Image of Co-founder Maurits
Nathalie Gloudemans Guardian
min. leestijd

Better with images

The Advocatenblad put legal design in the spotlight with a major interview with Maurits.

Visual tools in the legal profession are on the rise. Legal design brings order to the vocabulary.

By Nathalie Gloudemans-Voogd

It was impossible to follow, the case that lawyer Maurits Fornier (32) worked on at Freshfields a few years ago. He therefore decided to make a large overview drawing and submit it as a procedural document. Fornier is experienced in graphic design. As a high school student, he already created websites for local retailers. “Look, it's about this and not about all the other topics,” he told the judge using the illustration. The other party, blown away by the record, did not go into it and boomed up its own plea note. After ten minutes, the judge interrupted him: “All right, but where in Master Fornier's drawing are we now?”

At that moment, Fornier knew that he wanted to continue with the combination of image and law. Now, through his own BV, Fornier is hired as a lawyer/legal designer by his colleagues to provide visual insight into difficult issues. He recently converted a major framework agreement into an A3 poster. He explained provisions that are relevant to employees in the workplace with a single sentence, pictures and colors. He also made a visual roadmap for an extensive international restructuring. Each step was given a tick-off box as a playful element. “For the lawyers, tax specialists and notaries involved, a large part of their work was coordinating who had done what and still needed to do what. This was an easy guide. This made their weekly phone calls much shorter. '


Legal design, the use of visual tools in the legal profession, is on the rise. For example, the relatives of DJ Djordy Latumahina, who was mistakenly killed, were allowed to show a film about his life during their victim statement. According to lawyer Richard Korver, it was the first time that the court allowed such a thing. Since this year, Advocacy the Golden Hourglass for “Best Infographic” out. Several law firms now have designers in their ranks. At De Brauw, the team of designers now consists of three designers and three assistants. But anyone who thinks that legal design is just about illustrations and text because it looks nice is wrong. Legal design goes beyond that, explains Fornier. 'I help lawyers with their thinking process. Much of the work of lawyers consists of collecting information, organizing it, thinking about tone and audience. Using visual tools works very well for that. '

Law firms, governments and large companies are increasingly seeking the help of legal design consultant at Getting the picture Mariska van Zelst-de Wit (39). She also hears misunderstandings about legal design. “Oh, visualizing, that's about drawing, I can't do that, I often hear. But that's not necessary at all. It's about the techniques you use when inventorying and analyzing information. Then you're going to talk about communicating. Then you can take a look at whether you want to do it in a visual way. '

Getting the picture, for example, was asked to make an animation for a session. “That was at the client's request. The dispute concerned the non-performance of a contract. We made an animation about the unforeseen circumstances that prevented the agreement from being complied with and what the consequences for the contract were. Ultimately, that animation was never shown because it was suitable. Still, it wasn't for nothing. The lawyers said that the creative process brought a lot of efficiency: they quickly had the legal argument in mind. As a result, the matter could be assessed more quickly and there were fewer misunderstandings. '

Visual glasses

Houthoff said he had the first legal design advisor in the Dutch legal profession: Sarah van Hecke (35). “We aim to go a step further than just looking at the layout,” says the communication scientist specializing in attitude and behavior. In her previous jobs, Van Hecke studied the functioning of the brain and how people process information. Her role at Houthoff originated organically: from being responsible for the content of all presentations to legal design adviser. “Supply and demand grew closer.”

Now, Van Hecke is involved in an increasing number of cases from the start, in both advisory work and procedures. 'I'm neither a lawyer nor a designer; I look at graphic design differently and ask different questions about the legal strategy. By looking from different perspectives, you get a surprising solution. ' In collaboration with the legal team, Van Hecke decides what it takes to get the message across properly and then starts the design process with the designers employed by Houthoff.

Where Van Hecke as liaison acting between lawyers and designers, Stibbe's Kim Raad (41), a designer, sits directly at the table with lawyers. 'I often join right at the start. Or I'll take a look at things that have been going on for a long time. If we have already tried everything out, is the main question. Lawyers also seek my help with complex advice. I'm going to ask dumb questions now, I'm joking. As a designer, I primarily look at information from a visual perspective and ask for clarification about what I don't understand but find visually important. As a result, parts of the process come into a different light. '

Raad, previously one of the infographic designers at the Volkskrant, designed a visual schematic representation of a complicated production process for an administrative law procedure. The client won the case partly because of that image. Raad won the Golden Hourglass infographic for Stibbe.

Visual culture

Legal design is a new field, so everyone is still searching, notes Raad. “There isn't one yet success rate. It's not like you win a business if you use visual tools. ' Nevertheless, many clients ask for it themselves. “Business people don't find the image in legal documents so strange anymore,” says Fornier. “But the legal world is traditional; it's slow. Lawyers are text-focused people. An icon is already one thing. '

“A few years ago, there was a fear that the use of images in legal documents is not professional or even childish,” says Van Zelst-de Wit. “We're really past that now. We live in a visual culture. We are used to images from other sectors and from daily life. Image use in the legal sector is therefore allowed. And maybe it should. The world is becoming increasingly complex. If you want to understand people, you almost have to use visual tools. '

The message comes across better because the structure is immediately clear, say experts about image use. “Language must be linearized: you must convert the characters letter by letter, line by line, into expressions. That takes time,” says Paul van den Hoven, professor of Language and Communication at Utrecht University. “With images, you can immediately show the structure. By the way, a good verbal lawyer does the same thing. But with images, that's even easier, especially if a good graphic designer helps you do that. ' Tom Barkhuysen, professor of constitutional and administrative law at Leiden University and a lawyer at Stibbe, recently saw a comic strip as a plea note in Danish proceedings. “The matter was clear at a glance. Because you have everything in front of you, you'll also listen better. '

With an image, you can also zoom in and out better without losing the overview, says former corporate lawyer Van Zelst-de Wit. “That's almost impossible with text. It's also important for lawyers: with images, you can better map out layers of information. ' In addition, research by the University of California shows that people remember eighty percent of what they see, ten percent of what they hear, and twenty percent of what they read, says Van Zelst-de Wit.

Visual literacy

Image use therefore has potentially positive effects. Nevertheless, it is good to keep looking critically at pictures. Images can cause misunderstandings just as much as language, says professor Van den Hoven. “There is a wonderful naivete about the use of images in the legal world. With all communication, you try to highlight a certain world in symbols. This symbolic world has a certain structure and is very suggestive. When a lawyer states in a powerpoint presentation that a problem consists of four parts, it looks like the problem has four parts. But no, someone presented it like that. '

Although pictures help to imitate reality, according to Van den Hoven, images encourage a certain interpretation and evaluation. “That's just as true with words. We build up all kinds of connotations; you should also be aware of that with a good speaker. Lawyers say they are better trained in that, but I don't believe that. I think it's rather that lawyers feel more familiar with text than with images. ' Van den Hoven calls for more “visual literacy” among lawyers: learning to use visual texts critically.

The course should also pay more attention to image and visual literacy, says Barkhuysen. 'Actually, it's very strange that clients are increasingly asking for visual tools, the current students are growing up in a visual culture, but that law school is still almost exclusively about written language. ' At the end of 2017, Barkhuysen did the NJB a call for more insight into the study. According to the lawyer, three things are needed: skills to learn how to think in images, technical skills to make images and visual literacy, being critical of what you see.

Vocational training in the legal profession could also use more attention to this subject, says the Stibbe lawyer. He is now working with other legal design ambassadors on a conference on this topic, scheduled for January 2019. “There we will present what is already happening, discuss what we can improve and conclude with an action plan.”

Because the experts agree that the future lies with more use of images in the legal profession. In doing so, text will not disappear anytime soon. “Visual tools will remain additional and will not replace text,” says Raad van Stibbe. “You have to keep nuancing and you do that with words.”

Van Hecke expects visualization to increase significantly in the coming years. “It will soon be used in almost every file.” There are already Houthoff partners who use Van Hecke in eight out of ten cases. “You may wonder if it's always necessary,” says Van Hecke. Van Zelst-de Wit agrees: 'The most important question is: what does your target group need? You use the image strategically. For example, if a judge has no affinity for images, I wouldn't use it. '

Fornier also believes that all lawyers will work like him within five to ten years. “Nowadays, companies expect more from a lawyer than a piece of text. The driving force comes from them; they want to be served in a certain way. Clients are not waiting for an overturned bookcase of advice. '

Five tips from Mariska van Zelst-de Wit

1. Reading tip. “A nice book to start with is The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. Dan Roam shows you how to make problems visible and concrete with images in an effective way. '
2. Break your fixed thinking patterns. “Take a completely different approach to a problem. Turn a question around, look for a metaphor, draw your problem. '
3. Generate as many ideas as you can. “Creative thinkers see all their ideas as possibilities and opportunities. The more unique and original ideas you generate, the greater the chance that the best solution is among them. '
4. Make your thoughts visual. “The more you practice thinking creatively and visually, the more you train your brain to think differently. This way, you can smoothly alternate your analytical thinking with creative thinking. '
5. You can train your brain. “The more you practice thinking creatively and visually, the more you train your brain to think differently. The more active your brain becomes about it, the more creative you also become. This way, you can smoothly alternate your analytical thinking with creative thinking. '

Critical viewing

In 1991, Rodney King was stopped by the police in Los Angeles for traffic violations. He is beaten and kicked long and hard by the officers. A passer-by films the incident. It comes to a criminal case against the officers. The prosecutor thinks it's sufficient to show the footage.

“The defense severely undermined the prosecution,” says professor of Language and Communication Paul van den Hoven. “The video shows an officer hitting, King raising his arm, hitting another cop and King trying to roll away. The defense meant that King was aggressive and beat the officers in self-defense. That role would be a “Folsom Roll”, a military tactic to knock someone down. It was absurd and, in fact, everyone knew that. But if there was a possible lecture that sowed doubt, the officers should not be convicted. ' Indeed, the men are acquitted in the first instance. In his book Kijk zelf maar (Sdu, 2011), Van den Hoven illustrates with this case that it can be wise to address the interpretation that the image refers to yourself.

Sculpture/Martijn Gijsbertsen & Maurits Fornier

This article appeared in AB 2018-04. The entire edition is here to view.