Kanban For Lawyers: Getting Started

Recently the ABA’s Law Practice Today Magazine published my article The Dawn of the Agile Attorney. In it, I profile several lawyers, some practicing attorneys and others who have gone on to legal tech careers, who have adopted Agile methods in their work and lives.

Reception to the article has been great, and several people have asked me for resources on learning more about Agile. One the one hand, there’s no shortage of information online about Agile and its subsets like Scrum, Kanban, and Lean Startup. On the other, much of the available info is specific to the needs of software teams and developers.

I’m working on a backlog of article ideas for Agile techniques that I (and others) have specifically adapted for use by lawyers, but I want to get started by discussing the Agile methodology that I think is often the best and easiest-to-implement entry point for attorneys (and other professionals) who are new to Agile: Kanban.

To that end, I’ve started writing a book titled, wait for it, Kanban For Lawyers. As I mentioned in my previous post, the book—though only about half finished—is currently for sale through Leanpub, a Lean Startup inspired self publishing platform. You can read the first three chapters for free (click the “download” button under “Free Sample”), and I’m also going to publish them on this blog. I also promised in my last post an explanation of why I think you should buy my unfinished book, and I’ll get to that soon. For now, however, I want to make the first chapter available.

I’m looking for as much feedback as I can get on this, so please don’t hesitate to send me your comments, criticisms, or questions—I can take it! And if you like what you see, maybe head over to Leanpub and drop a dollar or so to get the next 6 chapters now.

Also, please consider joining the Agile Attorneys Community on Google+ to connect with other legal professionals who are using Agile tools in their work (and personal!) lives. You can also subscribe to my newsletter in the box below this post to receive updates on using Agile in a legal setting. And, of course, don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to discuss any of these ideas further.

Without further ado…

Kanban For Lawyers, Chapter 1: Do this Now

Most books begin with a bunch of “why” statements, or a history of the topic, or some other bunch of words designed to convince you that buying the book is or was a good idea. We’re not going to do that.

You’ve started reading—that means you’re at least minimally interested in using Kanban. That’s good, but the best way I can get you really interested in using Kanban is for you to start using Kanban. We’ll get to some history and why stuff later, but starting with Kanban is so darn easy that it simply makes no sense to delay.

The number one thing I hear from people who have started using Kanban to visually manage their work is that once they have seen their work this way, they can never unsee it. And they love it.

So if you are ready to commit to improving your productivity, your delivery of client value, and the way you feel about your law practice, I ask you to do the following:

1. Grab a pad of sticky notes. Any shape or size. (If you honestly don’t have sticky notes, some paper and tape will do.)
2. Find a pen.
3. Look around and identify a wall with some empty space.

Great. Now you have all the tools you need to start Kanban.

I’m dead serious about you physically doing this. Kanban is participatory, not conceptual. If you just scanned the above list and thought to yourself “Ok, I’ll go get those things in a bit after I read some more” then stop. Go back. Now please actually do those three things right now. Thank you.

Okay. Now write on a sticky note “Build Kanban Board.”

Look at your wall. Mentally divide it into three vertical columns. Take the sticky note you just wrote and put it in the left-hand column.

Now write each of the following on three more stickies:

* To Do
* Doing
* Done

Put the “To Do” sticky at the top of the left-hand column on your wall, above your “Build Kanban Board” note. If you need to move your existing note around a little to accommodate the new one, please feel free to do so.

Now put the “Doing” sticky to the right of the “To Do” sticky. Then do the same thing with the “Done” sticky, to the right of the “Doing” one. The spacing is up to you—make it feel right.

Then take your “Build Kanban Board” sticky and move it into the “Doing” column.

This next part is very important. Do not skip it!

Step back from your wall and look at it. Take a moment to appreciate that there is one thing right now that you are doing.



I’m sure you have lots of thoughts in your head about things that you could be doing, maybe even should be doing. We’ll deal with those things very soon. But right now, at this moment, you are doing one thing: Building your Kanban board.


Now take your “Build Kanban Board” sticky and move it to the “Done” column.

This next part is also very important. Do not skip it!

Step back from your wall again and look at it, especially that item in the “Done” column. Appreciate that you have just taken something from start to finish. It took very little time, almost no financial investment, and not a lot of effort. But it is done. Finished. Complete. So savor the accomplishment! It is a small accomplishment so a small savoring will do: maybe a deep breath or a quick sip of tea. But savoring accomplishments is essential to your success with Kanban, so make sure you do it.

Nicely done. You have started, and that is the most important thing.


[Edit: Want more? Click here for Chapter 2!]




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