Networking out Legal Design Labs from Stanford to the world

How might we scale legal design courses to make the legal system more accessible, effective, and user-friendly at a global scale?

By Margaret Hagan and Jorge Gabriel Jiménez.

Legal Design has become ‘a thing’ over the past years, and it is part of the lawyer’s day job in innovative law firms, non-profits, and government agencies. We at Stanford’s Legal Design Lab have been building a curriculum over the past six years to teach a mixture of service design, agile technology development, policy prototyping, and organizational change to our students.

These type of classes help to change the mindsets of students — opening up new ways of working, solving problems, and building a career. The Lab-based classes mix hands-on, client-facing work of clinics, with the systems thinking and research of policy labs, and the development focus of startup classes.

One of the core missions of the Legal Design Lab is training students and professionals in human-centered legal design. This past year, we thought about how we can scale up our impact in this mission, aside from offering more courses at Stanford. (Side note — we are fairly maxed out here already, offering new courses every year, and every quarter).

Even if our local courses have impact on our wonderful Stanford students and community partners, could we leverage them somehow to have larger impact — on a larger number of the next generation of legal professionals?

The Alumni Opportunity

We saw a huge opportunity with our students, many of whom are LLMs or graduate students who, after graduating from Stanford, leave California for other states or countries. What if, as we trained them in our classes, we could also equip them with the resources and abilities to set up similar classes in other universities and groups?

Last school year in particular, we had a number of stand-out students that were eager to apply their learning of their legal design courses beyond the While they were taking Intro to Legal Design, they asked if it might be possible to replicate the class back in their home countries, where they had already been teaching before coming to Stanford for an LLM.

These students, Santiago Pardo and Manuel Mureddu, had the insight that guided us in an experiment over the past year. They were empowered to use design methods and make a change in their own lives, communities, and (especially) on their legal career. This is how the idea was born.

How might we harness the interest of the former students and make the legal system more meaningful through human-centered design at a regional scale?

Setting up a Global, Parallel Legal Design Class

At the same time as our Lab was talking to interested students about how they might teach legal design, we were also scoping out the next year’s classes. We’ve been teaching various classes on Prototyping Access to Justice, Design for Justice: Eviction and Fines and Fees — and we wanted to think about expanding out beyond just law students and ‘justice issues’.

After conversations with different professors on Stanford campus, including in Sociology and the Med School, we identified the potential for a course on how emerging technologies and human-centered design could be used to help people going through problems with housing, medical care, and debt. As we developed out this new interdisciplinary class, Justice + Poverty Innovation, we thought if we could link this in with the students’ idea.

What if we could teach the same course on legal design and access to justice in partnership with other universities around the world? What if law students in different countries could have a similar experience to a Stanford’s student, with the same essential curriculum structure and teaching resources, but with local partnerships and justice challenges?

The initial idea was inspired by a franchise model: to create something of a ‘franchise course’ where the Lab would be the ‘franchisor’ and could provide the syllabus model, support to teach the class, and the materials to the teaching team in each university (the franchisee) who would do all of the groundwork to establish the course, find local partners, recruit students, and facilitate the course. It wouldn’t be about a financial arrangement, but more of an Open Access model: we provide our structure, insights, and best practices in setting up a legal design lab class, and the other universities can learn from it and adapt it to their local context.

Santiago Pardo (Colombia), Maribel Cruz (Guatemala), and Manuel Mureddu (Mexico) accepted the challenge to teach the course in their respective countries.

The characteristics of the course

The courses taught at the different countries needed to include six components:

  • Content and overarching goals. The main goal is to teach students the design process, and how to use it to solve problems in the legal and justice system. Students would know what human-centered design is, and how to use it to understand how to communicate better, how to create new products and services, and how to reform social systems at the end of the course.
  • Hands-on. The class would be hands-on, and the students would create new proposals, designs, and strategic plans. The students would have to take leadership in scoping out milestones, partnerships, and what they would be developing. The class would provide structure, coaching, resources, and connections to support them.
  • Partner and real-world problem. Each university needed to work with a client or partner that needed to tackle a real-world problem related to justice. The partners included the Constitutional Court in Colombia, NGOs related to justice, and the legal clinic of the university.
  • Interdisciplinary. To inspire creative thinking, the course will bring together students and faculty from different disciplines, and backgrounds. The teaching team should be interdisciplinary, and ideally the class can be cross-listed as well.
  • Intercultural communication. The students and professors from the different courses would have the possibility to communicate and receive detailed and cooperative critique on their design process.
  • Opt-in culture. The students and professors participated in this course because they chose to. It shouldn’t be required.

What happened? The networked class experiment

Finding an anchor university in each country

The first task for each of our class ‘franchisee’s was to find an anchor university that would be willing to host the course in each city. The teaching team had the objective to convince the law school dean of a university to teach a class with the characteristics outlined before. Teaching interdisciplinary courses is not common in Latin America with a tradition of rigid curriculums of Continental Law. After some meetings to explain the course, the Deans decided to join the project. The Universidad de Los Andes (in Colombia), Universidad Francisco Marroquín ( in Guatemala), and Universidad Anáhuac — Querétaro (in México) all accepted to host the course of legal design and access to justice. We were delighted that our students were able to secure such wonderful law schools to offer new classes.

Other schools from the different universities also supported the project in more particular ways. In Colombia and Mexico, the design school recommended specific professors to join the teaching team, to balance out the law school instruction with design expertise. For example, Francisco de Santiago, faculty from the design school in Uniandes was part of the teaching team. In Guatemala, the school of business, and political science encouraged their students to take the class, to ensure more of a healthy student mix.

The interdisciplinary approach of the class

In all three of the new classes, it was the first time that the Law Schools partnered with the other schools like the Design School to develop a course. This partnership benefited from having an interdisciplinary course with students from different backgrounds. In Colombia and Mexico, the course was composed of a mix of Law and Design students, while in Guatemala it was a mix between Law, Business, and Political Science students. It was challenging to find the right schedule that did not conflict with other student’s activities at the different schools. It turns out that listing classes across departments is a significant logistical barrier — -not to be underestimated!

The teaching team in each country also reflected the interdisciplinary approach of the course which allowed the students the opportunity to learn the value of working with a multidisciplinary team. Having a ‘teaching team’ was valuable but also required an extra effort of coordination among them to work together. In most of the countries, it was the first time that they worked or taught together.

Spread the word: a new type of class will be taught at our university

There was a minimum number of students that needed to enroll in each University to be able to open the course. The advertising campaign included posters, e-mails, articles on the university news, on-site presentations, and videos. We reached the goal at all the universities: an approximate of twenty students enrolled in each country.

An inspiring and challenging experience for the teachers

For the teaching teams, it was a new type of course to scope out — so that was a rewarding challenge for them as well. In a regular course, the teaching part depends mainly on the professor. They have a large, consistent control over what will be taught, discussed, and evaluated.

An experiential class requires an additional effort from the teaching team to convince partners and set up contacts between students and key stakeholders for each of the challenges. Also, it is necessary to work on a significant problem to tackle for the students to be interested in the class. This means a lot of logistical work, community partnership work, and customization of the class as the teams develop their particular proposals.

In Guatemala and Mexico, the teaching team had to change the initial partner in the first weeks of the course. The initial plan was that students from Stanford would travel to Colombia during spring break. However, we could not get the funding to make it happen. At the same time, students from Latin America could not come to Stanford since there was a small number of students who were able to afford traveling and to stay one week in California. However, there was the possibility of having different cross-cultural interactions between the students.

Students from Latin America were able to do an early design review to the students from Stanford.

Margaret Hagan traveled to Colombia and taught a class to the Colombian students from Universidad de Los Andes. She also got to do a design review of their work, and connect it back to the Stanford students’ projects.

Vice News from HBO interviewed our students at the for a report about how technology is disrupting law.

Margaret also talked about the basics of Legal Design with the students of Francisco Marroquin University.

And most recently, students from Guatemala could receive feedback from the Latin American teaching team.

What have we learned so far?

It’s been about a year since we first began talking about having a global network of legal design classes. And it’s been four months since the classes began. This is what we have learned:

  1. It is possible to teach a course collaboratively of legal design, especially when we partner with a teaching team with prior knowledge in design principles.
  2. Students (particularly the younger generations) are eager to work in multi-disciplinary teams to tackle real-world problems.
  3. The participants of the class (including the teaching team) can learn from the application of legal design to other contexts and cultures.
  4. Courses listed in different schools at the same university help to change the culture of teaching and push the change for a more interdisciplinary teaching environment. For example, Universidad de Los Andes started his Legal Design Lab as a collaboration of the Law School and the Design School and with the support of Stanford’s Legal Design Lab.
  5. It’s hard to connect students from different classes, different countries, and different languages/time zones. The costs, logistics, and class dynamics all worked against us on this front. We didn’t want to require cross-class check-ins too much — students are already overbooked with their projects, and it’s quite hard to ask them to do reviews or conversations virtually with other teams. In future iterations, we’d need to do some culture-building across schools to get more student-to-student connections!

We’d love to continue this project in the future. Major refinements could be around more cross-cultural activities among students and professors, better on-boarding for new Legal Design Lab affiliates to know how to teach this type of course, finding a common, specific theme each year, and more feedback from the network of professors to co-create a set of legal design activities.

What’s next?

This course is a test run. Universities in Europe and Asia have expressed their interest to join the second cohort of collaborative courses on Legal Design. However, we still need to evaluate at the end of the quarter which the next steps would be. This is an example of how a network of academics can scale the use of legal design at a regional level and design a path toward a more experiential and creative Legal Education. Are you interested in teaching a legal design course? Write to us!

Special thanks to the teaching team of each University for their excellent work!

Mexico (Anáhuac-Querétaro): Manuel Mureddu, Bernando Perera, Lucía Peña, Aline González, Teresita Suárez, and Maria Teresa Camacho.

Guatemala (UFM): Maribel Cruz, Carla Silva, Patricia Forero, and Luis Arturo Palmieri.

Colombia (Uniandes): Santiago Pardo and Santiago De Francisco Vela.

Legal Design and Innovation

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