Example user stories for in-house lawyers

I've earlier posted about the lawyers using user stories to communicate with technical audiences. Following on from that post, below are some example user stories for in-house lawyers. I've adapted these from some presentations I gave in late 2015. Clearly the user stories below are not exhaustive and will not capture many of the unique elements that make up your practice. But I hope they will be a useful starting point for you.

Strictly speaking, these example user stories can be broken down into further specific user stories following a format of “As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>”.  And if your user story were to be passed on to a software developer to code something new just for you, they probably would be broken down into those individual elements (then most likely written on cards or Post-Its of different colours). For these purposes, however, don’t be afraid to set out a narrative.

New matter

Adam (a lawyer in the legal team) has been asked by his manager, to work with Beth (a manager in the website team) to draft a contract for an external photographer, Cameron, to take some photos for their organisation’s website.

The legal team needs to be able to keep track of all the legal matters it is working on. All lawyers are inevitably busy, and usually handling at least half-a-dozen different matters in various stages simultaneously. A good system for managing matters lets Adam keep track of:

  • What he is currently working on (i.e. his “to do now” list)
  • Matters he is involved in, but not currently working on (his “to do when it hits my desk again” list)
  • Matters that have been briefed out to external counsel
  • Key upcoming deadlines (e.g. Court dates, Minister/Board/CEO deadlines, statutory deadlines)

Keeping tracking of matters using a central shared system also lets Adam’s manager and the organisation’s General Counsel get, ideally at a glance, an overall snapshot of the legal position of their organisation. This might include:

  • Which lawyers have too much work on (and which have too little)
  • The legal risks facing the organisation
  • How they are tracking on external legal spend
  • The status of a particular project that the CEO might ask them about

Adam therefore logs into the legal team’s matter management system and creates a new matter, including:

Taking control.

Taking control.

  1. Giving the matter a name (“Cameron Photography Services Agreement”)
  2. Assigning the matter to the correct business unit or output class (External communications – website)
  3. Listing the relevant legal contact (himself)
  4. Listing the relevant business contact (Beth)
  5. Listing the relevant external counterparty (Cameron) and the contact details and individual contacts
  6. Assigns certain tags/categories to the matter (photography, image rights, copyright, privacy)
  7. Any relevant notes

The matter management system creates and assigns a unique number to this matter, based on the output class (for example, COMMS12345). This matter number serves as the central record for matter management (for example, cost tracking and time recording), and knowledge and record management.

Working on the matter

Adam contacts Beth and asks her for the background material to the Cameron matter. She provides the background material by email. Adam prepares a draft contract based on the legal team’s current template services agreement and provides it to Beth for her input. She marks up some suggested changes that they discuss and finalise, then provides a draft copy to Cameron for his input.

Adam records the time he has spent on this matter in the time recording module integrated with the matter management system, along with notes or narrations detailing what he did. For example, 15/10/2016 9:00-10:45 “Drafting contract”; 16/10/2016 15:15-15:30 “Telephone discussion w Beth re Cameron agreement”. The time recording module is flexible, allowing Adam to either insert start and stop times, use a stopwatch facility, or simply insert a time period (e.g. 1.2 hours).

The legal team records time to demonstrate the value of legal services that have been provided to different parts of the business. Certain types of work are also charged back to the business and this type of work needs to be clearly tracked. The notes or narrations aren’t usually provided to the business; they serve as a record to jog Adam’s memory if there are any queries later about the amount of time he has spent working on a particular matter (see also Cost Tracking below).

Records and document management

The matter management system is integrated into the organisation’s corporate document management solution. When Adam created the new COMMS12345 matter, a matter folder and subfolders were also automatically created in the legal section of the document management system. The matter and the documents relating to the matter are therefore consistently named and easy to find.

Adam saves all his working drafts relating to the matter into the COMMS12345/Working document management subfolder. He can easily locate his most recent draft. The working folder only contains working drafts, and is not cluttered with other things like precedents, legal research or email filing.

Unapproved filing method.

Unapproved filing method.

Adam also saves all the email correspondence relating to the matter into the COMMS12345/Correspondence document management folder rather than a subfolder of his inbox. But because the document management folder is seamlessly integrated into Outlook, Adam does not see a difference between a subfolder and the document management folder – he is still able to search and sort using email metadata as normal. Adam looks at his emails literally dozens (if not hundreds) of times per day. This integration means that Adam doesn’t have to switch between Outlook and the document management system multiple times per day. He can keep his emails filed in real time without any delays and frustration.

Handing over the matter

Adam has progressed the contract to a draft stage with input from Beth and sent it to Cameron for his comments. Unfortunately, Adam is unexpectedly away from the office for a few days and it becomes urgent that the agreement is signed. Debbie, one of Adam’s colleagues can log into the matter management system and see all active matters assigned to Adam and find the relevant matter number, COMMS12345 (without Adam’s input). This reference gives Debbie access to the matter management system, allowing her to carry out routine matter management without creating new matters or extensive manual investigation. For example, she can see the relevant business and external contacts, their contact details, and record her time.

The same matter number also provides a direct reference to the relevant document management folder. She can see all the email correspondence (and search and sort just like an Outlook subfolder) in the Correspondence subfolder. Emails are not hidden in Adam’s (and only Adam’s) personal inbox folders.

Debbie is also able to find the latest draft of the agreement from the Working subfolder. She can quickly finalise the agreement and prepares a final draft for execution. This is duly signed by the business and Cameron, and an electronic copy provided to Debbie. She saves all her emails into the Correspondence subfolder, the contract drafts into the Working subfolder, and the execution version into the Execution subfolder.

Closing the matter

Adam returns to work and sees that the COMMS12345 matter is now concluded. To finalise the matter, he checks that:

  1. All email correspondence is filed in the Correspondence subfolder

  2. A final version of the Cameron Photography agreement is in the Execution subfolder
  3. Copies of the execution version have been provided to the business
  4. The agreement is logged in the contracts database (see below)
  5. He has recorded all his time accurately in the time recording module
  6. He has ensured that anything that might be useful for other lawyers or as a future precedent has been included in the knowledge management system (e.g. a template/reference folder).

Because of the integration between Outlook, the matter management system, and the document management system, “filing” is just another part of “working”. Adam (and Debbie) doesn’t have to manually file any additional material, it is all already in its proper place.

Adam checks off all the relevant items then marks the COMMS12345 as “complete” and it disappears from his list of active matters.

Contracts database

The business has had trouble with executed agreements in the past. Important contracts have expired without renewal because no-one kept track of termination dates. Multiple versions of Master Services Agreements have been signed unnecessarily because one bit of the business didn’t know another one had already agreed one.

The legal team therefore maintains a database of all current contracts to prevent such scenarios. The organisation typically procures services from others, therefore usually its only obligation under its contracts is to pay invoices as they are due. The database is therefore relatively simple, only tracking a few key terms:

  1. Counterparty name
  2. Contract name and internal reference number
  3. Start date
  4. Expiry date
  5. Date by which notice of renewal (if any) must be given
  6. Termination rights (e.g. termination on notice for convenience, termination for material breach)
  7. Contract value
  8. Link/reference to signed version of contract in the document management system

Adam makes sure that the contracts database is updated with the Cameron Photography services agreement’s details. If the agreement ever must be renewed in future, plenty of warning will be given that it is about to expire.

Records management

Time passes. Cameron delivers the photos under the agreement, is paid, and the agreement expires. However, after some time, the organisation receives a complaint from a third party, Freddie. Freddie’s likeness features in the photos and alleges that the organisation has breached his privacy in putting them on its website. He threatens to sue the organisation.

Adam and Beth (the lawyer and manager involved in the contract with Cameron) have long since left the organisation, along with their first-hand knowledge of the circumstances of the contract. The matter is therefore passed to a different lawyer, Gary, to investigate further. Gary is quickly able to find the matter number of the original matter (COMMS12345) because of the metadata assigned to the matter when Adam originally created it. This matter number enables Gary to easily find the relevant documents in the contracts database and document management system, because they all reference the same matter number. The contracts database and the Execution document management subfolder include the final versions as agreed, while the Correspondence and Working document management subfolders let Gary analyse the full background to the agreement with Cameron and how particular positions were reached.

While some matters aren’t as straightforward as Gary would like, his view is that Cameron is the one at fault for breaching his obligations under the agreement. Proceedings against Cameron may be necessary.

Business process management (litigation)

Gary sees from the Cameron agreement and the records of the original matter that the disputes with Cameron and Freddie will not be straightforward. There is a very real chance that the dispute will go to mediation, arbitration or litigation.

Gary opens a new matter “Cameron/Freddie photography dispute” which is assigned the matter number COMMS23456. In addition to the matters listed in the matter opening user story above, Gary is also able to include in the notes field a cross reference to the related matter, COMMS12345. Because this matter involves the prospect of litigation, Gary tags the matter as “litigation”. This creates additional fields to be completed, including:

  1. Nature of complaint/area of law
  2. The Court/Tribunal/Forum
  3. Risk to the organisation/Prospect of complainant success
  4. Significance to the organisation
  5. External legal counsel involved
  6. Key dates (see further below).

Gary does not have all this information yet, so leaves them blank. He passes this matter on to Helen, who is responsible for litigation in the organisation.

The matter proceeds to litigation. The organisation is being sued by Freddie and in turn seeks to join Cameron to the proceedings. Litigation is always complex and it is necessary for lawyers to be able to keep track of many different (and often moving) dates.

Helen receives a statement of claim from Freddie’s lawyers. Helen saves this into the Court Documents subfolder of the COMMS23456 folder. She needs to draft a statement of defence as quickly as possible to give the relevant internal clients the chance to check it over before it is filed in Court. Helen uses the knowledge management to access the correct templates and check some relevant precedents for information she can re-use in the statement of defence. She then circulates the draft internally using the document management reference/link to ensure that all suggestions and comments are consolidated into a single document.

The document must be filed (in Court) and served (on Freddie and Cameron) by a certain date so Helen needs to be able to keep track of that deadline. She enters these deadlines into the matter management system’s calendar module that shows her these, as well as the court deadlines for other litigation matters. Helen also creates an alert/reminder both one week and two weeks before the due dates so she is reminded of what she needs to do. As milestones are met, she marks each as complete and includes links to the relevant documents for each milestone in the document management system.

After the statement of defence is filed and served, Helen receives a notice of a call-over fixture from the Court. She needs a reliable way to record not only that fixture date but also the date on which a memorandum is due. Later, a hearing date is set and the Court has ordered specific dates for disclosure, the filing of submissions by each side, the filings of briefs of evidence for each side and the filing of submissions in reply. This means that there are key dates when Helen must do something (e.g. file a document) and when Freddie or Cameron on the other side must do something (which will usually involve Helen receiving something).

Helen needs a reliable way of recording all these dates on an ongoing basis. She can update the matter management with new deadlines as required to produce a consolidated record of all completed and pending activities, the dates for each, and links to the relevant documents.

Document sharing

Helen must disclose all relevant documents to the other parties. It is a large task. Some of the documents also need to be redacted (passages blanked out) carefully so, for example, legal advice referred to in Board papers is not disclosed inadvertently. She needs to keep a record of the documents disclosed and of the redactions made to those documents.

Helen makes the necessary redactions and then loads the documents into a secure space to share with the other parties. The way redactions are made ensures that the redactions are genuinely removed and not accessible using other computer techniques. It also strips out all document metadata.

Contact management

In addition to documents and dates, litigation also involves several different people. These include the parties involved in the litigation (which can sometimes be more than one plaintiff and one defendant), the lawyer(s) involved on each side, potential witnesses (for example, organisation staff or external experts). Helen can keep track of all these people by linking individual contact records with the COMMS23456 matter number.

Supplier management (external legal counsel)

The organisation decides that the matter is so complex Helen needs some assistance from a senior litigator outside the organisation. An external counsel is briefed to peer review the submissions and briefs of evidence.

The external counsel is given the matter management number (COMMS23456). External counsel typically bill on a per hour basis. When the external counsel provides invoices, they include the matter management number. Imogen, the legal team’s administrator, loads all invoices into the matter management system. This enables both Helen and Emma (the General Counsel) to keep track of external legal costs that have been incurred and (later) provide a summary back to the business units of their total legal spend.

Cost tracking

The Court delivers its decision and the organisation loses. Helen must draft a memorandum regarding costs and must be able to identify each relevant step of the process, such as the key documents drafted by the other side, the number of conferences and the length of the hearing. Because external counsel costs have been recorded in the matter management system, and Helen has been recording her own time in the time recording module, she can quickly see the total amount of time and money spent on the COMMS23456 matter.

Reporting

Emma, the General Counsel, uses the matter management system to generate several reports and information. Perhaps most importantly, she can generate a weekly report providing a high-level overview of all actual and potential litigation in the organisation, including an assessment of its impact and likelihood of success. This enables her to keep the Senior Leadership Team appraised of litigation risks facing the organisation.

However, Emma also uses the reporting function to keep an eye on other significant legal risks and issues facing the organisation, make informed resourcing decisions, and generate internal reports.

First, Emma can generate a report by matter number. For each matter, this will show its name, the responsible legal counsel, the relevant business unit and its current status. She is most interested in new matters – this gives her an overview of the legal team’s work.

Next, Emma can generate a report by output class or business unit. This may show her a detailed list of matters grouped by output class, or simply show her the total time/cost recorded for each output class. This shows her where the legal services team’s efforts are primarily being directed.

Emma can also generate a report by external legal counsel, showing her how much external legal spend the organisation is incurring, and the proportion of that spend going to each external counsel.

Finally, Emma can generate a report by individual lawyer (either matters or hours), showing how much work each person currently has underway. This helps her with resourcing decisions.

In summary

As I said in a previous post, the aim of this type of user story is for non-technical people to set out what they do, and how they want to do it. All the technologies and procedures work exactly as the user in the story wants them to. Also remember that user stories don't have to result in a new practice management system or contract database. Don't buy new technology just because "digital disruption is coming". Figuring out the most effective way to deal with a particular issue could be as simple as a new flow chart. Finally, as I've said before, working smarter, whether through digital technologies or just refined processes, can improve the quality of legal services provided, more effectively mitigate legal risk, and perhaps make the practice of law more enjoyable.