Cryptolawyer, decentralizing the things.

Email: 21.co/valkenburgh

To Be a UX Designer for the Law.

“What Kind of Law do You Want to Practice?”

Now that my friends all know I’m in law school, the question I get asked most in social gatherings is “What kind of law do you want to practice?” Until recently, I would mumble something about intellectual property and the Internet, and wait for the inevitably encouraging yet noncommittal “oh cool.” My problem is that my goals don’t line up with those of any practicing lawyers  I know. Cogently expressing them required a look to other disciplines.  So it was while speaking with a friend in app design that I had a realization: I want to be a UX designer for the law.

wiki

Law, presently, has a decidedly crappy user experience. If law was a website, users would be bouncing off of the landing page in seconds, abandoning law.us for competitors norms.org or vigilantism.com in a few swift clicks.  This is a particularly embarrassing situation given that law was supposed to be the original crowdsourced content–for the people by the people.  Today, law is like a version of Wikipedia that (1) lacks search, (2) has a different layout for every article, and (3) requires eight years of training and $200,000 or more before you can click “edit.” 

We can do better; I want to help. Accordingly I’ve sought classes in legal theory.  These classes have reinforced my convictions: law works best when people understand it. Lon Fuller and Friedrich Hayek have taught me that universal, public, comprehensible laws are best because they respect the dignity of citizens and allow them to efficiently plan their affairs, economic and social, without fear of unexpected coercion. As Robert Bolt wrote in his play A Man for All Seasons, “The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.”  As a UX designer then, the challenge is lighting that causeway: making law more public, more understandable, and more reflective of existing norms in communities.

The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.Robert Bolt

Projects for a Better UX

Currently, I have three projects in line with my goal of enhancing law’s UX. First, under the guidance of professor Jane Anderson,  I’m researching how new technologies of physical labeling–like QR codes and NFC-chips–can help the custodians of traditional knowledge achieve greater control over the products and embodiments of that knowledge. Utilizing a QR code or similar label would allow the producers of traditional knowledge goods to carefully label their products, setting out clear, specific, and personal desires with regard  to use and restrictions.

Second, under the guidance of professor Jeremy Waldron, I’m analyzing self-regulation and self-governance in online communities to see how well these emergent systems guard and maintain fundamental human dignity.  In particular, I contrast Wikipedia.org with Yelp.com, two very different models of peer-production and community regulation.

Finally, as a personal project, I’m developing a website that will, ambitiously, crowdsource dispute resolution. I call it justiceby.us. Settlement has supplanted many traditional legal processes, in part, surely, because it has greater ease of use and lower cost. I cannot, however, accept private settlement as an ideal solution to law’s UX design problem. Settlements are usually confidential and do not carry precedential authority. Lacking this notice and precedent, they do not offer private citizens a better picture of their rights or responsibilities, and they do not generate a common thread of legal reasoning. My site will seek to promote private settlement while also generating public statements of the law as it evolves from settlement to settlement. Justiceby.us will develop a corpus of privately settled principles that can guide future arbiters as well as potential parties to future disputes.

Dragons Ahead

But law is not an area amenable to change. This can be a good thing in a Burkean conservative sense, sometimes the old ways are the best ways and changes upset careful balances of which we may not even be aware. On the other hand, the law can be highly path dependent and legislation, specifically, is vulnerable to manipulation from the rent-seeking of entrenched interests. Like it or not, the legal profession is one of those entrenched interests. Most firms have nothing to gain from a simplification of the law; they stand only to lose billable hours, or the pretense of billable hours, which comes from lay ignorance and fear of complexity. I’ve no illusions that my proposals, especially justiceby.us, are perhaps foolishly grand, and in many circles unpopular. Nonetheless, I want to try.

If you like my ideas and have coding experience, tech start-up experience, or arbitration and mediation experience please contact me. Together we can try to make law usable.  

bike4

Jordan and I bike through the state park on St. George Island, FL. Law as a bikepath?

  • Henry88

    I wish you good fortune in this work.

  • vepxistqaosani

    Talk to jurors. We are generally neither lawyers nor felons nor litigants, so our experience in the jury box is our chief interaction with the direct application of the law to a dispute or a crime. It is not pretty.

    The last case I sat on was a malpractice case which should have been thrown out of court with prejudice. The lawyers for both the plaintiff and the defendant were horrible — they could not speak in complete sentences, clearly did not know the medical issues, and could not construct anything remotely resembling an argument. Nevertheless, we decided for the defendant within seconds of beginning deliberations. (It helped that the majority of the jurors were both smarter and better educated than the attorneys.)

    Then we spent an hour bitching and moaning about the spectacle we had just witnessed — during which time the idiot lawyer for the defendant settled.

    • MrJest

      This almost perfectly reflects my own experience, in a criminal case in the early ’90s (so no real settlement was possible). We noted that the defendant was clearly guilty… but the prosecution’s case was so idiotic and full of holes you could drive a truck through it was freaking embarrassing. And we PAY these people, out of our tax dollars??? I mean, there were times I literally cringed in my jurors chair in empathetic embarrassment as the ADAs assigned to the case fumbled around and looked/sounded like utter and complete morons.

      The biggest delay to our deliberations was whether or not we should punish the DA’s office for putting up such a ramshackle, obviously hastily tossed together case by setting the scum free (the prosecution itself was clearly supposed to just be a threat to get the defendant’s cooperation in turning on others and was never meant to actually go to court; the guy was just stubborn and refused to testify, so they felt they had to carry through). After all, he was the kind of idiot who would clearly get arrested again within the year, and had no history of violence as best we could tell.

      We finally decided to find him guilty – because he was, this was crystal clear – but then we jurors met a couple weeks later at a restaurant and together drafted a very scathing letter to the DA about how crappy a job his office was doing. We actually did all get individualized letters back, with him promising to do better in the future, but of course none of us had time to check up and see if the office actually did. But it was a seriously disheartening experience.

  • There are 89,000 governments in the US (the census counts them twice a decade in its census of governments). That’s a lot of law, rules, and regulations. I’m working on a project called Citizen Intelligence to improve the UX of government oversight with actionable business intelligence reports. Part of the project space which would include your own projects on UX improvement. What I’m looking to do is to create a system where each idea like yours can have a distribution channel through my project while I will also fill in spaces where nothing exists but is desperately needed.

    I’m starting off with very basic questions:
    1. What are my governments? ie what governments claim jurisdiction over where I live, work, and travel.
    2. What do they do?
    3. Are they doing anything unconstitutional, better off done by somebody else, or just plain poorly?

    I’m still working on question number 1; your project fits in to question number 3 on my list.

    If collaborating sounds interesting, drop me a note. Searching on TMLutas will get you a number of avenues to find me.

  • There are 89,000 governments in the US (the census counts them twice a decade in its census of governments). That’s a lot of law, rules, and regulations. I’m working on a project called Citizen Intelligence to improve the UX of government oversight with actionable business intelligence reports. Part of the project space which would include your own projects on UX improvement. What I’m looking to do is to create a system where each idea like yours can have a distribution channel through my project while I will also fill in spaces where nothing exists but is desperately needed.

    I’m starting off with very basic questions:
    1. What are my governments? ie what governments claim jurisdiction over where I live, work, and travel.
    2. What do they do?
    3. Are they doing anything unconstitutional, better off done by somebody else, or just plain poorly?

    I’m still working on question number 1; your project fits in to question number 3 on my list.

    If collaborating sounds interesting, drop me a note. Searching on TMLutas will get you a number of avenues to find me.

  • PhonecardMike

    Good luck. Though I am 54, my dealings with the legal profession were with my daughter and boyfriend trying to fix a couple of tickets. After navigating the maze I am convinced the system has been setup for the government and the lawyers to make money. We almost missed court because no one knew which court was handling the case. In addition it was impossible to reach anyone at the courthouse. My daughter had to drive 150 miles to talk with someone about how to pay the fine. Governments are quick to send tickets to the collection agency and issue bench warrants. I find it ironic the government can’t find you to present the fine in a timely manner, but the collection agency can track you down for money owed.

    The system creates petty criminals and jades the youth against the law.

  • PhonecardMike

    Good luck. Though I am 54, my dealings with the legal profession were with my daughter and boyfriend trying to fix a couple of tickets. After navigating the maze I am convinced the system has been setup for the government and the lawyers to make money. We almost missed court because no one knew which court was handling the case. In addition it was impossible to reach anyone at the courthouse. My daughter had to drive 150 miles to talk with someone about how to pay the fine. Governments are quick to send tickets to the collection agency and issue bench warrants. I find it ironic the government can’t find you to present the fine in a timely manner, but the collection agency can track you down for money owed.

    The system creates petty criminals and jades the youth against the law.

  • Gregg Smith

    Your “justiceby.us” idea is one that I have thought about before (I am a practicing litigator). You have added some new wrinkles to my thoughts. I do think, though, that voluntary, crowd-sourced justice is something that will happen. I hadn’t thought, though, about your idea of designing a universe of private rules.

    In any event, feel free to contact me going forward. I’d love to help in any way I can.

  • David Gobel

    When a bad actor breaks a sensible law, the reaction is often to tighten the noose of the law so as to make it less attractive to break the law. This makes the road of the law more cramped for all usually in an effort to codify common sense, a most precarious enterprise with the result that everyone gets penalized and perversely makes them more likely to break law since its trip wire draws ever closer.

    An example is traffic law. I used to drive with a sense of joy and relative freedom. Now I avoid driving since it is clear to me that I’m not a driver, but am potential financial prey to budget starved municipalities.

    Basically, penalizing the 99 for the commission of the 1 is a most serious UX problem because it is an unmeasured externality of the legal system similar to pollution and toxic waste.

  • Kirk Parker

    Great idea. If you really like the picture posed by Bolt’s quote, though, then there’s really only one avenue for you: work for Less Law. A person literally cannot know if he or she is on the causeway in our current legal/regulatory environment due to the sheer volume involved.

  • But “The Law” isn’t a causeway…since it’s accepted that every man woman and child in the US breaks at LEAST 3 felonies a day. Pretty much everything is “agin’da’law”…the best we can do is merely hope we don’t get caught…
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    that stupid video at the bottom of this article is deeply annoying.