Renovating Our Justice System: The Great Design Challenge

“Justice” and “design” are two words that you don’t often hear in the same sentence. So when we announced the Justice Design Project (JDP) – a week long workshop for post secondary students interested in law, design and access to justice – we knew some eyebrows would be raised and heads scratched. What could design possibly have to do with justice? Who in their right mind would pair such strange bedfellows?

It turns out that the two disciplines have more synergy than you might think. All time-honoured institutions, like the old buildings they occupy, require their fare share of upkeep. For the most part, day-to-day maintenance is enough to see things chug along at an acceptable pace, but every once and a while major renovations are in order. Canada’s justice system is no exception to the general rule, and in the opinion of many stakeholders the justice system has been due for an overhaul for quite some time. Significant access to justice issues, declining confidence in the legal system, and a high demand for conflict resolution services are a few of the factors that continue to stress our existing justice system beyond capacity. If Richard Susskind and other legal visionaries are right, it looks like the next set of changes we make to our justice infrastructure will be big ones. As Susskind framed it in his book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: “Legal institutions and lawyers are at a crossroads…and are poised to change more radically over the next two decades than they have over the last two centuries.”

Change is coming, but renovating our justice system is no easy task. It will require creativity, leadership, collaboration across disciplines, and the willingness to adopt and work with methods – like design thinking – that originate outside the justice system. The JDP aims to help meet this challenge, by providing students with skills that future leaders will require to ensure that our justice system “renovation” meets the needs of a wide range of stakeholders, and most importantly the public. Over the course of 5 days JDP students will learn about the specific challenges facing our justice system and apply these skills to a hands-on justice design challenge where they will move through the 3 classic stages of design: information gathering, ideation, and prototype testing. By the end of the week students will have collaborated to produce an innovative solution to a concrete justice problem currently experienced by Canadians. Along the way, students will have learned more about access to justice issues, explored the current state of Canada’s legal system, and picked up design strategies and tools that can be applied in many different sectors and to a wide range of complex social problems (you can read more about complex problems and innovation here).

Although change can be scary and it is anyone’s best guess what the justice system of the future will look like, it is also an incredibly exciting time, particularly for those willing to embrace the challenge of redesigning one of our most important institutions.

The greatest design thinkers have always been drawn to the greatest challenges, whether delivering fresh water to Imperial Rome, vaulting the dome of the Florence Cathedral, running a rail line through the British Midlands, or designing the first laptop computer. They have searched out the problems that allowed them to work at the edge because this was where they were most likely to achieve something that has not been done before.

The JDP will be held at Osgoode Hall Law School from August 24-28, 2015, 9am-3pm. The fee is $599.00 if the application is received on or before May 30, 2015 and $699.00 thereafter. Subsidies are available for students who demonstrate financial need.

Can you meet the great design challenge? Sign up now to find out!

For more information please email


Paul Di Libero is a Winkler Institute Research Assistant and a J.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The original post from The Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution is available here.

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