Sometimes forgotten, lawyers are also affected by the evolution of working methods in the same way as other departments, with a new role to play within the company. How to lead change with these profiles? Jon, agile coach at Wemanity, has been supporting the legal department of an international bank on the subject for almost a year. Discover his feedback and advice.
1. Legal professions and agile transformation: specific challenges
When it comes to agile transformation, there is no shortage of causes of failure, starting with a poor understanding of the context. The specific issues encountered in legal services must therefore be taken into account from the start.
The legal sphere, a constrained framework for agility
Have you heard of the concept of the agile iron triangle? This figure represents the constraints of project management, made up of the perimeter/cost and deadline triptych.
‘As quality is never negotiable,’ explains Jon, ‘we have to negotiate the perimeter.’ However, this is not necessarily feasible with the law, since there is a legal framework and contractual obligations. In this, the agile transformation of a legal department is not obvious.’
However, driving change by starting with the legal department turns out to be a wise choice according to the coach: ‘The legal department is one of the most complicated entry points. But there is an advantage: while most services dread switching to a more agile mode of operation, they find that it is feasible!’
Siloing and flexibility issues
As useful as it is, the expertise of lawyers is likely to pose organisational concerns:
‘With the client that I support, profiles have ended up resembling each other over time, with a standardisation of operating methods. Each one is also a hyper-expert in his or her field, which leads to siloing, a lack of internal communication, as well as concerns of adaptability.’
In practice, the agile transformation of a legal department therefore responds to very operational issues, such as the ability to process the files of one of the team’s lawyers in the event of absence (vacation, work stoppage, etc.) or starting the business.
A strategic issue for legal departments
Lawyers are sometimes considered in the company as simply ‘those who state the law’ in an austere way. In other words, they are perceived as an obligatory point of passage for projects, without real recognition of their added value.
‘The reason the legal department volunteered was partly because of a strategic positioning issue,’ says Jon. ‘It wanted to demonstrate the ability of lawyers to stay up to date in a digitalising world.’
The integration of new working methods thus aims to bring together all the other business lines of the company and the development of a new approach.
‘Rather than positioning the legal department as a simple validation step in a process, the objective was to make it a strategic partner’ continues the coach. ‘This means working more with other departments on points that have real added value, by intervening more upstream in cases.’
2. Agile transformation, an approach to be initiated at all levels
To carry it out successfully, the agile transformation of a legal department requires support at all levels of the organisation.
The required involvement of the management committee
In charge of building and implementing the company’s strategy, the management committee may seem far removed from the concerns encountered in the field by lawyers. Its involvement is however essential to obtain alignment within the organisation, as Jon explains:
‘We have to get management committee members to adhere to the process, but also to learn and integrate some elements of language in order to be able to set an example. This is what gives the process meaning and facilitates deployment. This will also allow the management committee to arbitrate on a daily basis.’
Middle management, the keystone of agile transformation
When it comes to driving change in a legal department, middle management quickly finds itself caught ‘between a rock and a hard place’, that is to say torn between the pressure of business on the one hand and the need for legal certainty on the other hand.
Specific support is essential to help managers fully understand the management committee’s strategic vision, then to implement it at the operational level.
‘The difficulty consists in give meaning to the lawyers, without losing the essence of the strategic vision.’
The need to support legal professionals at the operational level
How to help lawyers to work with other services? How can they be reassured of their ability to take on new responsibilities? The agile transformation of a legal department requires taking charge of these questions, which for Jon affect both working methods and the notion of trust.
‘The teams, and in particular the lawyers, need to feel that they are in a healthy and secure environment. They must be able to express themselves freely in their ecosystem and in their work, without fear of being punished or endangering their professional relationships.’
3. What practices and tools to use to transform a legal department?
Jon supported around ten members of the management committee, around twenty middle management people, and three operational teams. Awareness workshops, tailor-made workshops… the formats were varied and adapted to the context. Here is a focus on a few things to remember.
Be inspired by agile principles and values
In agility, several frameworks exist, such as Scrum, Kanban or SAFe. While these are relevant in many contexts, they are, however, ill-suited to legal services.
‘With these methodologies, we think in terms of product and/or project. However, a legal file does not really constitute a product or a project … The processing time varies from one file to another and there is no team either,’ notes Jon.
For this reason, the agile transformation of a legal department does not imply the use of a particular methodology, but rather the application of principles, values and good practices. For example, the process must include a reflection on the different styles of leadership, in particular on collaborative leadership.
Exchanges at the heart of legal transformation
To create alignment and break down silos, Jon’s coaching resulted in the adoption of new practices aimed at improving communication.
First, a lot of work has been done to establish a culture of feedback. Top management and middle management were thus invited to ask three questions on a regular basis to their colleagues and/or collaborators.
- How can I help you perform better on a daily basis?
- How can I help you grow in your professional development?
- How can we help the organisation to function better?
This good practice has also been supplemented by the implementation of retrospectives, to assess the relevance of operating methods and to imagine continuous improvement actions.
New discussion times were then set up between the jurists, with the aim of capitalising on everyone’s watch.
The delegation poker
Within a legal department, the distribution of subjects is a thorny subject, as Jon noticed:
‘The overworked manager must delegate, but he or she can be considered by the team as a hyper-expert or a super lawyer. This leads lawyers to limit themselves and to be afraid of being independent.’
From this point of view, delegation poker represents an ideal tool for redistributing roles:
‘In this workshop, everyone votes on the most relevant degree of independence, including the manager. This allows the team to say if they are uncomfortable and the manager to reassure them. We then identify a path between what the team and the manager imagine, which then becomes a comfort zone for everyone.’
The implementation of new processes
The work carried out by a legal department very often lacks readability for the other departments, which generates frustration and can waste time. To enable lawyers to concentrate their efforts on their added value, a new operating model has been devised.
The entry of the service has indeed been structured to limit back and forth. Regularly involved incorrectly, Lawyers have also learned to ‘say no’ while providing assistance on a regular basis.
After almost a year, the lawyers say they are satisfied with these new operating methods, while the middle management appreciates the step back and the new dynamic within the teams. However, before embarking on the agile transformation of a legal department, it remains essential to keep in mind that this is done over a long period of time and while respecting the convictions of the teams.
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