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Three Steps for a More Agile Law Firm (While Also Saving Money and Time!)

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If you’ve worked in the legal field over the past decade or so, you may have heard the term Agile law tossed around at conferences and networking events.

But what exactly does this buzziest of legal buzzwords actually mean—and how do you go about building an agile law firm?

Agile law doesn’t mean you need to start stretching more, running sprints, or training for Bruce Lee-like reflexes (although you’re welcome to try). As far as your law firm is concerned, Agile is a set of methodologies designed to build more responsive, flexible, and efficient processes and operations.

Agile has a lot in common with Lean methodology (as certified Lean-freaks, we’ve spent a good bit of time shouting into a bullhorn—i.e., our e-books and blogs—about its virtues). That being said, it’s its own system, and you can implement agile in as few as three steps.

Before we get started: What is Agile, anyway?

Agile was first developed in 2001 by a group of seventeen software developers—the goal was to create a project management workflow that departed from the rigid, frontloaded project planning that was common at the time.

At its core, Agile is about breaking down work into smaller, iterative steps, so project managers can swiftly respond to client needs, changes in the scope of work, or minor setbacks and delays.

And as it turns out, this methodology is just as useful for law firms as it is for software developers. Today, an increasing number of legal teams are discovering the benefits of Agile project management.

Benefits of Agile for legal teams

Legal matters unfold as a series of regular, routine processes—but you’re probably well-aware that no two matters are ever quite the same.

Different clients come to you with different needs, concerns, pain points, and timelines (and that’s without even mentioning all of the possible delays, miscommunications, and unexpected bottlenecks that can come up internally).

An Agile workflow allows your team to quickly respond to the changing needs of each client—and react quickly to workflow snags as they occur. Implementing an Agile methodology can also help your law firm:

  • Streamline matter workflows and organization
  • Respond to new issues, delays, and concerns with (you guessed it!) agility
  • Foster better collaboration between team members
  • Better focus on providing value for clients (rather than simply running through a predetermined series of steps)

Ready to get started? Here are a couple of steps for your law firm to take to get Agile.

Steps for a more Agile law firm

In the legal field, John E. Grant is seen as something of an Agile guru—and a few years ago, we invited him to host one of our Rocket Matter podcasts.

Among the pearls of wisdom he shared, Grant suggested a few simple, actionable steps you can take to adopt one of the easiest aspects of Agile practices: Kanban boards.

Step one: Get in the Kanban frame of mind

Kanban boards are a simple but effective way to help your team visualize its workflows.

In a Kanban board, every task associated with a matter is represented by a “card,” and these cards are sorted into rows based on where they are in the process of completing a matter.

At its most basic, a Kanban board might consist of only three rows:

  • To do
  • In-Progress, and
  • Completed

But law firms can also create more complex, customized Kanban boards to map out the tasks involved in the completion of legal matters (think rows for due diligence, review, drafting, signing, etc.).

Kanban boards can be constructed with just a blank wall and some sticky notes, but a practice management software with built-in Kanban boards can also allow your team members to collaborate from the comfort of their desks—or even from home.

Benefits of Kanban for law firms

Have you ever suddenly noticed that a matter was delayed, searched around to figure out how it happened, and discovered that the whole thing’s still waiting on one tiny task that got lost or overlooked?

That’s what Kanban boards are for.

By giving your whole team a visual reference of where each task is in the matter management process, you can easily prioritize what needs to be done—and spot any bottlenecks that prevent progress.

Kanban boards also make team collaboration easier. Team members can move their tasks to the next row as they complete them and keep an active, shared record of who’s doing what and when. They can even pitch in to help complete urgent tasks when the person they’re assigned to is too busy to get them done.

Step two: Focus on the value for the client

As you work through what often seems like an endless stream of daily tasks, it’s easy for your legal team to lose sight of what really matters: helping your clients solve their problems.

Kanban boards are one way to break down each matter into understandable, manageable steps and processes—but you’ll also want to consider how these processes serve your clients.

Grant suggests using the following formulation:

As a (client), I need to be able to (___), so that I can (___).

Initially borrowed from software development, this storytelling approach helps you identify—and address—the most pressing needs of your clients.

If what you’re working on right now doesn’t serve those needs, it might be time to refocus and reprioritize.

Step three: Cut out the waste

As you implement the first two steps above, you may find little inefficiencies that don’t deliver value to the client.

Another thing you may notice? Fifteen efficiently handled tasks won’t help you deliver more value to clients if even one task or process is holding things up.

Kanban boards can streamline matter management and cut through waste. Start by addressing the points in your workflows where matters consistently get bogged down—then you can take a look at your remaining matter tasks to see if any of them can be cut, combined, or otherwise streamlined.

Looking to build an Agile firm? Let Rocket Matter give you a boost

Rocket Matter’s legal practice management software comes complete with a whole suite of project management tools, including customizable Kanban boards.

To see how our powerful software tools can help you build a more Agile practice, try us for free or schedule a demo.