Blog Post

Time to get Agile: why legal needs to take a page from the project management book

February 1, 2019

Let’s be honest, agile is not a word synonymous with the legal sector.  It’s the antithesis of the way the profession runs.  Agile is quick, flexible and dexterous; not words anyone would naturally associate with a profession that has barely changed over the past 50 to 100 years.

And yet, while no-one would want laws to be created without deep consideration, cases to be brought without proper due diligence, or flippancy to be in any way part of our legal system, there are elements of agility, especially within a project management context, that could benefit the legal sector, particularly when it comes to technology adoption.

Agile is a project management methodology started in 2001 by a group of forward-thinking software engineers.  They realized that over-inflated, laborious software development methods were taking too long to come to fruition, disappointing customers and lowering developer morale.  Instead, they published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Agile has since moved on from just a software development methodology, traversing other industries as a more generalized project management approach.  Many law firms are already utilizing it in a legal project management guise and, as litigation becomes more complex, clients are increasingly asking law firms to prove they know how to manage projects before they engage.

But this isn’t about just applying those Agile techniques to projects – it’s about using those principals to accelerate the adoption of technology within your firm.  The legal sector is undergoing a slow, yet soon to become frenzied transformation driven by new legal technology and the desire for clients to get the results they want in a shorter time span, with greater value for money. 

Borrow from software development techniques to help legal tech’s impact and ROI

One of the biggest challenges we find for customers is that the hard part isn’t so much choosing from the daunting array of legal technology available and negotiating tricky contracts, but in integration.  The real difficulty lies in integrating the technology not just with your existing systems, but vitally into your colleagues’ day-to-day work patterns, in order to avoid it becoming costly shelfware.  Change management is a constant battleground for technology adopters.

And this is where implementing some of the principles of Agile can help.  Agile is about achieving something quickly in short bursts, giving constant feedback and collaborating with colleagues to achieve a shared goal.  It’s not about implementing gargantuan systems with an install-time of six years, with complexity to rival the toughest court case, and then expecting colleagues to sit through two weeks of training.

When you adopt legal technology, iteration and change are inevitable – new workflows, processes, and practices change and adapt with the team’s usage, so fast and continuous feedback is critical for defining workflows, resources, timelines and technology effectiveness.  Regular, quick feedback sessions can help identify problems early and get them fixed quickly to speed adoption.  Also, regular feedback means changes can be made and users can see the technology adapting to their workflows, ensuring greater user satisfaction.

Agile for better training

Agile also enhances and personalizes training.  Effective training isn’t one-time or one-size fits all.  Instead, teams must learn how to influence how the technology adapts.  An Agile implementation relies on individualization – people in different specialties training to make legal technology suit their needs, whether that’s a straightforward contract management system, or a more complex business analytics deployment.  Training helps the team understand how the technology generates their desired outcomes.

Corporate culture also benefits

Agile also builds success on a positive corporate culture.  Team members identify their own motivations for change, and super users can be appointed to work across functions to communicate and demonstrate the value of the technology.  Agile focuses on shared ownership of the project and, by giving constant quick feedback bursts, users are more likely to feel engaged with the adoption process and become responsible for its success.  People support what they help to create.

Keeping things simple is a fundamental cornerstone of Agile, and the Agile Manifesto notes that simplicity is ‘maximizing the work not done’ – an apt phrase for how users want technology to work.  Lawyers just want the system to ease their workload and add value to their routine, not add another layer of tasks to their already overfull ‘to do’ lists.

Adopting a full Agile approach is a commitment and skill in itself, with nuances and language that take time and practice to master.  However, borrowing some principles from the methodology could help smooth the way to legal technology adoption and help your organisation on the journey to legal transformation. 

Download: GC's Guide to Making the Case for Technology