PUBLISHED:May 01, 2024

Duke Center on Law & Tech hosts design derby to improve online "click to assent" agreements


Students utilized human-centered design and tech concepts to imagine a better future for contracts practice.

Jeff Ward Duke Center on Law & Tech Director Jeff Ward

Law students from nine universities participated in the Future of Contracts Design Derby this spring hosted by the Duke Center on Law & Tech, generating ideas to improve online “click to assent” agreements. The curriculum, aligned with some materials from Clinical Professor Jeff Ward’s Future of Contracts course, is now available open-source for other faculty to implement on their own timeline.

“Our goal has always been to allow as many law faculty and law students as possible the opportunity to use human-centered design to improve the law,” said Ward, director of the Duke Center on Law & Tech. “We hope others will take this curriculum and run with it."

"I agree" ≠ "I understand"

The 2024 Future of Contracts Design Derby focused on a common consumer experience in our increasingly digital world: accepting terms of service for a website, software, or online service. These agreements, called online “click to assent” agreements, or clickwrap agreements, are often presented to users in the form of a box to be checked or a button to be clicked.

Using a human-centered design process, law students were encouraged to first understand this problem from the perspective of individual users, as well as the businesses implementing or modifying the agreements. Multiple challenges and controversies around implementation and modification of online clickwrap agreements presented a rich and complex problem set for students to brainstorm potential solutions and imagine the law practice of tomorrow.

Human-Centered Design

Law students gathered across six sites in late February and early March, forming 40 teams where they explored these challenges with support from law school faculty, legal writing instructors, law librarians, and mentors from law firms, in-house counsel, and legal tech companies.

The Design Derby “reinforces everything we try to do in our program [at Georgia State]: give students hands-on opportunities to solve real problems; provide a space for creative thinking and community networking; and focus on the integration of the soft and hard skills necessary to innovatively solve modern legal problem,” said Michelle Dewey, legal technologies librarian at Georgia State University College of Law.

Altogether, 153 students brainstormed ideas and initial prototypes that solved a specific problem related to clickwrap agreements. The law schools included:

  • Duke University School of Law
  • North Carolina Central University School of Law
  • Campbell University School of Law
  • University of Oklahoma College of Law
  • Suffolk University Law School
  • Thomas R. Kline School of Law of Duquesne University
  • Georgia State University College of Law
  • University of Wisconsin Law School
  • The University of Hong Kong

Students finalized their ideas for a national competition coordinated by the Duke Center on Law & Tech. A panel of volunteer, third-party evaluators reviewed the submissions, analyzing the students’ problems they aimed to solve, their creativity and innovation, and the solutions themselves.

The Winners

“The Design Derby gave me and my wonderful teammates the rare opportunity in law school to tackle a large problem by simply exercising unbridled creativity. I truly believe that the entire legal community would benefit from similar environments that promote collaboration and exploration,” said Alex Bartlow CPA '24 of team "The Contract Lemurs."

Four teams were awarded the Grand Prize; each team earning aa $1,000 cash prize. All teams supported the use of plain language. Two teams (ClickWrapGod and The Contract Lemurs) focused on a consumer-centric plug-in or browser extension solution, while the other two winning teams (Team Beauty & TOSifyMe) utilized aspects of gamification to enhance user experience and understanding.

Three additional teams were given Honorable Mentions:

  • Smart Summaries: Team Kennedii AI, Duke Law
  • Accessibility All-Star: Team Onyx, Suffolk Law
  • Privacy Pioneer: PriEdge AI Tech, The University of Hong Kong
Derby people
(From left) Alan LeBlang '24, James Bergin LLM '93, Sandy Cho '24, Collette Moura '24, and Samuel Bettini '24

The Curriculum

This year, faculty from law schools across the globe applied to implement the program this spring to participate in the competition: Kenton Brice (University of Oklahoma), Adam Eckart (Suffolk University), Patrick Parsons & Michelle Dewey (Georgia State University), Charlie von Simson (University of Wisconsin), and Brian W. Tang (University of Hong Kong).

“Our first year hosting the Design Derby was a huge success. The curriculum was terrific, ready to go, and easily digestible for students unfamiliar with the substantive law. I would absolutely recommend it, and we can’t wait to participate again next year,” shared Adam Eckart, associate professor of Legal Writing at Suffolk University Law School

After two successful Future of Contracts Design Derby events, the Duke Center on Law & Tech now offers the curriculum free to any interested faculty member. The curriculum intentionally utilizes various formats to engage students — from videos to a case study, and includes individual, small group, and large group activities.

“Professor Jeff Ward and I designed the curriculum with human-centered principles in mind. We wanted faculty to be able to adapt the information and activities to their experience, their law students, and the courses they are teaching,” explained Kelli Raker, associate program director for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at Duke Law School.

The curriculum can be implemented within an academic course, but is not required to be.

For more information about the 2024 Future of Contracts Design Derby:

To access the open-source curriculum and implement it on your campus: