In the changing and increasingly competitive legal market, the term ‘agile’ has materialized here and there. The idea of a people-focused and adaptable approach is attractive to firms that are trying to modernize their practices. However, agile was invented in the software development industry and was never intended to be used in other industries.
But law firms can use the principles of the agile method to guide a shift from their traditional models of operation to a growth-minded, future-thinking approach.
Here is an overview of what agile software development is, how law firms can benefit from adopting the values of agile, along with 5 practical ways you can implement agile techniques in your law firm straight away.
What is Agile?
Agile is a popular method of software development used by dev teams all over the world. It involves focusing on the developers and their talents, rather than on strict planning processes and tools, to create successful products.
Agile differs from traditional approaches to development where people attempt to identify all the product’s requirements and create a comprehensive plan of the product before building anything. But teams that use agile apply an iterative approach, focussing on building a core product that works, then making changes and adding features based on tests and feedback.
Collaboration, self-organizing teams, customer feedback, and responsiveness to change are key values of the agile method.
How Can Law Firms Use Agile Techniques?
Many legal technology products on the market today owe their success to using the agile method. Agile can help businesses create end-products that are useful and well-made. Exploring the many software tools that have been designed specifically for lawyers is one way law firms can adapt to changes.
Aside from just implementing legal tech that has been developed using agile, firms can use the principles of the agile approach to improve their organizational model.
Instead, law firms can use the principles of the agile method to guide a shift from their traditional models of operation to a growth-minded, future-thinking approach.
Tips for Agile Law Firms in 2022
1. Improve Culture
To make the most out of the agile approach, law firms should look to improve their culture. Organizational psychology has proven that intrinsic motivation should be targeted by employers who want to build a healthy and productive workplace. Intrinsic motivation is driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, whereas extrinsic motivation is fuelled by receiving external rewards and avoiding punishments.
Building intrinsic motivation in employees can improve workplace wellbeing and productivity and decrease turnover rates and sick leave days. This could be done by showing trust and respect of colleagues. Simple ways to do this can include upholding boundaries between home and work, and allowing employees to shut off outside of the standard work hours. Using a cloud-based communications system that is purpose-built for lawyers makes it easier to do this, while making communications during work more efficient and accessible.
2. Be an Agile Leader, Have Vision
Traditionally, leaders are thought to be those who are higher-up and who influence the thoughts and actions of others. This can create a cyclical environment where ideas become stagnated.
Instead, senior members of an agile law firm should demonstrate and nurture the broader visions of the firm, rather than specific actions. These visions and values may be broad principles like resilience, innovation, growth, and communication. So, rather than fostering specific thoughts and ideas, agile leaders should advocate for a learning environment where new ideas are free to develop.
3. Encourage Ownership over Tasks
Encouraging ownership over projects can help employees feel valued and self-motivated. This is integral to the well-being and productivity of any law firm. Members of a firm should feel comfortable taking initiative and thinking creatively to solve problems more quickly and effectively than in the past.
A learning organization is a place “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Peter Senge, Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)
4. Do Things Iteratively
A key tenet of the agile model is that projects should be completed in chunks, and these chunks should not be set in stone in the planning phase. Doing things in iterative chunks makes it easier to regularly test whether each stage of the project is working, and to adapt the next stage to any changes.
Moreover, doing things iteratively makes failure more easily managed and overcome. When a project is broken down into smaller tasks, it is easier to look at the project and see where sections have not worked as planned. Making failures more easily remedied can reduce feelings of blame and inadequacy, improving productivity and workplace well-being.
Lastly, all members of an agile law firm should be retrospective about their successes and failures. Having a sound understanding of how a good or bad outcome was achieved can guide law firms in their future actions.
Furthermore, being reflective and taking on feedback from clients and colleagues shows others, within the law firm and from the outside, that the law firm is adaptable, eager to learn, and conscious of client satisfaction.
The Agile Law Firm
An agile law firm is a workplace that can respond quickly to changing environments and make the most of opportunities. Investing in creating a transparent and forward-thinking environment can help law firms increase their competitive edge.
The agile technique used by software developers cannot simply just be applied to the corporate industry, as its rules and benefits are specific to building tech. But, the values of collaboration, self-organization, customer feedback, and responsiveness to change are learnings that can be applied to any law firm that is looking to improve its processes.