the family.
As a result, we have built a community of innovative divorce professionals in 35 + legal jurisdictions in 8 countries (so far) who support one another in using the workbooks to help clients – and to help the professionals – participate in healthy approaches to separation. We have just launched a Swizz German version and a Spanish version.
Do you have any future plans for this project?
We continue to expand around the world. We have had such a positive response from clients, we plan to create additional workbooks for other types of disputes where relationships matter.
We are enhancing our marketing approach so that we can help our customers stand out in their communities and attract clients to a healthier DR way of working through separation.
We want to change the way lawyers engage with clients – to help clients help themselves and provide the kind of support families need to make a healthy transition to two homes.
We have had success using the workbook reflection exercises in other areas of practice, and plan to create a workbook for family businesses who need to manage relationships and work (and conflict).
We have created one book that is being sold to the public and are considering doing another one for separating couples. Check out the Going Steady Toolkit!