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Using Agile Legal Project Management Techniques in Law

Agile in Law is a new approach to legal process management used by law firms and in-house legal departments to improve their services and satisfy the clients' demands. We will introduce Agile in Law, some of its benefits, and a few Agile's techniques that can be used by legal departments:

Fast-changing advances in processes and technology are challenging organizational outcomes. Agile project management has asserted itself as a successful methodology in business process improvements. It was born out of need for faster and cheaper delivery in industries such as Information Technology (IT). It uses repeated processes to achieve faster timelines and more flexible project planning.

Agile methodology is a form of project management that involves dividing tasks into short work phases with frequent assessments and change of plans. This ability to adapt to change makes Agile ideal for legal projects.

It's more than a set of tools – it's a shift in an organization's mindset. Therefore, the main stakeholders at the organizations are vital in the transformation process to Agile, which emphasizes individuals and interactions through listening to clients and fostering cross-functional teamwork on projects. Feedback is crucial in all phases and allows for assessment of a project's direction during development in regular stand-up meetings.

For example, a possible product is set up to be delivered in a time-box called a sprint, which is usually scheduled for two, three, or sometimes four weeks.  Agile is about working smarter, not  harder. It is about generating more value with less work. As such, it lends itself well to legal project management.

In this article, we'll begin to explore just some of the many Agile techniques that can benefit legal processes.

A few of the many Agile techniques we can use

Stories

Agile methods stress communication and collaboration over documentation to ensure faster delivery through the elimination of waste. To achieve that goal, the team focuses on dissecting a project into the smallest components possible, known as “stories.” Stories in the Agile world look to answer the client's needs.

Kanban

One of the purest forms of Agile methodology is the use of Kanban boards, which consist of a visual "to-do" list for a team. Every Kanban board must contain several columns that represent project work stages. Cards or sticky notes show tasks the team needs to complete. The simplest form of a Kanban board has "To Do," "Doing," and "Done" columns. With some exceptions, the goal is to finish a task before starting another one. The reason for this is that one of the main goals in Kanban is to constrain the amount of work in progress (WIP) and avoid an overload. In Agile's terms, we want the previous task to “pull” rather than “push” the next one.

It is easy to see how these concepts apply to law. “Pull,” not “push,” could have a positive impact on attorneys' time-keeping, avoiding unnecessary waste, excessive or duplicative work, work the partner or the client didn’t request, etc.

Also, in any typical day, it is not unusual for a lawyer to deal with dozens of emails, phone calls, and meetings. A Kanban system may improve efficiency and flow as a law firm handles these tasks in a more systematic way.

In family law, for example, a lawyer might replace a task (or set of tasks) involving filing temporary orders at the beginning of dissolution with one or more user stories describing the problems she is trying to solve for her client. The measure of "done," then, becomes not whether she finish the work but whether she solved the client's problems.

Time-boxes

A time-box sets when a task must be completed; in other words, it determines how long a sprint will last. For instance, you can decide to devote fifteen minutes to weekly sprint meetings, or that a project must be done in two weeks. The goal is to define and limit the amount of time dedicated to a specific activity.

Retrospective

At the end of a sprint, your team should engage in the retrospective process and discuss what happened in the last iteration and go over what went wrong and what went well to determine what needs to be improved. Everyone should reflect on the process to uncover waste or problems to solve in the next phase.

Kanban, stories, time-boxes, and reflective processes are among the ways everyone can work together to complete a project on time for continuous process improvement.  

Agile Benefits for Law

Agile processes make legal teams more efficient and proactive, with less downtime and delays. That results in faster delivery time, money saved for the client, and continuous process improvement.

According to Woldow and Richardson (2013, p. ix) in their book Legal Project Management in One Hour for Lawyers, clients want the following from their lawyers:


To sum up, Agile processes and tools help law firms listen to their clients and understand what they want and need. Through this, they discover the parts of their workflow to reduce or remove to offer better value to their clients, and what to focus on for greater efficiency and improved outcomes.

Source: Agile & Scrum on one Page and How to implement it. Keith Wilson (2019)

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