Linklaters has rebooted the format of its training contract offer letter in the first step to embed legal design practices into the production of contracts it produces.

The firm has turned the letter from a prosaic Microsoft Word document into a visual, digital version as part of a trial that aims to find ways to redesign a broader set of contracts and legal paperwork going forward.

The effort was led by innovation head Shilpa Bhandarkar and her team alongside the firm’s graduate recruitment and compliance team. The teams relied on external legal design agency Observ, which facilitated a two-week series of workshops last April that involved three LPC students and three existing trainees in a bid to hear their perspective on the options available.

“We asked the students and trainees questions around how they approached their training letters to understand how we could improve the layout and took into account the experiences and opinions that came through,” Bhandarkar told The Lawyer. “It was clear they were looking for something more upbeat, less legal-sounding and more welcoming.”

During the workshops, the leaders asked the young recruits how they would picture a contract letter so that it could help convey information more clearly and make the brand immediately recognisable for the students.

It produced a format that relies on the purple tone that characterises the firm’s logo; instead of a wordy and lengthy bureaucratic document, the teams opted for a regrouping of the information that makes it easier to search for specific data and refer to different sections when needed, everything from requirements around enrollment to the pro-bono opportunities available at the firm.

Often these letters are signed by the students years before starting, meaning that they need to have a good understanding of what’s to come and that no information should be taken for granted. The digital format of the document also means that it doesn’t need to be printed or scanned, an environmentally-friendly angle that was among the factors explored by the groups during the sessions.

The firm said feedback from students and trainees praised the clarity of the visual format.

The rethinking of the training contract letter was part of a broader commitment from the firm to experiment with legal design strategies. Last summer, Singapore-based managing associate Joel Cheang hosted workshops that included a legal design competition in an effort to show the value of this thinking. Similar workshops have then been hosted in the firm’s London office late that that year and in early 2019.

The workshops were run with different approaches depending on the audience, which included partners and associates but also business development and marketing staff. All of them, however, started with a question around a problem, ideas for potential solutions, interviews and conversations about development and the creation of prototypes.

“It is something that you really learn by doing,” Bhandarkar explained.

To start experimenting with contracts, the firm first tackled internal “static content” such as newsletters and know-how bulletins, measuring the reactions of staff by considering metrics such as how many times and how many people interacted with the content. It then decided to take on legally-binding documents and external material, starting with training contract letters.

Legal design is part of the pillars included in Bhandarkar’s innovation strategy, which has so far seen the development of other initiatives within the magic circle firm. For instance, last July the firm said that, since launching in January, its crowdsourcing platform has taken heed of 38 new ideas from its staff that aim to improve delivery, technology and efficiency worldwide. Of the 38, some have already been implemented, while others are in the proof of concept stage. A further 17 new ideas are being actively evaluated, with more suggestions being received by Linklaters’ innovation team daily.

The Ideas Pathway was one of the first programmes that Bhandarkar helped to set up in her new role. She appeared in this year The Lawyer Hot 100 following her appointment as Linklaters’ first innovation supremo.