A Brief History of Agile for Lawyers

law practice strategy Feb 02, 2020

Agile as a comprehensive methodology is fairly new. Although many concepts that are now considered Agile predate the term, we can trace the unified theory to a gathering of software developers and technology managers in early 2001. Frustrated by traditional methods for managing software projects, they gathered in Snowbird, Utah to adopt a Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
Working software over comprehensive documentation;
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Agile adoption spread rapidly in the tech sector and is gaining traction in other business settings. By 2016, 94 percent of respondents to the annual State of Agile...

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HBR on Your Firm’s Purpose

When I ask law firm leaders about their mission, they often try to shake me off with something like “Oh, we already wrote up a mission statement as part of our marketing work.” News flash: If you think your mission is something that is only supposed to attract customers then (1) it probably isn’t working and (2) you’re missing the point.

A recent Harvard Business Review Article sums it up nicely:

As much as you may try to motivate employees with slogans or extrinsic rewards, you won’t achieve excellence if your people don’t know why they are coming to work every day at your firm. The clearer you can be about what value your company creates and for whom, the greater your ability to inspire your workers. And the more you align the right talent, operating model, and financial resources to support your purpose, the better able employees will be to deliver on it.

Why Are We Here?, Sally Blount & Paul Leinwand, Harvard Business Review

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Is Revenue Growth the Right Goal?

Quick Take:

Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report introduced their Law Firm Maturity Model, an interesting framework for evaluating a current state of your firm and how it might improve. Maturity models in general can be an effective tool for reinforcing strengths, illuminating shortcomings, and suggesting opportunities for improvement. But I wonder whether that the Clio model focuses too heavily on revenue growth instead of the business fundamentals and strategies that are needed to drive that growth.


Clio’s isn’t the first attempt at such a framework for small firms (see, e.g. the Lawyerist Small Firm Scorecard & associated pathways), and I think it will be interesting to see how Clio builds out tools and training to help firms advance along possible paths to maturity (in Clio’s parlance, becoming a “thriving” firm.)

My concern with the Law Firm Maturity Model—one that applies to other elements of the Legal Trends Report...

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Handoffs Are Making Your Matters Late

Unless you're a lone wolf, your project is going to have hand-offs.

Sorry, did I say "project?" I forgot for a moment that this is a legal blog. I meant "matter." Or "case." Or whatever else you call that "individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim."1  For consistency with the rest of the business world, let's call it a project.

Oh, and even if you're a lone wolf you'll have at least one hand-off (assuming you have a client). Unless you're working on something for yourself and you plan to work it from start to finish in one sitting, every project has some transfer of work from one resource to another. And those transfers are one of the biggest reasons your projects fall behind schedule. (They are far from the only reason, which is why I'm calling this post Part 1).

The most obvious source of a hand-off is when the project (or any task within it) passes from one person to another in order to get something done. But...

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Harvard Business Review on Enterprise Agile

law practice strategy Aug 21, 2018

For anyone who has been following the Agile movement, it is no surprise that Agile has grown far beyond its roots in software development to encompass business processes of all sorts.

McKinsey consulting has a step-by-step guide for Agile Marketing. Leading Agile trainer Steve Denning talks about Agile for Human Resources in Forbes. And a growing segment of respondents to the annual State of Agile survey come from outside of technology teams.

More recently, Harvard Business Review featured Enterprise Agile as its cover story, Agile at Scale. Its lead-off concept?

“Agile teams, when implemented correctly, almost always result in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve.”

There is a lot to unpack in that sentence alone, but the benefits are enticing. And they are consistent with the findings of the State of Agile survey I mentioned above, where reported benefits include:

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The Legal Practice Model Canvas

law practice strategy Apr 08, 2016

A bit of a mea culpa here: This is a post I started working on months ago and then never published because I didn’t think I’d gotten things quite right. As longtime readers will recognize, this is fundamentally inconsistent with the Lean Startup principles I espouse–better to put the darn thing out there and see what people think about it than to let it languish while I noodle on potentially unimportant details.

And with that explanation, here I post my version of the Business Model Canvas for lawyers and law firms that I’m calling the Practice Model Canvas.

It is useful for a few different scenarios: it is a great alternative to long-form business planning when you’re thinking about hanging a shingle for a new law firm, it is useful for scoping out ideas for launching a new practice area or legal service offering, and it is a fantastic way to think through productized legal services like flat-fee, subscription, or portfolio offerings.




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Understanding your Legal Services Business Model

I just left the Washington State Bar's "Future of the Practice" meeting and there was some great discussion about ways to increase access to legal services. If you aren't familiar with some of the steps that the Washington bar is taking, including their creation of the Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) role, they (we—I'm a WA bar member!) are on the cusp of some solidly innovative work to evolve the practice of law.

One of the things that came up repeatedly in the meeting was the notion that most lawyers simply don't have business models that can profitably support clients at the lower end of the resources spectrum. That simultaneously strikes me as true and insane. How is it that lawyers can't seem to meet the demand of the majority of people who need legal services?

One answer is lack of efficiency, and I think that is a big part of it. While I still believe that cost control is not the final answer, I do think that a law practice that runs efficiently—that is...

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A Tale of Legal Waste in 10 Tweets

law practice strategy Aug 20, 2014

I heard the following story from a friend this week, and it struck me as representative of a common frustration with lawyers (in this case outside counsel).

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Understanding your Client’s User Stories

law practice strategy Apr 04, 2014

My thesis so far: You have a greater opportunity to increase customer Value by delivering more Benefit than by lowering customer Investment. If customer Value = Benefit – Investment (my original theory), then it is easy to see that lowering Investment (cost control) can have a noticeable impact on Value when the initial Investment is large. But you can also see that the opportunity for Value improvement through cost control diminishes as the Investment shrinks.

I've also discussed the usefulness of Lean tools for cost control, especially identifying and eliminating Waste in your legal workflows (I even made a handy poster). But I cautioned that eliminating Waste for the sake of your own efficiency is a poor long-term strategy for improving Value: First you must understand what Benefit your work is adding for your customer, then you can scrutinize any activities that are not extrinsically beneficial.

So how can you better understand your customer's desired Benefits?


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The Relationship between Value and Profit

law practice strategy Feb 24, 2014

The basic premise of my search for the Grand Unified Theory of Legal Value has been that Value is the gap between what you Invest and the Benefit you receive in a particular transaction. Otherwise stated:

Value = Benefit – Investment

My discussion so far has focused on Value from the customer's perspective, although a friend pointed out that my post on Waste conflated the customer's Investment with the provider's Investment. He has a good point, and I think the best way to differentiate the two is to introduce the concept of Profit.

Fortunately, once you understand Value, Profit is simple:

Profit = Benefit – Investment

Yep, Profit and Value are the same, but Profit pertains to the provider while Value is experienced by the customer.

As with Value, it is tempting to think about this equation in monetary terms. Do so at your peril. Yes, money (a Resource) is a component of profit, but so are many other factors like a sense of accomplishment, motivation, and even fun. I'll...

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