For those that are working in the legal industry, as practitioners, paralegals and support staff, Kanban can have a positive impact on the way that your practice works. This can be applied to both in house legal teams as well as those in private firms. In this post we’ll look at the common problems that are often faced by legal practitioners and how Kanban can help.
Overburdening & Context Switching
The nature of work in the legal industry has different demands that can escalate relatively quickly. Lawyers often suffer in silence as these demands pile up quickly and usually it results in long, late nights. Knowledge work is inherently intangible and thus goes unseen – further exacerbating lawyers silent suffering. There are several ways that you can get around this kind of problem:
Creating a simple visualisation of all of the current work underway from your legal team will help prevent suffering in silence. Oftentimes when all of the work is visualised, it prompts additional questions such as “Can somebody else help with that?” or “Should we be doing this kind of work?”, “Haven’t we seen the same kind of request somewhere else”. Each of these questions can help in their own way:
- Can somebody else help with that? – This transforms the work from individual to team focus. There are often others you work with who you can share the burden with. spreading around the work so individuals aren’t overburdened can be very effective.
- Should we be doing this kind of work? – Through this we can introduce a kind of triage to our work – preventing work coming in that shouldn’t really be done. It can also allow deferring non urgent work until later.
- Haven’t we seen the same kind of request somewhere else? – this is evidence of repeated similar requests coming through your system of work. Perhaps you may need to examine how you advise these kinds of things, maybe a standard form response will be suitable. Spending time looking at the requests to keep the mundane and simple / repetitive items out of your system so you can keep your lawyers focused on what really requires their specialist expertise
Lawyers often don’t agree on how things should be done. Indeed, this is evidenced through the legal system itself – the Supreme and High Courts have numerous judges sitting in a full court session – namely because they won’t necessarily agree!
However, when it comes to creating a system of work, having simple policies around “how the work works” will greatly reduce the amount of overburdening and context switching lawyers do. It will help smooth out the workload and reduce the mental load of lawyers working in complex domains. For example, simple rules around things such as triage “Requests like A and B can be deferred, requests like C can be discarded and requests like D can be directed to our standard form advice”.
One of the key policies is WiP limits. When challenging people to consider WiP limits, I like to ask “Is it reasonable for a legal professional to work on 1000 things at once?”. To which the inevitable answer is “no”. Well, ok then, if 1000 is unreasonable, you therefore agree that there should be a limit – so let’s talk about what a reasonable amount of things a lawyer should be working on concurrently. This is key – by limiting the number of concurrent matters / work items each lawyer is working on, you can achieve a greater efficiency and reduce burnout.
Dependencies and Lack of Control
These kinds of things present a great deal of problems for lawyers & other legal professionals. Legal work is inherently quite complicated and in some cases complex which is exacerbated by the number of interdependencies required in those matters. When these are not understood, this can cause a great deal of delay and stress for lawyers – leading to that sense of lack of control.
What is key is to see your legal team as a “system of work” – with customers / clients who have their needs and your team as your system that can fulfil those needs. Most legal practices probably don’t track lead times for requests and dependencies. Understanding where system bottlenecks and issues exist are key to dealing with these problems. Indeed, this is often closely linked to Visualisation as we can more easily “see” the bottleneck that would otherwise be hidden.
Managing flow can further lead to creating a more predictable system, so that you can make more reliable commitments to your clients and stakeholders.
Feedback Loops & Improve and Evolve
Including improvement cadences & feedback loops to inspect and adapt the system of work – adjusting the policies, will go a long way to reducing the burden of dependencies and that feeling of a lack of control.
It’s not just improvements that benefit from this, but also greater collaboration that flows from key feedback loops. Lawyers helping each other to achieve shared goals rather than acting as individuals will help create a more reliable system of work, deeper engagement and reduce burnout.
It’s often assumed that lawyers are incredibly intelligent people and they can, and should, therefore handle the strain of what is essentially a lack of good knowledge work management. This is not something that is taught in law school and may only come after years of professional experience and potentially a burnout. There are ways that you can apply some basic Kanban practices and start to turn this situation around.
To find out more about how Kanban can help your legal practice, attend the Kanban Legal Practitioner training.