Zooming-in on legal advice

Damian Curran
Dec 24, 2019 · 3 min read

In this post I envisage how legal advice could be presented using an interface which literally allows the user to zoom in and out. Detailed advice is provided when zoomed-in, and zooming-out reveals the bigger picture. I suggest the zoom interface may be a more intuitive way for a user to navigate legal advice than traditional solutions, such as using memos with executive summaries and detailed appendices, or hyperlinking.

Day to day legal practice is often about small details — the wording of a contract, a particular legislative sub-section or a detailed chronology. Small details can have big consequences and need to be given due attention. But a lawyer’s relentless focus on detail may prompt a client to ask the lawyer to “zoom out”.

“Zooming out”, or “Taking a step back” are metaphors for setting aside the detail and looking instead at the big picture. The sentiment may reflect a bundle of other questions, such as How does this relate to that other thing we talked about?, When will this all end?, How much will this all cost? or, Why are we doing this again? Conversely, “Zooming In” is all about re-focusing back on those details.

But, with modern UI technology, and a generation adept at mapping software and pinch-zoom, perhaps “zoom out” and “zoom in” need not be metaphors? Perhaps we can develop tools which literally allow the end users of legal services to zoom into the detail, and out to the bigger picture, at their leisure.

To explore the idea, I have made an example of what such an interface might look like, which can be accessed here. I have used Prezi, the online presentation software. Prezi differentiated itself from platforms such as Powerpoint with its ability for zoom in and out, rather than simply through, different slides. (Note that Prezi appears to work best on a desktop running Chrome. Zoom in and out can be used with the mouse fly wheel. Note also that the zoom function may not be available on mobile.)

In my hypothetical example, the user is presented with advice on how to resolve a fencing dispute with their neighbour. It begins ‘zoomed out’, showing the whole journey from initial discussions through to building the fence. The user can the click into each step to reveal more granular information. For example, if they end up having to go to court, they can zoom into that slide to see details about the court location, how to dress, what to expect and what they need to bring. At any time, they can zoom back out to see the bigger picture.

Using a zoom interface, a user can slide between the big picture and the details at their leisure

The zoom interface appears to solve a number of problems with information selection and presentation. The tension has always been between giving too much and too little information. On the one hand, if all of the information is immediately visible to the user, they may find it overwhelming, difficult to navigate and mostly irrelevant. But if the information is left out altogether, the user would be deprived of advice that may otherwise be helpful. The zoom interface goes some way to solving this dilemma, in that it has capacity for lots of detail, but that detail is only revealed when the user wants to see it. When they do, a spatial relationship between that information and its broader context is maintained. I suggest that may be a more intuitive way for a user to navigate legal advice than traditional solutions, such as using memos with executive summaries and detailed appendices, or hyperlinking. There also appears to be a demand in consumer legal services for ‘a birds eye view’ of the legal terrain akin to this, as identified by Margaret Hagan (see point 4, here.)

Prezi is only one platform and used above to illustrate a broader point. Although it will not be the right solution for many legal products, I can envisage a similar ‘zoom in — zoom out’ interface being embedded in consumer facing websites and apps, in certain corporate advice and integrated into online forms.

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