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Webinar report: Agile law – why agility matters to stay relevant and be effective in the digital age

‘Agility is a competitive edge’

Our webinar series with Victoria Swedjemark covering professional development continued in February. Under the spotlight in this session was the concept of agility.

What is agility and why do we need it?

In the age of digital transformation, things move fast. The markets we operate in are changing, the way we did business just a few years ago is becoming obsolete and the structures of our organisations are constantly evolving. 

Agility is the capacity and willingness to embrace the disruption these changes bring. It’s also the ability to accept that change is a constant – not a one-off event that will end soon, allowing us to ‘return to normal.’

Victoria discussed how in-house legal teams can shake off old assumptions and be a driving force for agility. Instead of adding complexity, for example, legal could become a simplifier. Where legal speaks a language indecipherable to many, it could commit to clarity. If people feel their work will get stuck in legal, a focus on speed or self-servicing facilities could have an unblocking effect.

The building blocks of the agile legal function

To help legal leaders plan a strategy for increased agility, Victoria set out four key building blocks.

1.  The agile operating model

An operating model that tackles a lack of scalability, slowness and a dependence on expensive resources is a great first step towards an agile legal function. Often, work done by in-house lawyers is treated as bespoke, and therefore not scalable. This means that next time a similar task arrives, they start from scratch again. Time after time.

This is one of the reasons why the legal function can appear slow to those outside it. Another is a lack of integration and alignment with the wider organisation. Sometimes lawyers are so bogged down with day-to-day tasks that they lose sight of the organisation’s wider strategy and fail to engage fully with senior management and other departments. Which in turn suggests that expensively trained lawyers are doing routine work that could be equally well performed by non-lawyers and/or self-service technological innovations.

2.  Agile collaboration

There’s a view that in-house lawyers believe they’re at their best when they’re sitting in ivory towers endlessly perfecting obscure pieces of work. That doesn’t fit into the model of a modern, agile legal function.

More and more these days, we hear how large organisations are ‘breaking down silos.’ Increasingly, people from multiple disciplines are sharing information and forming cross-functional groups to run projects and solve problems collaboratively. 

This is a great opportunity for you to embed yourself in your organisation’s core work and get involved in creative projects. It’ll lead to a deeper understanding of how the organisation functions – which can only help you enhance the legal team’s agility.
This deeper integration will inevitably mean more meetings. So it goes hand in hand with agile collaboration that you develop a nose for which gatherings are the time wasters and which meetings are the ones where the magic happens.

3.  Agile approaches

Building on the theme of collaboration is the approach to team working known as Lean Six Sigma. This relies on teams working together to reduce the ‘8 wastes:’

  • Inventory: work that’s piling up instead of flowing through;
  • Waiting: delays before activities can start;
  • Defects: solutions that are not fit for purpose;
  • Over-production: delivering more than you need to;
  • Over-processing: adding more value than is needed;
  • Motion: people traveling or moving around unnecessarily;
  • Transportation: avoidable movements of resources, or time spent looking for them; and
  • Under-utilised talent: people doing work that could be done with less costly resources, including technology.

Working through this list will help you create legal solutions that meet the needs of your clients while maximising efficiency in your legal function.
Also known as the Legal Design, this is where three essential elements intersect:

  • Desirability: what the customer wants;
  • Viability: what works best for your organisation; and
  • Feasibility: what you can realistically achieve with the resources available.

4 Agile people

Of course, none of the above would be possible without the human behaviours to match. And the foundations of an agile mindset are:

  • The flexibility to challenge old assumptions about what it means to be an in-house lawyer in times of constant change. Are isolated perfectionists still relevant or should we strive to become fast-working, value-adding strategic partners? 
  • Collaboration with colleagues across the entire organisation to develop cross-functional cooperation and creativity. This means abandoning the ivory tower and building new relationships with colleagues and stakeholders; and
  • A commitment to continuous improvement. The world we work in is changing constantly and so should we. This means we’ll also need to reframe our performance and objectives - and redefine what success for an in-house lawyer looks like. 

Join us next time

Our next webinar in this series is on 21 April. In it, Victoria will present Delawyering as a strategy to find better focus and free up time, why we need to move lawyers out of some work and how we can do it.

More about the presenter

Victoria is a partner at strategy and management consulting firm, Venturis Consulting Group and the founder of Glowmind, the business that helps legal leaders develop their teams and departments. She has over 20 years' experience both in private practice and in-house as General Counsel.

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