The Agile Lawyer
Law firms around the globe have faced the challenge of entertaining maximum clients, while ensuring quality work, efficiency and client satisfaction. This requires robust legal process management systems within a firm that ensure output, and efficiency, both.
Law firms and corporate legal departments are using the new ‘agile in law’ approach to legal process management in order to enhance their offerings and meet client requests.
Agile project management has established itself as an effective tool for streamlining corporate operations. It emerged from the necessity for quicker and more affordable delivery in information technology (IT) sectors. It uses repeated procedures to produce shorter turnaround times and more adaptable project scheduling.
Using the agile technique, jobs are broken down into manageable work phases while undergoing regular evaluations and plan modifications. Agile projects are perfect candidates for this discipline because of their flexibility.
Rapid advancements in technology and process make it harder for organisations to achieve their goals. Agile project management has proven to be a useful technique for optimising business processes. In order to achieve quicker turnaround times and more flexible project scheduling, it uses flexible techniques.
Legal teams that use agile processes are more proactive and productive, with less downtime. As a consequence, the client saves money, the delivery process is improved continuously, and the delivery time is shortened.
Clients expect the following from their attorneys, according to Woldow and Richardson (2013) in their book Legal Project Management in One Hour for Lawyers:
- Value provided as seen from the perspective of the clients
- Lean and effective staffing, budget management, and reduced outside legal costs
- Predictability to prevent expensive surprises and minimise unforeseen events
- Timely, attentive, accurate, and thorough communication
- Understanding all facets of their operations, not just their regulatory needs
- alignment between the firm’s actions and the clients’ interests.
How is Agile applied by Law Firms
The typical procedure in a law firm is as follows: a client requests assistance with the legal due diligence of another corporation. The legal firm solicits preliminary information, determines the work’s scope and costs, and creates a schedule for the project (i.e. commits to deadlines).
When one gathers data at the start of the project, defines strict scopes, timeframes, and costs, then (hopefully) delivers the results the day before the deadline, this is referred to as “waterfall project management.”
The same process would work differently with the agile methodology in play.
One would start by asking the client which is more important to them: keeping the scope, keeping the deadline, or keeping the cost down. Depending on the requirements of the customer, one might decide, for example, that they must always fulfill the deadline and that it would be best to stick to the agreed-upon rates.
The labour is broken up into a few brief time frames, like weeks. While one is still working on the report, the client evaluates it and offers feedback. Agile technique guards against a scenario in which one may get a tonne of client comments after the data room has been shut down and the deadline is just around the corner.
Agile Methodology: Historical Perspective
Agile’s foundations are in software development.
The rate of change was outpacing software businesses’ capacity to offer new goods and services using conventional (or waterfall) project management during the early years of the web and the ensuing tech boom. As new features went through sequential processes including coding, UI design, integration, QA testing, and release (often going back and forth between phases), delivery cycles took many months or even years. The customer’s requirements had already changed by the time a new software program went live.
A group of software developers created a new approach to creating software in the early 2000s that they named Agile in an effort to end the loop of protracted lead times and subpar results. According to the 2014 State of Agile Survey, which is conducted annually, 94 percent of respondents had implemented Agile in some capacity within their organisations, just 14 years after the initial “Agile Manifesto.” In addition, 87% of respondents claimed that using Agile principles helped their team manage shifting priorities better, 84% said that Agile increased productivity, and 79% said that Agile boosted team morale. These aren’t just software firms, however; only 25% of responders were from the tech sector; a wide range of industries, including government, healthcare, financial and professional services, and many more, were also well-represented. Significantly missing in these statistics was the legal industry. However, since then, a number of agile methodology techniques have been adopted by the legal industry. Some of which have been listed below:
Breaking down the Agile Methodology
The Agile Manifesto is a declaration of fundamental ideals and guidelines for software development. The Agile Manifesto for software development, which was established in 2001, is a declaration of four important guidelines and twelve principles that act as a roadmap for anyone involved in agile software development.
12 Core Principles
- Customer satisfaction is the first focus, and this is achieved through timely and consistent delivery of high-quality software.
- Even later in the development process, accepting changing needs of clients is encouraged.
- Agile methodologies leverage change for the benefit of the customer’s competitiveness.
- Supply working software frequently, preferably in shorter timeframes of a few weeks to a few months is encouraged.
- Throughout the project, entrepreneurs and developers are promoted to collaborate every day.
- Building initiatives around motivated people and trusting them to complete the task and providing them with the environment and assistance they require is key to the agile methodology.
- Face-to-face communication is considered to be the most effective and efficient way to share information with a development team.
- Progress is mostly measured by usable software.
- Sustainable development is promoted through agile methodologies.
- It should be possible for the sponsors, developers, and users to continue at the same pace indefinitely.
- Agility is improved through constant focus on technical perfection and smart design.
- The art of simplicity, which maximises the amount of effort not done, is considered crucial.
- The best requirements, designs, and architectures come from self-organizing teams.
- The team adapts and modifies its behaviour in response to periodic reflections on how to be more effective.
Key Agile Methods (for Lawyers)
Make your Work Visible
Agile has its origins in the Lean manufacturing methodologies that, beginning with Toyota in the 1960s and 1970s, revolutionised the manufacturing sector. In the modern world, it would be difficult to find a production or service company that doesn’t use Lean to some degree. But compared to knowledge-based businesses like software and law, Lean has a key advantage: you can actually watch the product as it advances through its many phases of completion. It is fairly easy to identify the issue and take action to fix it if a certain step in the workflow fails or a bottleneck develops.
This is even more challenging with knowledge work because our procedures are obscure, and work-in-progress frequently simply takes the shape of 1s and 0s on our computer systems.
In order to remedy this issue, The first step in almost every Agile endeavour is to provide the tasks that make up a knowledge worker’s day with some physical form, typically in the form of a task wall or Kanban board. Process Mapping, can also assist one in building lean projects and processes, some of the key techniques to adopt while process mapping is using a facilitator, building visual charts and going back to them regularly for reference, and imagining scenarios with no constraints, in order to eliminate redundancies and automate better. For more information about process mapping and adoption of lean methodology, visit gimbal.
This is what a Kanban Board Looks like:
Replace your tasks with User Stories
Even with a powerful productivity tool like a kanban board, it is simple to become overburdened by the multitude of tasks we believe we must complete at any given time. Agilists avoid these task-based activity traps by altering their perspective on the work that has to be completed. They begin by establishing a statement of what problem needs to be solved and why, rather than specifying what work needs to be done and what features it has to have. In reality, asking yourself “what is the problem I am trying to address” can be a very effective way to overcome challenges or mental hurdles. But when describing issues that need to be resolved, Agile practitioners most frequently employ a series of open-ended words known as a “User Story.” A User Story, in essence, is a brief summary of a specific consumer requirement and the factors that led to it.
A simple example of a User Story is:
To be able to solve _________(problem)________________, I need to ______(plan of action)_____________________, so that I can ___________(desired result)___________________________.
A user story for a lawyer working on a case could be: “as the representing counsel for the case, I need to divide the research of the case in such a way that each of my associates can focus on different parts of the case dealing with different questions of law.”
Agile is the umbrella term used to describe a number of different methodologies and frameworks, one of them being “Scrum”. In Srum, a project is broken up into manageable, brief work periods known as “sprints” with Scrum. These are distinguished by frequent evaluations that enable a team to rearrange tasks and modify their strategy in response to potential future requests from customers. Due to this project’s adaptability and flexibility, the client’s needs can change as new information becomes available.
The Planning Meeting, the Daily Stand Up, the Review Meeting, and the Retrospective are four rituals that make Scrum well recognised.
The Retrospective is about the process of accomplishing the work, whereas the first three rituals are primarily about planning and carrying out the work. Everyone in the team is encouraged to participate, and it usually takes the form of three questions (though they are also effective for a solitary practitioner). The inquiries are straightforward:
- What worked well that we should continue doing?
- What went wrong that we ought to cease doing?
- What novel approach should we take?
Establishing a regular retrospective schedule forces you and your team to be honest about both your accomplishments and areas for improvement. Feedback from clients is important to focus on the right path of development in a project. Feedback also helps in streamlining processes, identifying the right priorities and setting the right goals to reach the desired result.
Agile Practices in Law
- 6 agile principles that apply to everything
- Agile Alliance: Agile 101
- Embracing Agile
- How to apply Agile practices with your non-tech team or business
- Organisational agility: How business can survive and thrive in turbulent times
- How lawyers can use Agile project management and kanban
- Lean Legal: Three Techniques for the Agile Lawyer
- The Dawn of the Agile Attorney
- Using the Kanban System to Become a More Agile Attorney
- Kanban for Lawyers: Agile Management for Law Firms Reviews & Ratings – Amazon.in
- Special Reports – The Agile Law Firm
- Lean Legal: Three Techniques for the Agile Lawyer
Lean Legal practices
- From Big Law to Lean Law | Request PDF
- The Agile Law Firm: Chris Bull
- Lean Six Sigma for Law Firms: MacDonagh, Catherine Alman: 9781783581115: Amazon.com
- Amazon.com: The Lean Law Firm: Run Your Firm Like the World’s Most Efficient and Profitable Businesses (Audible Audio Edition)
Process Mapping in Law
Scrum in Law
- Scrum – what it is, how it works, and why it’s awesome
- Agile vs. Scrum: What’s the Difference? | Northeastern University