What’s on a lawyer’s mind. The Results.

on April 23 | in Legal Projects, Senza categoria | by | with No Comments

In May last year we run a small experiment that we called What’s on a lawyer’s mind.  Remember?

The reasons behind the experiment

We had 2 things in mind.  

  • The first was finding an optimal taxonomy for our websiteHow should we group contracts? Should we follow traditional legal categories (i.e. employment, intellectual property etc..) or go for something different? The Card sorting was useful enough to elaborate a taxonomy: we’re going to use it as soon as the contract base grows larger. So far, if you go on our website, you’ll just see a couple of categories, so don’t be disappointed!
  •  The second was proving a little curiosity of us: are lawyers going to reply differently from non lawyers? 

We decided to ask people directly and run a short survey, in the form of a Card Sorting. We basically asked people to sort a list of contracts into groups and give each group a name.

The experiment took place from May 29 to June 15, 2013. We run 3 different Card Sorting for English, French and Italian speaking lawyers and non lawyers.

The results

We got 273 usable replies. The basis was wide enough to collect some interesting insights. Maybe not wide enough to test the hypothesis that lawyers use different categories from non lawyers.

Because indeed what we collected showed no strong differences between lawyers and non lawyers.

Caveat. The number of participants who were lawyers (98) differed from the number of non lawyers (175) and so the number of participants speaking Italian (23), English (37) and French (213). Please keep this in mind aka take these results with a grain of salt.

The rough results are available here.

French speaking lawyersFrench speaking non lawyers

English speaking lawyersEnglish speaking non lawyers

Italian speaking lawyers Italian speaking non lawyers

It’s rough data. You can play at will with it, I hope you can make something useful out of it. It’s a little gift to pay you back. The other is inviting you to signup to Peppercorn’s beta.

Here you’ll find some speculations on data. So little data, if it’s useful for building up a taxonomy for your website – has maybe no relevance in determining if Lawyers and non Lawyers sort things differently. For that, we would have needed more data, a more rigorous methodology. We also would have needed to provide different explanations. In other words, a serious scientific method.

So accept the following observations as nothing more than ideas or starting points to begin a serious research on the topic.

Categorization by profession

You can see for yourself that lawyers and non lawyers (we grouped them without considering their language here), use very similar categories.

  • 3 large categories are used only by non lawyers though: Contrats, Accords and Conventions, which are basically synonymous and were chosen by almost the 13% of non lawyers. Why? Well, apparently I think because non lawyers are not specialist in the legal field. In the words of Donna Spencer, the more people know about a subject, the more their thinking level becomes detailed. If they are not specialist, they overlook the differences between, say, a sale contract and a license and place them in the same category. However, the overwhelming majority of French speaking users in the group may have an effect on these results. See below.
  • I was expecting, when launching the experiment, that non lawyers would have grouped items more freely. I was expecting, for instance, totally creative or user centered categories such as “my stuff”, “accountant”, “work”, “family”. I was naive. Indeed, how can a non lawyer categorize contracts when he has no acquaintance with these? You can categorize so freely only things that belong to your daily life, that you know well. For sure, not contracts (of which maybe you don’t even know the meaning or the function). The more you are acquainted with the subject, the more you use your own labels (and not someone else’s)
  • I was kind of surprised to know that non lawyers knew the label IP and placed contracts correctly into it.

Profession  NUOVA (1)


By nationality and profession

  • Another hypothesis of mine was that Common lawyers tended to use more detailed categories that their Continental counterparts, that is Civil Lawyers. Actually I’m not sure that this was proved. French lawyers did use the very general “Conditions generales” and “Accords” categories, whereas English lawyers used more down to earth categories as “Software”, “Company”, or business oriented as “Business to customer”.
  • Italian lawyers used the broad and scholastic category “Civile”, that is “Private law”.
  •  I’m not coming to definitive conclusions, but what do you think? Do English speakers use a less abstract vocabulary? For sure that’s an interesting hypothesis to be proved.

lawyers-non lawyers by nationality NUOVA1

  • The categories Conventions, Contrats and Accords were used by the French speaking community of non lawyers. Synonymous were not used from the community English and Italian speaking non lawyers. Did the overwhelming majority of French respondents falsified the interpretation we gave above? Maybe…




lawyers-non lawyers by nationality NUOVA2


By nationality

Uhm, ok, then let’s group the users by nationality, irrespectively if they are lawyers or not. Results are shown below. I’ve no comments to make, do you?

 Nationality nuova


  • Overall, and that was a nice finding for working on our website taxonomy (although it shows only 2 categories for now), the most used categories (apart from the general ones) were Finance (or financial, or banking), Commercial, Lettres and IP. Moreover I was surprised of how precisely users put financial contracts into the Finance category, even if the contract itself didn’t give any hint in its name.


 Thanks again to all participants.  A great thanks goes to Stephane Cottin, who helped us organize the French version of the experiment, and get us a lot of users.

 Tools: Charts were made with Piktochart, Card Sorting was delivered with Optimal Sort


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