Wow, blogaversary is a terrible word, but a good time for reflection nonetheless.
I started the Legal Value Theory blog a year ago as a place to capture my thoughts around the nature of legal value and occasionally express my frustrations around the perceived lack of value in our industry. At the time I had a dual role working for a mid-sized consulting firm, spending most of my time as a business consultant on client projects but also acting as in-house counsel for the firm.
Wearing two hats gave me an interesting perspective on the nature of legal work and operations. I was spending most of my days working on complex and interesting projects for clients who were using forward-thinking methodologies like Lean and Agile to maximize their delivery of customer value. But when I’d turn my attention to legal work, it was like going back in time. It wasn’t so much that processes could be slow or poorly defined, it was that most people in the legal world seemed to just accept what was, to me, an incredible amount of inefficiency. (I’ve since come to understand that efficiency isn’t always the best goal).
So on the one hand I’m up to my ears in iterative development and validated learning and continuous improvement cycles, where entire teams were not content to just do the work, they wanted to do it better today than yesterday (and better still tomorrow). Then on the other hand, I’m working with (and against) lawyers who weren’t necessarily happy with the status quo, they just didn’t have much experience or tools for how to go about changing it.
In a way it makes sense. We lawyers are creatures of precedent, by training if not by nature. On top of that, we’re specialists on our various corners of the law, and keeping up with that specialty is hard enough without having to learn a bunch of operational frameworks on top of it. But the more I was immersed in Lean and Lean Startup and Agile methodologies (oh, how I like Agile), the more certain I became that these methods offer some easy-to-adopt tools that legal professionals can use to start making improvements today.
Thus was born the concept for The Agile Attorney. I see this new site and new business as an evolutionary step for the Legal Value Theory blog, one that goes beyond the philosophical discussions on Value I’ve favored over the past year. Instead, I’ve made it my mission to teach lawyers tangible, practical, and lightweight tools that will improve your Value equation today.
And it is a business now, no longer a hobby. I put that down to remind myself of this as much as as anything. As anyone who as attempted this transition knows, it is not an easy one to execute. But it is a business born of a passion—this odd, crazy passion I have to make lawyers better at what you do. With this passion I do not presume the criticism that lawyers aren’t “good” at doing our work, but I do hope to raise the bar for what we think is “good enough.” My good friend and sometimes collaborator Eric Meltzer favors the term “optimize” and I think it’s a good one. We may know some ways to get some things done, but are we working optimally?
The answer is almost certainly no, and in many situations that’s just fine. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that it makes no sense to try to improve all the parts of your system at once. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes I see in legal operations is people trying to improve the wrong things. You could easily measure off the number of steps you need to take to get to your office printer, reduce that number by 2, and claim a process improvement. But is that local improvement really going to make a difference in your productivity as a whole? Or worse, what if you buy another printer for your office and therefore eliminate some of the serendipitous interactions you have with the other members of your team? You could easily do more harm than good.
So my goal is to help you work more optimally, and I’ll do it by helping you find and fix the little things that may be having a big impact on your ability to deliver value to your clients (and capture some of that value in the form of profit to you!). Not only that, but we’ll measure the improvements (in simple ways at first), learn from both our successes and our shortfalls, and make better improvements the next time. And the next, and the next. Starting a journey of continuous improvement is easier than you think, and going on that journey is actually a lot of fun. Sure there will be some setbacks here and there, but I’ll do my best to guide you through them and keep your improvement cycle on track.
I don’t yet know what form all of this will take. I’m working on a book called Kanban for Lawyers that I think is a solid first step for anyone looking to improve your workflow—I’d love for you to download it and tell me what you think so far (and I’ll discuss in a forthcoming post why I think you should buy, yes buy, my unfinished book). I’m also working on some content specific to using Lean Startup methods for launching and evolving a law practice, and I’ve got lots and lots of other ideas that I will roll out in the coming months.
In the mean time, the best way for me to get lawyers interested in Agile tools is to talk with them about Agile, and that’s something I’m always happy to do. So please subscribe to my newsletter below if you’d like me to send you ideas and updates on how you can use Agile to improve your practice. And if you think you’re ready to start using Agile or if you have specific questions about how it can work for you, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me. You can also learn from lawyers who have already started their Agile journey by joining the the Agile Attorneys Community on Google+.
The past year has indeed been a good one, but I’m really excited about what the next year will bring. I hope you are too.
© 2015 John E. Grant.