My Legal Design journey: Heidi Merikalla-Teir on driving customer-centric innovation in arbitration

Heidi Merikalla-Teir, Director at the Finland Chamber of Commerce and Secretary General of The Finland Arbitration Institute shares her insights on implementing legal design in one of the most traditional legal sectors — dispute resolution.

The FAI Process Map. Experience it for yourself on the FAI website.

Dottir Attorneys’ Antti Innanen started one of his LinkedIn posts with the following words: “Arbitration ❤ Legal Design.”

Love is a strong word to use, especially in connection with legal services; however, it somehow resonates quite well with legal design, which is trying to change mindsets and approach legal problem solving holistically — an undertaking that I personally find very intriguing.

In arbitration — and, of course, in legal business in general — we talk a lot about better serving our customers — the users of our services — and improving our services from the users’ perspective. However, we need deeds, not just speeches.

Having worked in arbitration and dispute resolution for many years — first in legal private practice and now at the Finland Arbitration Institute (the “FAI”) — I am inclined to argue that not much has changed under the sun since I started my career after graduation.

In what is becoming the new normal, we increasingly see lengthy legal briefs with extensive footnotes and annexes, and hardly any data visualization; at the same time, an increased use of procedural tactics adds to the ever-growing complexity of the cases. While this may be understandable in complex cases with a high monetary value at stake, not every dispute justifies the use of such resources.

Therefore, I sometimes ask myself: Are the current practices really benefitting the users? Or are we victims of our old habits? Yes, probably — an answer that also applies to arbitral institutions.
This is why we at the FAI became enthusiastic about legal design in the first place: the possibilities it could offer to improve and reshape our services by combining legal knowledge, innovation and design to better meet the arbitration users’ needs.

The FAI Legal Design Project — The Challenge

The FAI administers the settlement of disputes in domestic and international arbitrations and mediations under the FAI Arbitration Rules, FAI Expedited Arbitration Rules and FAI Mediation Rules (the “FAI Rules”). Instead of resolving disputes itself, the FAI provides a framework for the resolution of disputes outside state courts, including the appointment of arbitrators and mediators who, respectively, resolve disputes with a final decision or facilitate the resolution of disputes.

Like many rules of arbitration, the FAI Arbitration Rules are detailed — with many paragraphs and annexes — explaining the various stages of an arbitral process with all finesses that you can find in today’s modern international arbitration rules, practices and standards. However, based on the inquiries received from our customers — users and potential users of our services — , it appears that these rules and processes are not clear for the end-users perspective. These include business people, in-house counsel or anyone who is not that familiar with arbitration or dispute resolution.

Therefore, we embarked in a legal design project, together with Dottir Attorneys (parent of Dot. Legal Design) and design agency Hellon, to design a solution for the challenge of reaching our customers with information that is easy to understand.

The FAI Legal Design Project — The Process

The roadmap of our legal design process was roughly the following:

After some internal preparations at the FAI Secretariat, we had a kick-off workshop with Dottir and Hellon to define a common goal for the whole project. The general goal was to improve the usability and transparency of the FAI services particularly from the users’ point of view. From the outset, we agreed that the end-result of the project — regardless of its form — should be engaging, functional, pragmatic and help potential users to easily understand the arbitration process.

Later in the process, we had an interactive legal design workshop to which we invited some potential users of the FAI’s services in order to capture their needs and preferences. During the workshop, we identified different types of stakeholders whose needs and preferences should be kept in mind when designing and developing the end-product: our services’ end-users — including in-house counsel and business people — and counsel representing clients in potential arbitration proceedings.

Participants engaging in the interactive user workshop

Dottir and Hellon analysed the information and prepared a first prototype to be tested at a user validation workshop to collect feedback from the users. The workshop was a great learning experience with useful takeaways for all participants.

One of my key takeaways was: “Don’t let the lawyer in you take the power”.

It is fair to say that we at the FAI Secretariat live in an institutional bubble, as the arbitration process and the rules are part of our daily lives. Therefore, it was not easy to accept generalizations and non-legal wording in the prototype. However, as the goal of our exercise was to look at our services from the users’ perspective and help them better navigate our rules and services, it was essential to use clear language that is familiar to the users and concentrate on the most relevant process steps from their perspective (although from the FAI’s point of view, some other steps would be more relevant). For this reason, we sought to limit the FAI Secretariat’s comments to the minimum necessary.

Based on our discussions at the user validation workshop, Dottir and Hellon developed the final prototype that was then finalized together with the FAI.

The end-product, the FAI Arbitration Process flowchart — an interactive web tool that explains the FAI arbitration process — was unveiled by Dottir’s, Meera Sivanathan at Helsinki International Arbitration Day on 24 May 2018.

The FAI Legal Design Project — The Solution and Feedback on the Journey

Did we succeed with our legal design project? Did the FAI Arbitration Process flowchart achieve the project’s goal of being engaging, functional and pragmatic? Does it help potential users to easily understand the FAI arbitration process?

You tell us. We would be grateful to hear your feedback and thoughts on how to further develop the flowchart.

My two cents on the success of the legal design project:

I think that the flowchart is useful for all early identified key stakeholders, that is, business people can gain a quick understanding of the whole arbitration process including relevant timeframes, costs and other key information in a one-stop place; in-house counsel can easily communicate the relevant steps of the process to their top management; lawyers acting as counsel can easily explain the arbitration process to their clients.

In fact, I think we were able to create more than just an interactive and visual flowchart explaining the FAI arbitration process. Through the legal design journey, we gathered valuable insights into the preferences and priorities of arbitration users, and new ideas on how to improve our services.

Although the journey was more than just a visualisation project of our services, users participating in our workshops — many of them lawyers — paid a lot of attention to visual elements in the flowchart. Not surprisingly, according to surveys, a majority of people prefer the visual learning system, which is supported by scientific studies showing that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.

Based on our experience with legal design, I really think that legal sector should increasingly embrace legal design as one mechanism to innovate and reshape legal services, even in traditional business sectors like arbitration and dispute resolution. If we combine legal knowledge with design thinking and innovation, and a human-centric mindset, then we can really talk about improving our services from the users’ perspective.

About the Author: Heidi Merikalla-Teir is a Director at the Finland Chamber of Commerce heading its Dispute Resolution Services. She is also the Secretary General of the Arbitration Institute of the Finland Chamber of Commerce (FAI). Heidi has extensive and versatile experience in domestic and international commercial arbitration, litigation and mediation. She is a CEDR Accredited Mediator. Previously, Heidi worked for more than 12 years as attorney and Specialist Partner at one of the largest Finnish law firms where she specialized in commercial dispute resolution.