4 practical ways to build a stronger law firm by using agile and service design

4 practical ways to build a stronger law firm by using agile and service design

45553927 - best idea concept with crumpled colorful paper and light bulb on wooden tableOn the 15th of November 2016, LexisNexis UK opened its doors to explore practical ways how design thinking and agile methodologies can transform law firms. We had the pleasure to host leaders from top law firms at Lexis House to demystify the concepts of design thinking and agile and demonstrate ways how these methods can be put into practice. The interactive event hosted four workshop stations – personas, process mapping, stand-up and retrospective – with real-life examples relevant to any law firm.

Keynote speakers:

What is design thinking and why should companies look into it?

In short, design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation. The underlying framework for design thinking rests on three processes:

• Inspire
• Ideate
• Implement

designthinkingIt is about getting the insights early, learning and implementing as fast as possible. Henry Ford is often quoted saying ''If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses''. Similarly Steve Jobs who famously stated that ''Customers can’t tell you what to do next!'' Having said that, Adam explained that design thinking is not about asking people what they want but trying to understand where their unarticulated needs lie. While design thinking is relatively new to the legal sector, it has helped to transform and invigorate some of the world’s most successful corporations, including Google, Apple, Airbnb, Procter & Gamble and Ebay.

What does ‘being agile’ mean and why are organisations practicing it?

Mark Coster, from Thoughtworks, explained that ‘being agile’ means working in a lightweight, responsive and rapid way so that you can deliver your product or service in the way the customer wants and at the time the customer needs it. Being agile goes much deeper than flexible working policies, such as working from home and hotdesking.

The first company, which started experimenting with agile was Toyota (back then ‘Toyoda’) to build products while fostering empathy, boosting radical collaboration, rapid prototyping and willingness to experiment. Later the service industry started to follow and then Agile Manifesto was created in 2001 – with its 4 values and 12 principles.

Mark introduced the audience to some agile methods some companies use – stand-ups, retrospectives, pairing, automation, incremental delivery, guerrilla user testing, servant leadership, business model canvas, visualisation and shared understanding.

Reasons why companies go agile

You may ask why bother going agile? To help you understand why, here are six compelling reasons of how it can add value to firms in the legal sector:

  1. Connect deeply with customers;
  2. Transform data into actionable insights and ideas;
  3. Consistently spot new opportunities to create value for clients, the firm and its people;
  4. Implement new solutions faster and more effectively;
  5. Increased client satisfaction and employee engagement;
  6. Keep up with the pace of ongoing change.

real-change-photo-44  ways you can make agile working work in your law firm

Following the keynote addresses, the event became highly practical by taking the participants through four interactive ‘agile stations’ at the Agile Development Space at Lexis House. The workshops focused on improving internal collaboration – which is familiar to any organisation.


Personas can be used to better understand both internal and external clients. Creating a persona can seem daunting to people who haven’t encountered them before, so running a quick exercise visualises what is already known about the client group and gives the team something to aim at with their work.

  • Draw a ‘person’ on a large piece of paper (no artistic skills required!)
  • Divide the person into four segments: ‘I like’; ‘I don’t like’; ‘I care about’ and ‘I don’t care about’
  • Ask the group to write up what they know (no assumptions or guesses please) about the target group. This is from the perspective of the persona – i.e. if creating a lawyer persona, what does the lawyer likes or dislikes? What does (s)he care about? Doesn’t care about?
  • Discuss contradictions, and any controversial entries – discussion should be open and honest. Identify gaps and further research opportunities.
  • Pin the persona on a wall near the team working with it, and treat as a ‘living document’– people should be able to add and change things as they learn more.
  • Don’t forget to give the persona a name!
Process mapping

Agile encourages you to see the bigger picture. Process mapping is used an agile method to identify the real problem or a need.  Often we can confuse symptoms with underlying causes of the problem. By simply reframing a problem and focusing on the ‘why’ might help to find a better solution. This helps you to understand your and your clients’ problems better, so that you might develop much better suited solutions.

  • Start with the basic problem as presented (e.g. “I don’t have enough time to go through emails in my inbox”)
  • Ask people to map out current process and tease out why those steps are taken
  • Focus on the ‘why’
  • Now that problem is reframed (“I need more time to read my emails” to “I need to find better ways to prioritise how I filter information relevant to my work”) – this process helps you to brainstorm other solutions. For example, rather than dealing with daily emails with progress reports on a project, why not have a morning standup meeting instead?
  • Externalising a process allows you to get a ‘zoomed out’ view of the objectives. This helps you to reframe the problem back to what are you actually trying to do, and why are you trying to do it?
Daily stand-ups

Agile encourages communication. The goal is to improve communication in your team so that everyone knows the work of others. Participants should stand during the meeting to make it quick and to the point - no one really wants to stand for very long, so it will enforce a shorter and more efficient meeting. Standup is not a space for ‘solutioning’. It is a space to bring awareness to the entire team how things are going, and identify what things are blocking progress. In-depth conversations are pulled offline, to be held at some point after the standup.

  • Team-members meet face-to-face at the start of every day
  • Talk to a wall of work items (TO DO. DOING. DONE.)
  • Each person gives a quick update on work done yesterday, work planned for today and blockers that are impeding progress
  • The key is to make it as short as possible (no longer than 15 min).

After finishing a milestone, your team should hold a meeting, called a ‘retrospective.’ The goal of retrospectives is to diagnose the achievements, failures and missed opportunities of projects. Retrospectives offer a great way to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This ensures that the project team is always improving the way it works. The retrospective also helps to build the sense of ownership and self-management of a team.

Retrospective includes three main questions/points for discussion:

  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What could we do differently to improve?

The only constant is change and law firms are not immune to it. By demystifying the ‘dark art’ of agile – we aim to help law firms see the immediate and long-term benefits of being agile. It is not a silver bullet or a one-size-fits-all solution, however worth looking into. Why not during your next team meeting?

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