Future Fridays: Doodling the Law

Centuries later,  hieroglyphics  are making a come back.

Or so it seems, based on the graphic-rich menus that predominate the new trend of casual, make-it-your-own and faux-healthy (take a look at the calorie count for some of the items) eateries like Sweet Green, Boloco Burrito, Naked Pizza  and Cava Mediterranean  where I’ve been indulging several times a week with my daughters away at camp.  Though I’m not a branding expert, the bright pictographs presumably target several demographics, from college students and recent grads who appreciate the youthful, cool-tech factor to busy professionals who can order more easily from mobile devices when there’s less text  to parents, who hope that the vibrant menu graphics are magnetic enough to pry kids free from the hypnotic spell of the Golden Arches.

So I got to thinking, does doodling have a role in the 21st Century practice of law?  I think so.

Of course, I’m not the first to see the nexus.   Nathan Burney, a fellow blogger, solo lawyer and Rakofsky co-defendant, has been working on a graphic guide to Criminal Law that explains concepts like mens rea, self-defense, duress and deterrence more concisely than the thick texts that I remember from law school.  Similarly, lawyers could use pictorials and doodles to illustrate complex concepts for clients in an elegant and understandable manner.  Clients today are inundated 24-7 with so many inputs, that a graphic can make their life easier.  That’s true also for clients for whom English is a second language or who never advanced far in school.

Good graphic design can be costly, so if you want to incorporate pictorials into a menu, you may need a professional. But you can also use graphics more casually to explain concepts to clients while they’re in your office. For example, you could use a whiteboard in your office or a scrap of legal paper to sketch out the path in a discrimination case from filing an EEOC complaint to federal court, or to show the different components of a bankruptcy estate.  Ipads are helpful here too; one of my favorite drawing apps is FiftyThree Paper and while it’s not free, it’s fun and easy to use (here’s my doodle showing the three different bases for jurisdiction for marine hydrokinetic projects under the Federal Power Act. Whee!)

Some might argue that using pictorials is undignified and unbefitting a professional.  Or that graphics make the law seem so accessible that clients may be tempted to take cases into their own hands.  But for me, the greater indignity is treating clients like children; telling them “don’t worry about this, I’ll handle it” rather than explaining the basics of the case and allowing them to play a part in decisions that can impact their lives.  Likewise, the greater threat to lawyers isn’t that we make the law too casual or accessible, but rather, that we over-complicate it with fancy jargon and phone-book sized documents that so intimidate consumers and business people that they don’t even bother to seek legal assistance at all.

If you think about it, graphics make more sense for law practice than restaurant menus.  Eateries come and go, but the law endures, as do graphics  After all, one of the oldest written sources of law — the  Code of Hammurabi  — started out as a bunch of pictographs too.