- Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Laurie Ristino and Katherine Hannon Michel
Legal democracy: using legal design, technology and communications to reform food and agriculture systems
Sustainable, Just, and Democratic
This chapter argues that as taught and practiced law has been made socially irrelevant, undermining its potential to generate and sustain paradigm-shifting change. Although the legal academy has adopted a more practice-ready pedagogy, the fact remains that legal education and its substance is stubbornly unchanged, divorced from other disciplines and communicated in a traditional parlance intended only for other legal professionals. The result is that most people do not understand the value of the law in their daily lives because the barrier to legal information is too high. The rise of legal design and transdisciplinary collaboration, however, provides a radical reimaging of the law as centrally relevant. Legal design requires that legal solutions are designed with the end user in mind. Moreover, legal design integrates the law into social products. This is “Legal Democracy” because the law and the empowerment it represents is made broadly available. The food movement provides a real-time example of legal democracy in action, including the work of Janelle Orsi and her Sustainable Economies Law Center, the food projects of Stanford’s D School, and the legal products created by the Food and Agriculture Clinic of the Vermont Law School. This chapter explores legal democracy and its roots in legal design, communications and technology and then provides examples of legal democracy at work through the legal solutions generated by the Food and Agriculture Clinic. Finally, it explains how this approach to the law has the capacity to scale healthy food systems and support vibrant local and regional economies through cataloging and disseminating innovative legal and policy solutions.