The traditional legal landscape is morphing, and legal teams are stepping into a realm of dynamic strategies to meet the evolving challenges head-on.
One of these strategies (adopted from software development) is the Agile methodology.
Recently, Telstra's legal team revamped its working model, not only changing its structure and reporting lines but also embracing Agile principles with open arms. The results? Not just one but two top rankings in the FT Innovative Lawyers in-house legal teams list.
But Telstra isn't alone on this Agile expedition. Legal teams across the globe are navigating this transformative shift, adapting Agile methodologies to match the quicksilver pace of the legal arena.
Let’s explore how Agile management for legal can make legal teams deal with their workload more efficiently.
What is Agile management?
Agile management is a flexible and iterative approach to project and team management that originated in the software development industry. It emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and continuous improvement in order to deliver value to clients and stakeholders.
Unlike traditional linear project management methods, where tasks are planned and executed sequentially, Agile management embraces change and encourages regular feedback to guide the project's direction.
What is Agile management in legal?
Agile methodology highlights the importance of fostering collaborative relationships among legal professionals, stakeholders, clients, and other relevant parties. Agile encourages open dialogues and knowledge sharing, enabling legal teams to better understand the broader business context and address legal matters with a holistic perspective.
How does Agile differ from traditional management approaches for legal teams?
Picture this: you're in a fast-paced legal world, where regulations evolve faster than you can say "lawsuit."
Now, imagine trying to manage it all using a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach. That's like using a typewriter in a touchscreen era – clunky and out of touch!
Enter Agile management. Unlike the traditional "wait until the end" playbook, Agile methodology lets you break projects into bite-sized sprints, delivering actual results at the end of each one.
Additionally, traditional approaches may struggle to accommodate changes, leading to potentially outdated legal strategies.
In contrast, Agile's incremental and iterative nature empowers in-house legal teams to adapt to changes efficiently, engage stakeholders regularly, and deliver continuous value throughout the project.
Benefits of Agile adoption for in-house legal
76% of legal teams report finding it challenging to manage workloads. With Agile adoption, managing workloads is not only more efficient but also less overwhelming.
#1 Enhanced responsiveness
Agile equips your team with the ability to swiftly adapt. Legal requirements can shift overnight, but with Agile, you'll be a step ahead. You'll tackle evolving regulations, urgent cases, and unforeseen challenges.
#2 Improved communication
Regular interactions among team members, stakeholders, and clients keep everyone on the same page. With Agile management, you can say goodbye to legal jargon confusion and hello to clear, collaborative conversations that build trust and understanding.
“Even though you’re from legal, you can't speak legal jargon in meetings. Translate your legal opinion to an easy-to-understand business rationale. And for this, legal counsel needs to learn relevant business terms and KPIs. Translate into their terms, not just yours.”
~ Ryan Nier, General Counsel at Pinwheel
Putting Legal on the Map in a Hypergrowth Startup
#3 Increased efficiency
Since Agile slices big projects into smaller, manageable chunks, you are able to deliver tangible outcomes at the end of each sprint. The result? A productivity boost that rockets your team forward.
#4 Risk mitigation
Legal risks are like hidden monsters under the bed – they can creep up when you least expect them. Agile shines a light on these dark corners, allowing you to identify and address potential risks early. With continuous feedback loops and iterative reviews, you'll spot red flags, revise strategies, and keep your ship sailing smoothly.
#5 Continuous learning
With Agile, you get regular retrospectives that provide a safe space to reflect, learn, and improve. You'll adapt your methods based on what worked and what didn't, steadily sharpening your legal toolkit with every sprint.
How to implement Agile methodology in in-house legal teams
Bringing the Agile methodology to in-house legal involves a strategic approach that combines adaptability with structured execution. Here’s how you can implement it successfully.
#1 Select the right framework to maximize efficiency
Agile isn't a one-size-fits-all solution; it offers various frameworks tailored to different contexts. In the legal landscape, selecting the right framework can make all the difference in maximizing efficiency and adapting to change. Here are two prominent Agile frameworks that suit in-house legal teams:
Scrum divides work into time-boxed periods called sprints, usually spanning 1-4 weeks. Each sprint results in a potentially shippable product increment.
Here are some of the roles associated with the Scrum framework:
- Product owner: Represents stakeholders, defines requirements, and sets priorities
- Scrum master: Facilitates the team's adherence to Scrum practices and helps remove obstacles
- Development team: Cross-functional members responsible for delivering the sprint's goal
Benefits of Scrum for legal
- Clear sprint boundaries for legal tasks, promoting focused work
- Regular communication with stakeholders ensures alignment
- Embracing change allows adapting to evolving legal requirements
Kanban is like a conveyor belt for tasks, ensuring a steady flow without overwhelming the team. It visualizes work stages on a board, limiting work in progress to prevent bottlenecks. With Kanban, you can:
- Visualize the workflow: Tasks move across stages, providing real-time status
- Limit work in progress: Prevent overloading the team, maintaining steady flow
- Manage flow: Monitor efficiency, identify and address process constraints
Benefits of Kanban for legal
- Visual representation simplifies task tracking and status checks
- Flexibility to add tasks as needed, accommodating urgent legal matters
- Continuous improvement fosters a culture of efficiency
Selecting between Scrum and Kanban depends on the nature of legal work and the team's preferences. Scrum's structured approach suits teams seeking well-defined, time-bound iterations. Kanban's adaptive nature is ideal for teams handling a mix of tasks and aiming for a constant flow.
#2 Create a backlog to understand work to be done
Compile a backlog of legal tasks, issues, and projects. This backlog serves as a repository of work to be done and enables efficient prioritization. Each item should be well-defined and broken down into manageable pieces for easy tracking and completion.
Task: Contract review and negotiation
Item A: Review draft contract for new client engagement
- Review contract terms and clauses
- Identify potential legal risks and concerns
- Provide recommendations for revisions
Item B: Negotiate terms with vendor in existing contract renewal
- Collaborate with procurement team to understand vendor requirements
- Identify key negotiation points
- Prepare counter-offers and amendments
When you have a well-structured backlog, you can:
- quickly assess the urgency and importance of each task. This ensures that critical legal matters are addressed promptly, preventing potential risks and delays
- gain transparency into the workload of the legal team. Stakeholders and clients can gain insight into ongoing tasks and their progress, fostering trust and collaboration
- break down tasks into manageable pieces allows for better understanding and easier delegation among team members. Each task becomes a clear action item rather than a daunting project.
- easily assign responsibilities and track individual progress. This accountability contributes to smoother teamwork and overall project success
#3 Prioritize and plan iterations to align efforts with business goals
Prioritize the backlog items based on business value, urgency, and complexity. Here are some ways you can prioritize and plan iterations in both Scrum and Kanban frameworks in Agile methodology for legal.
a. Scrum approach
Task: Contract Review and Negotiation
Evaluate which contract review holds the most business value and urgency. For instance:
- High priority: Reviewing a contract for a crucial client partnership renewal
- Medium priority: Reviewing a contract for a routine supplier engagement
- Low priority: Reviewing a contract for a non-urgent internal service agreement
With your priorities in order, select a subset of high-priority contract reviews for the upcoming sprint. Keep in mind the sprint's duration, perhaps 2 weeks.
Finally, estimate the effort required for each contract review. Consider factors such as complexity, volume of clauses, and collaboration with other departments.
b. Kanban approach
Task: Intellectual Property Protection
Set up a Kanban board with columns representing different stages of patent and trademark processes. Example columns:
- To-Do: Pending trademark searches and patent application reviews
- In Progress: Ongoing trademark application and patent filing processes
- Review: Items awaiting legal team or stakeholder review
To prevent bottlenecks, define a limit for each column. For instance, only three trademark applications can be in progress simultaneously.
As tasks move across columns, track their progress. If a trademark application gets stuck in the "Review" column, address the bottleneck promptly to maintain a smooth workflow.
By prioritizing tasks based on value and urgency, you ensure that your legal efforts align with business goals and compliance needs. Plus, planning iterations prevents overloading your team, making sure that tasks are realistically manageable within the specified timeframe.
#4 Hold regular standup meetings to share progress and address obstacles
Incorporate daily standup meetings (15-minute max) where team members briefly share progress, plans, and any obstacles.
This quick communication ensures transparency, helps identify and resolve issues promptly, and maintains alignment within the team.
“If you're approachable and people feel like you're trying to do the right thing, people give you a little bit more discretion if you goof up on something as a manager or do something that rubs someone the wrong way.”
~ Doug Luftman, ex-DGC, DocuSign
The Key to Success as an In-House Legal Counsel & Leader
Here are some tips to enable effective communication:
- Stick to the 15-minute rule – quick and focused
- Encourage team members to share only essential updates and blockers
- Keep discussions centered on the three key questions: What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Any obstacles?
- Encourage open sharing of both successes and challenges
- To keep things fresh and engaging, rotate the order in which team members speak
- For in-person standups, use physical sticky notes on a board to visualize tasks
- For virtual standups, employ digital tools like Trello or Microsoft Teams to create a virtual board
#5 Foster cross-functional collaboration to gain diverse perspectives
Encourage collaboration between legal professionals and other relevant departments. Cross-functional teams bring diverse perspectives to the table, facilitating a holistic approach to legal problem-solving and solution development.
“My advice for any executive or department is to take off the boxing gloves, be human, and have a conversation. Find out what’s not clicking and understand each other’s goals. Understand the tradeoffs that everyone has made. Have that relationship where you can walk up to any department and ask them questions about things you don’t understand. Ask them to explain it to you like you’re fifteen.”
~ Celaena Powder, VP of Legal, Seismic
Building Cross-functional Bridges
Here are actionable strategies to infuse collaboration with effectiveness and synergy within your Agile legal methodology:
- Set up dedicated communication channels like Slack, MS Teams, etc. for cross-functional teams to share updates and insights
- Schedule regular meetings or huddles with cross-functional members to discuss ongoing projects
- When legal challenges arise, involve cross-functional experts in brainstorming sessions
- Organize workshops or knowledge-sharing sessions between legal and non-legal teams
- Collaboratively track tasks, deadlines, and milestones, fostering a sense of shared ownership
- Break down silos by emphasizing the collective success over individual achievements.
- Foster a mindset of empathy by encouraging team members to understand the challenges faced by other departments
- Encourage team members to provide constructive feedback on the collaboration process
#6 Embrace the Agile mindset
Above all, cultivating an Agile mindset is crucial. This involves embracing change, encouraging open communication, and focusing on delivering value iteratively. An Agile mindset ensures that the team remains adaptable, open to learning, and consistently seeks ways to enhance efficiency.
“We’ve seen a number of Agile efforts that have not reached full potential because the leadership didn’t change their behaviors. I think it’s important to get the leadership on the same page with the actual team in terms of what are we trying to accomplish, what do we need to change?”
~ Will Poindexter, leader of Bain & Company’s technology and Agile innovation practices
Getting a work out: Agile in in-house teams
Instead of resisting change, channel your energy into creatively navigating it, finding innovative solutions even in the face of uncertainty.
The result is a structured yet flexible approach that equips legal professionals to navigate complex legal challenges with agility and precision.
Where to use Agile methodology for in-house legal work
As you venture into the Agile approach for the first time, you need to be sure that you’re using it for the right kind of projects. Abbott Martin, VP, Team Manager, Gartner, advises that you answer the four key questions to figure out the use cases for Agile methodology for legal work.
Question #1: Would this work gain from more client input?
One of the cornerstones of Agile methodology is its reliance on consistent and ongoing engagement with clients. By actively involving clients throughout the project lifecycle, you can receive real-time insights and updates, allowing for course corrections that align with evolving client needs.
Example: Let's consider the scenario of developing a versatile contract template intended for use across multiple jurisdictions. In this case, collaborating closely with stakeholders from various regions proves invaluable.
You get immediate feedback upon sharing initial draft clauses with business partners. These inputs not only aid in refining the initial sections but also inform the subsequent drafting process carried out by other team members. Such iterative client involvement ensures that the end product precisely meets evolving client requirements.
Question #2: Is there an end product?
While agility embraces flexibility, having a clear understanding of the project's ultimate goal remains imperative. This clarity, even if attained through iterative processes, empowers you to compartmentalize tasks, set achievable deadlines, and pinpoint the expertise needed.
Example: Let's explore the development of a vendor contract management system. The end product aims to streamline and automate the process of vendor onboarding, monitoring, and compliance. Agile methodology is particularly suitable here.
While the finer details might evolve as the project progresses, the overarching objective remains constant. This allows the legal team to break down the project into components – like vendor risk assessment module, compliance documentation repository, and automated alerts system.
Different team members, such as contract experts and IT professionals, can concurrently work on these components within sprints. The project's defined scope ensures that everyone is on the same page, pursuing a shared vision of the end product.
Question #3: Does this work need a bunch of experts to jump in?
Agile is like a team huddle where everyone brings their A-game. It loves projects that are like a mixtape of skills, breaking down the walls between different departments.
Example: Let’s say you're building an effective outside counsel guidelines document. Now that's a jackpot for Agile. You'd have lawyers of all kinds – experienced, fresh faces, and even external folks – brainstorming together. Why? Because their varied insights paint a complete picture. Imagine having a playbook that not only has the legal nitty-gritty but also practical tips from those who’ve experienced handling outside counsel first hand.
Question #4: Can you slice this work into bite-sized pieces?
Imagine you're making a pizza. You wouldn't throw the whole dough in the oven, right? Agile thinks the same way about projects. It's all about cutting tasks into smaller, digestible chunks called sprints. So, when you're considering Agile, pick projects that can be neatly portioned out, like pizza slices.
Example: Let's talk about building a legal knowledge base. This screams "Agile potential." Each section – from contract templates to compliance guides – can be a separate sprint. You've got the legal equivalent of a pizza – different slices, each with its unique flavor. This way, you're not biting off more than you can chew. You're dealing with manageable, focused tasks that eventually build into a comprehensive resource.
Also read: Will AI Replace In-House Lawyers?
Embracing Agile for legal excellence
"Lawyers tend to be in more demand than there is available supply, and the challenge that creates is one of imbalance and unsustainable pace."
~ Craig Emery, Head of Legal and Chief Compliance Officer, Telstra
Indeed, in a world where agility isn't just an advantage but a lifeline, the legal domain is experiencing a transformation like never before. Through embracing Agile principles, legal teams are breaking free from traditional molds, redefining collaboration, and powering through challenges with a newfound sense of purpose and speed. The fusion of law and agility is here, and it's shaping the future of legal excellence.
However, embracing Agile methodology isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor. You need to explore Agile concepts and tailor them to your unique needs.
It’s best to combine your Agile methodology with a 360-degree contract management solution like SpotDraft, powered by AI. It streamlines contract creation, review, and management while complementing Agile methodology by digitizing legal processes, enhancing efficiency, and providing actionable insights. Want to see it in action? Request a demo!