There are benefits to working in an agile fashion to build better working relationships with clients, and ultimately better understand one’s business, according to a former Lawyers Weekly award winner.
Speaking ahead of the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia National Conference, at which he will present on his experiences with agile methodologies, University of Tasmania legal counsel Theo Kapodistrias told Lawyers Weekly that being agile is no longer just for the software industry.
These methodologies can and should be applied in the commercial and legal environment, he argued.
“The key principles around agile project management is focusing on people over processes, collaboration with clients over just providing them a complex document and responding to the changing demands rather than sticking to a set plan,” he said.
Implementing concepts such as working in a “scrum”, which he noted as being a small cross-functional team from across the organisation, allows for key internal stakeholders who are involved in a project to be able to demonstrate their value and provide significant input, he posited.
“There is sometimes the misconception that legal only need to be consulted at the end when a project is about to get final sign off.”
“In-house lawyers, as well as other relevant business units need to provide their skills and work with the business to get the best result. Working in a scrum allows for the cross-functional team to share their knowledge and made a difference,” he mused.
A key agile concept is the ‘user story’, which focuses on a particular client problem and the reasons behind the issue to be solved, he added.
“Whether the client has a particular problem or wants to get a particular result, understanding the client’s perspective needs to be the centrepiece of any project. Being agile means that you are aligning your goals with that of the client, and ultimately the business.”
Moving away from email will be essential for helping to develop stronger working relationships with clients and other internal stakeholders, he explained.
“I think if we [in-house lawyers] simply wait for work to flood into our inboxes, we’re not contributing to the organisations’ goals and strategy as effectively as we should. Working with the business and with the key client leading a particular project as the focal point, it provides context, and allows for everyone to adapt if there are hurdles to jump over.”
Mr Kapodistrias added that being co-located in a client area for two days a week allowed him to build a strong level of trust and understanding with that business unit.
“Working in the Office of Research Services was one of the most valuable experiences in my career. I got to really understand the issues, got to work closely with the academics leading the research, and worked with a cross-functional team (such as tech-transfer, contract manager, clinical trial governance officer) to achieve the desired result.”