Agile Practices In The Legal Services Industry

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As the legal industry transitions toward mass adoption of mobile apps and voice-activated assistants, even modest technology upgrades have transformed the way legal professionals engage clients. In recent months, we’ve seen new, exciting product updates and rollouts like mobile app questionnaire forms — documents that can be filled out while you stand in line at Starbucks and then uploaded directly to your law firm. Legal services companies have learned that they must be quick and nimble in order to pivot and deliver the products and services that yield the best return on investment (ROI), whether that’s for a client or a law firm. It’s clear: The people have spoken, and they want exciting, efficient technologies that improve their lives at a minimum cost — and they want them now. The way to deliver technology that lowers costs, breaks down barriers and connects people is to become agile.

By now, most business leaders are familiar with the benefits of agile, specifically in software development. After decades of slowly rolling back rigid corporate hierarchies, progressive and successful executives are deploying the lessons of agile software development to their overall business. This move is freeing their employees from the bureaucratic ball-and-chain. In their Harvard Business Review article, Darrel K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland and Andy Noble convincingly — and correctly — explain that agile teams are best suited for innovation. As they write, these teams place greater “value on adapting to change than sticking to a plan, and they hold themselves accountable for measurable outcomes (such as growth, profitability and customer loyalty).” These small teams operate as mini-fiefdoms: self-governing (with senior level oversight), efficient, motivated and capable of speeding up work.

By stripping away the layers of bureaucracy and micromanagement, companies are allowing team members to actually do the tasks they perform best. Agile teams emphasize self-governance, and eliminating red tape altogether allows them to work rapidly while increasing motivation. Motivated employees are happier and more productive.

A culture of effective change starts with a culture of trust. It’s important for leaders to ensure that employees not only trust and believe in the agile way of thinking but that it will benefit customers and other stakeholders, too. The responsibility for creating a culture of trust lies with the CEO and other senior leaders. Agile approaches prioritize the process as well as the results. Leaders must remove the barriers and constraints that hinder our objectives and support employees to engage in an agile process. Admittedly, that’s not always easy.

While agile innovation is not new, it’s significantly transforming the legal industry — and it’s about time and money. Luckily, we have found that most adults are able to count dollar bills. Customer demand and expectations for technology are driving innovation, and companies that embrace agile have an instant advantage over competitors. There is an odd tendency to keep our perceptions of the legal industry in the past as if it’s inconceivable that our profession could evolve beyond what we see in movies and on television, but agile innovation has proven to be especially effective in the legal services space. We have changed the fundamental client-attorney business relationship, where we can generate ideas, create prototypes and develop smart products and services that allow both lawyers and citizens to win.

Companies that properly develop team agility and deploy their resources to solve complex problems are leading the pack, and the results speak volumes. At my company, Ada, Oklahoma-based LegalShield, we have achieved an 85% faster time to market for new products and services, besting the industry standard of 30-75%. Our quality control is markedly improved. Mobile app updates come to market with 50% fewer defects — a major advancement in a product category that lives and dies by customer reviews. Prototypes and designs for new features and services are being developed quickly in small, manageable sections, then tested with customers. The liberation from seeking approvals up the chain of command is its own reward.

There is no one-size-fits-all service or end-game solution to fixing a flawed legal system, but we are trending in the right direction. Legal services companies wisely allocate their human resources based on data about the most common legal matters opened by law firms nationally. They carefully analyze trends and predictions over time in such areas as bankruptcies, foreclosures, estate planning and divorces. They also consider the need for services like contract review and business formation — things for which everyone needs a lawyer. Ultimately, product development must be guided by personal experience. How can we better serve consumers and improve their experience in dealing with lawyers? What are the obstacles? What are the biggest factors that contribute to the high cost of retaining a lawyer, and how can we reduce that cost?

With any eye toward long-term planning, agile approaches allow legal services companies to develop strategic direction and accompanying products and services much faster. Mobile app-based questionnaires are just the start.

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