You may have heard of ‘agile’ law firms, or that law firms are being urged to become more ‘agile.’ What does it mean? And why would it be important for a law firm to be ‘agile’?
What is Agility?
The concept of ‘agility’ finds its origins in IT project management. In 2001, leading experts from the IT industry published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This Manifesto contained 12 core principles, and a methodology and terminology for software development that were built upon these principles.
The Wikipedia defines it as follows: Agile software development describes an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customer/end users. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Agile Project Management uses its own terminology, which needs some getting used to, if one is not familiar with it. It uses terms, e.g., like sprint for a series of jobs, a user story for a group of tasks within a sprint, or a retrospective, which is an evaluation meeting with the purpose of diagnosing the achievements, failures, and missed opportunities of the sprint.
While these principles and methodology were originally conceived for software development, it immediately became clear that they could benefit project management in general. By now, about half of project managers are using the principles and methodology of agile project management.
Agile Law Firms
The Agile principles can easily be adapted and adopted for law firms and Legal Project Management. According to Ivan Rasic, “Agile refers to legal project management that encourages continuous improvement, collaboration, adaptation, team efforts and rapid delivery of valuable legal services.” Roya Behnia was one of the people who contributed to the Agile Manifesto for lawyers. She says an agile law firm focuses on:
- continual collaboration with clients;
- commitment to flexibility and rapidity;
- direct communication rather than complex documentation;
- continual focus on client goals;
- realistically weighing risk; and
- a strong bias toward simplicity.
Why is Agility important for lawyers?
Jim Hassett made the blunt observation that, like software developments, lawyers have clients who often change their mind. And you have to be prepared for that. Add to that that clients are also requiring their legal service vendors to prove they know how to manage projects, before they even decide to engage them. As ‘The Clever Project Manager’ points out, “Agility is the Way of the Present.” These days, customers expect instant gratification. And they expect that things will be on a path of constant improvement and zero issues, or they’ll look for alternatives. The only way to be successful in this world is to be responsive to your users’ needs and to be flexible enough to change your priorities when the market demands it.
In this context, agility means flexibility, “the freedom to make the right decisions at the right time, based on the right amount of information. (…) It means taking a ‘just-in-time’ approach to decision-making, based on data and reasoning. Flexibility allows adaptation which allows success; unnecessary rigor causes stagnation and failure in the long run.”
As such, agility is merely a reflection of reality. Accepting uncertainty, re-evaluating, adapting and reprioritizing one’s efforts, based on changing conditions is essential, because that is how the world works: things change constantly. In essence, Agility asks us to take long-term changes in direction into account.
The purpose of agile legal project management is to add value for your clients by anticipating that your strategies will probably have to adapt to changing circumstances. By doing so, agile project management increases productivity, efficiency and profitability. It also improves communication in your team, and it improves delivery time, all of which result in happy clients.