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The Vanguard: lawyer adopts Agile approach

Jun 23, 2015
NDA Law's Paul Gordon. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

NDA Law's Paul Gordon. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

“Innovation” and “lawyers” may not be two words generally associated with each other, but one local lawyer is using a methodology that evolved within the realms of computer software development as a tool to provide better client service.

Paul Gordon, senior associate with NDA Law, believes the process, known as Agile in computing circles, can achieve a transparent process and more effective outcomes.

A concept that evolved through the 1990s and was published by 17 software developers in 2001 as the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Agile applies a set of principles to tasks which emphasise collaboration, responsiveness, adaptability, rapid feedback, quick turnaround, and extensive client contact.

Gordon explains how the same principles can be applied to the lawyer-client relationship.

“The key elements to Agile are conducting work in short sprints, in comparison to the traditional ‘waterfall’ model, where you feed information in at the start, which goes through many processes and, at the very end, you get a result,” Gordon told The Vanguard.

“The problem with the traditional model is that the result you get might not be what the client giving you the instructions actually intended – you don’t have that constant loop back to the client to make sure that what you are doing is on track.”

Gordon said as work progresses, each stage is referred to the client in “stand-up meetings” – “a meeting that is short enough that you don’t actually have to sit down” – where the results are checked against the initial brief.

As each revision is made and endorsed, the task moves to the next stage.

Gordon said it might sound counter-intuitive to have repeated client contact and a number of revisions to the job at hand, but the benefit was that the task closely matched the client’s needs.

Another advantage of the Agile approach is being to be able to identify and allocate work to particular strengths within the firm.

Gordon readily acknowledges the Agile approach does not suit all clients, and NDA Law is rolling it out as appropriate.

“It’s a learning process for us as well. I think as we roll it out more, we are going to get better at doing those elements that are required to make it work at optimal efficiency.

“The challenge is learning how to divide a task into its various components because it’s not always obvious from the beginning.

“As we do more work along these lines, we will get better at determining how big a segment of work should be, and at what points we refer back to the client.”

Gordon said the ongoing engagement with clients, with feedback at a various points in the process, gave them “a sense of ownership” of the process and the outcome.

“It takes the issue away from being ‘that’s the lawyer’s problem’ to become ‘something that I’m working on with my lawyer’.

“It is not a massive change but it does change how a client perceives the work and their satisfaction with it at the end.

“There is also a lot less ‘bill shock’ because the client knows how much each revision, or sprint, is going to cost.”

NDA Law’s establishment earlier this year came with a new approach to charging clients, dispensing with the traditional “time sheet” model in favour of upfront quoting for legal advice.

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Paul Gordon, who specialises in social media, privacy, intellectual property and technology law, was always likely to bring some fresh thinking to the legal fraternity.

Earlier this month, Gordon was the only South Australian lawyer to be placed in the 2015 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards – recognising the best lawyers and future leaders under 30 years of age. His application included reference to his use of Agile and extensive committee work with the Aboriginal Health Research Ethics Committee and the Law Society of South Australia. He also mentors law students at the University of Adelaide and UniSA, and disadvantaged youth through the Department of Education and Childhood Development.

Gordon was a winner of the Law Society’s Gray Young Lawyer of the Year in 2013, awarded for “outstanding contribution to the legal profession and the community”, and received 13 awards and honours, including a University Medal, during his studies at Flinders University’s Law School.

The 30 Under 30 Award closely followed NDA Law’s inclusion, after only six months of operation, in the highly regarded 2015 Doyle’s Guide to the legal profession in South Australia, in which Gordon’s expertise, along with that of his colleagues Andrea Michaels and John MacPhail, was acknowledged.

Despite the presence of some dark clouds on the economic horizon, including the departure of big employers such as motor vehicle manufacturing, Gordon is optimistic about South Australia’s future.

“I’m excited by anything that is new and innovative,” he tells The Vanguard.

“What excites me is getting to learn about new things. In my career, I’ve learnt about everything from hair extension technology through to weapons defence systems and the de-alcoholisation of wine.

“If I was doing the same thing every day, I would get bored very quickly, but the advantage in my practice area is that it is never the same; it’s always different.

“Reading the documentation about what some people are doing just blows your mind in terms of what’s happening here in South Australia. That’s the future of the South Australian economy – its innovation, technology, and advanced manufacturing.

“I really think that the innovation culture is alive and well, it’s just often not widely reported.”

Paul Gordon is adding his own dash of innovation to a profession that some might regard as stuck in the last century as the world changes around it.

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