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Being Agile

Agile is the hot new toy in the playground this year, suddenly everyone wants to be more “Agile”. Like ‘AI‘, though, what this means seems to depend on who you are asking.

There is a plethora of resource on exactly what Agile could and should mean, and myriad training courses if you’re interested in applying Agile practices to your team. I shan’t attempt to summarise them – other pens have already done it. Instead, I’m going to talk about how Agile is infiltrating our legal industry.

What is Agile, anyway?

Opinions seem to differ on this. Originally, Agile was a project management methodology. But, in the last training session I attended on the subject, I was informed that it is, in fact, a way of life.

The reality is probably somewhere between the two; Agile is a tool kit for approaching the operational problems that come with the customer-driven market place in which most modern businesses operate.


At its core, Agile practices are intended to help the practitioners stay in touch with their market place and respond to the realities they find there. The original authors of this method articulated these values as a sliding scale, valuing:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

The Agile Manifesto, 2001

By prioritising individuals and interactions, getting to a working product, talking to customers and responding to change, a truly agile environment should always be able to get a viable product to market.

But, Agile isn’t new.

No, no it is not. the Agile Manifesto was first published back in 2001 as an approach to software development. For fifteen years, it stayed in the basement along with the rest of the ‘Information Technology’ department. Until, for some reason, people like the Harvard Business Review started talking about ‘Embracing Agile‘. Since then, people have been increasingly starting to take note.

We’ve been here before

Those of us that have been around the block for a few years will remember that Agile has been trendy before. A few years ago, everyone was declaring themselves to be Agile. And, for the most part, they went diligently on in their agile ways, teaching their staff Agile principles. Until some clever cookie working high enough up on a big enough project took those Agile principles and tried to use them.

Specifically, they tried to respond to a change in their market. Responding to this change would challenge a fundamental assumption that had been taken for granted when the project started. What they found was that the change needed was going to cost them big time. It would mean diverting a huge amount of resource, which would set them back significantly. It would mean that a huge amount of the work that had already been done would be unusable. Why? because they weren’t actually Agile.

What brought it all on?

As tech became more pervasive, more and more people had ideas about how to make their millions. By going and doing this themselves, not only would they own the idea (and therefore the revenue), but they could probably get to market before the lumbering giant of the existing business world had even finished weighing their options, let alone actually get anything to market. So they did, and others along with them, until the start up boom began.

Well, the rest of the world had to compete or focus on a different market. They could not, as the saying goes, beat them, so they joined them.

Agility and the legal industry

Not even the legal industry is safe these days. Technology is enabling us to work better, smarter, more efficiently, and customers are starting to expect that we do. As we continue to embrace new technology, we will be working more and more with people for whom Agile practices are the norm. And, in order to stay relevant in this changing, customer driven environment, we are going to find that there are some important lessons we can learn from them.

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