Perfecting Legal’s User Interface: Alexandra Sepulveda
Most legal departments haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about or developing a good user interface (UI). In technology, a great UI provides an intuitive experience that helps people interact with software or hardware in a natural and more effective way. This analogy can be extended to the practice of law. If in-house counsel and the vast amount of complex information they convey are the software or hardware, we have to create a user-friendly experience for our clients so that they can interact with us in a simpler, more intuitive way.
Alexandra Sepulveda, the Deputy General Counsel at Udemy, has made it her mission to create her own “lawyer’s UI” that makes it easier for her business clients to process and use the information she presents. She is the definition of a true original, willing to do almost anything to connect with her audience. She’ll create fun, human videos that encourage partners to actively use the legal wiki or play hip-hop as people enter her training sessions.
Though her methods are unorthodox, Sepulveda’s approach is very much rooted in traditional notions of what makes for a good UI.
Know the User
At the core of every good UI is knowing who the users are and understanding the “what” and “why” driving their decisions, preferences and attitudes. Whether it’s a one-on-one meeting or a 400-person training, Sepulveda invests significant time thinking about who is in her audience. “I have a vast amount of experience in startups where I know lawyers are perceived as scary or, at best, a necessary evil. I’m often working with business clients who’ve never interacted with attorneys before,” she explains. “I need to make sure that my UI bridges both the experience and perception gap.”
Sepulveda also understands that her “users” want their jobs simplified, and believes the greatest results stem from clients seeing in-house counsel simplify their roles. “At the end of the day, your clients want you to make things easy for them. This means that instead of demonstrating how amazing my content is or focusing on sounding smart, my number one goal must be putting the information within easy reach of a client,” says Sepulveda. Although client needs will vary depending on the company and the business unit, knowing and understanding what makes her clients tick is the first step in creating a product and shaping her message.
Keep the UI Simple
A good UI provides clear and concise directions and keeps things as simple for the user as possible. Using the UI should be second nature, so people can focus on the task at hand rather than the complexities of the process. After so many years in rigorous academic environments, reading cases or legal articles, and being surrounded by lots of other attorneys, lawyers tend to communicate in a very particular way that isn’t always accessible. Sepulveda knows the key to having a good UI is speaking her users’ language and focusing on how she communicates. “So many lawyers think you have to look and act a certain way. If you can put your ego aside and try to engage your clients, your chances of presenting information and advice that’s actually absorbed and used increase a lot,” says Sepulveda.
Just as even the most amazing products won’t succeed if people don’t understand how to use them or think they’re too complex, your business partners won’t value your advice if they have to spend too much time decoding it into everyday language. “If your UI isn’t readable, the content doesn’t matter,” Sepulveda explains. “That’s how important I think a lawyer’s UI is. It’s about making a real impact, being less concerned with whether someone is taking me seriously, and simplifying until my clients to want to listen.”
Be Purposeful and Consistent
By being thoughtful and approaching UI with purpose and consistency, in-house counsel can help clients focus on the most important aspects of the information presented and make them feel comfortable — which ultimately creates more value and efficiency. “I intentionally create an emotional state in which my clients want to connect to the material,” Sepulveda says. “My partners now expect me to create an environment of active engagement in a fun atmosphere. This means, over time, I don’t have to worry as much about being heard. I can focus instead on more nuanced aspects of the relationship, like building trust and focusing the conversation on business impact.”
Sepulveda acknowledges that although she’s sometimes met with skepticism at first, her consistent commitment to loosening things up and having fun, combined with the very purposeful set of messages she wants to convey, has made a real difference — and that’s what matters to her most.” When developing a UI, lawyers should consider their specific strengths. “Every lawyer has that ‘special sauce,’ something that works uniquely for them. Creating a good UI is about investing time and effort into figuring out what that something is.”
This article was originally published by the Above the Law.