Agile for Legal Departments: System for Stress Relief
As a practice management system, Agile offers legal departments improved collaboration, expedience and communication. Learn how it can work for your in-house legal team.
The myriad moving pieces of any legal project – who’s doing what, when, what’s next – are hard enough before COVID-19 led to lock-down orders worldwide. Now lawyers are scrambling to work from makeshift home offices; the meetings (formal and informal) that kept matters moving have been replaced with harried Zoom/Google/Teams conferences.
In the unprecedented stress of the coronavirus crisis, teams that are displaced and dysfunctional run greater risks of missed deadlines and derailed matters. Teams that invest some time and energy into organizing their legal operations management can get through this era with minimal chaos – and position themselves for long-term success.
What is Agile?
Agile is a way of working that’s being used by more than 70 percent of our business colleagues, according to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession. While it was created for software development, as a practice management system Agile offers Legal Departments a host of benefits: collaboration, expedience and communication among them.
Agile can provide your scattered, remote team with a framework for mapping each member’s backlog and work-in-process, and a consistent communication rhythm that ensures progress. (For a full briefing, download our complimentary white paper - Agile 101: A Guide for Lawyers).
In its software roots, Agile moves stages of programming toward product launch. How does it work for the far less straightforward world of in-house law?
How do lawyers get Agile?
Although the execution may vary, the principles remain the same: Discrete tasks are charted and completed. Communication is frequent and efficient. Customer happiness is the end goal.
The key phrase for your Legal Department? Discrete tasks.
If, on your list of team projects, you list “Acquisition of ABC Company,” so much can get lost. There are too many components, too many players, too many deadlines, too much guesswork.
Instead, break your work down into discrete, individual tasks. Consider the phases of the Acquisition of ABC Company:
- Letter of Intent
- Due Diligence
- Purchase Agreement
From there, break these down even further:
- What is every task involved in this phase?
- Who will handle it?
- When must this be done?
- Think about sequence: What must be done before this task can be done, and what future tasks rely on this one?
Some Agile teams literally map their tasks with Post-It notes and blank walls. A more high-tech approach is to use a matter management for in-house tool, like Xakia, which can automate this process: legal operations made simple. (This is especially helpful now, when on-the-cloud is more accessible than on-the-wall.)
Distilling your work down to this level provides visibility into your matters – legal department intelligence that’s helpful in the best of times and critical in crises. You will have greater clarity into your deadlines, individual workloads and progress.
This exercise will be the biggest mind shift for your Legal Department’s shift into Agile. Your task list will be the centerpiece of your Agile communications – you will visit it in short, daily “standup” meetings or calls where the team charts out work for the day. Once complete, tasks can be evaluated to ensure business client objectives were achieved.
Why implement Agile for legal teams now?
The era of COVID-19 is rooted in uncertainty: Every day brings new headlines about the virus, new economic projections, new conjectures about what’s next. It may feel like strange timing to introduce an entirely new way of working – but in fact, it’s ideal.
For a displaced team, think about what Agile brings:
1. An organized task list
Short, discrete tasks are easier to understand and tackle when you are distracted or worried. They also are faster to finish, and it eases stress to see tasks land in the “complete” column.
2. Frequent communication
Separation from one’s colleagues can be a real loss. Providing live, reliable communication can boost camaraderie and morale.
3. Client satisfaction
Checking in with your business clients will maintain and strengthen your relationships throughout the organization – and give you invaluable insight from the front lines.