A Service Design approach to the Legal System: mapping user journeys

In the Prototyping Access to Justice class that I’m teaching this quarter at Stanford, we’re taking a “service design” approach to the legal system. This means considering both the ‘front-end’ experience of the legal user goes, as well as the ‘back-end’ experience of the service providers go.

Thinking of legal services through the lens of drama, we see there are these two stages happening simultaneously: the front-stage of what the public sees, and the back-stage of what the lawyers, court professionals, judges, and others do.

The goal of our service design class is to spot where we can intervene, either in the front stage or the back stage, to make the system work more smoothly, with greater support for the user, and more efficiency for the service provider.

To do this, we map out the current status-quo, and note where there are interactions, where there are failures, where there are opportunities. By documenting “what-is” — all the people, props, interactions, and rules — we can spot better “what-could-be.”

Plus, mapping is a lot of fun. Making sense of all the information we’ve gathered during our research, interviews, and observations, is very satisfying. We lay out all these data points into a timeline, and then layer on notes, emotions, frustrations, and ideas.

Crafting user journey maps, which lay out the detailed step-by-steps of a person through a process, is a great way to make sure you actually understand a system, and to spot where you need to invest more in understanding what the system is and how it works.

It also serves a design team by inspiring more creative and thoughtful ways, about where to focus their work. Laying out these points of interaction systematically helps a team figure out where they could hook a new visual, product, or service onto.

One final value point of legal user journey maps: they are great instructional tools. They can help a person who is about to go through the process, or who is in the middle of it, to understand what to expect and what they’ll be doing. They can also help a new service provider (judge, clerk, lawyer, etc.) get their head around the process.

This post was also posted on the Medium publication Legal Design and Innovation.


Great post! Service Design is central to our work with the VA. Front stage is the Veterans and backstage is the employees. Both need to work in tandem to support each other. And design can serve each or hover between. Very cool that you are bringing this framework to law.