What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a powerful project management method, in use since the 1940’s across various industries.

Kanban has been adopted widely in the IT sector. According to a study, 57% of IT companies use Kanban and 100% of respondents felt it worked well.

But Kanban grows very rapidly among innovative law firms too.

In this article you will:

  • learn about the concept of Kanban;
  • see how you can make a ‘Kanban board’ for your law firm;
  • outline Kanban’s key benefits; and
  • give you some working examples of firms already using it.


“Let the flow manage processes, not management manage the flow”. ~ Taiichi Ohno, ex-Toyota VP, father of the Toyota Production System


The origin of this exotic-sounding term is Japanese. ‘Kanban’ means a visible record (such as a billboard, card, label, or sign).

As a concept, the Kanban system helps teams visualize their work, identify bottlenecks and continuously improve their service.

For managers, Kanban helps prioritize tasks, and focus on working on what matters most, right now.


Cards are the essential components that make the Kanban ‘magic’ happen. Each step in Kanban is indicated by a card that helps team members visualize the workflow. Cards (or ‘kanbans’) connect two dependent processes. They signal the state of a product, or task.

Kanban has an intriguing evolution and history. The Kanban card system was first used in supermarkets to organize product-related information.

Taiichi Ohno, a Toyota vice president, inspired by the way they organized their merchandising process, borrowed the system.

Innovative law firms have followed suit. Now your firm can too.

Kanban LegalTrek Taiichi Ohno image

Over time, the Kanban concept evolved from manufacturing, to IT, and now to law practices. Today, it’s used to manage and improve service delivery.

It’s very simple:

All tasks are written on cards, and when ready, moved from one column to another.

David Anderson who popularized Kanban within IT, outlines six general practices:

  1. Visualize (the work, workflow, and business risks)
  2. Limit WIP (Word in progress)
  3. Manage Flow
  4. Make Process Explicit
  5. Implement Feedback Loops
  6. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally.


These elements give teams the freedom to map their own workflow, prioritize tasks and easily see the work in process.

You can probably see that Kanban can be applied to any sector. Often lawyers and clients struggle with slow progress on legal matters, and the bottlenecks that occur.

Every day, attorneys undertake lots of tasks, calls, drafts, but in the end, their work is not visible.

This leads to inner dissatisfaction of the work done, and the loss of focus on the important tasks.

With a Kanban board, you can arrange your team’s tasks neatly and make the work more visible.

Legal Project Management Guide

Turn your legal team into a profit machine with this easy to understand free guide to legal project management.

Here’s how you can start:

The Kanban Board for Lawyers

For the very start, you need your very own Kanban board. It can be your office wall, or an electronic board in a web application.

Every Kanban board must contain several columns that represent the work stages.

Cards represent the tasks that every member needs to complete. According to John Grant, an expert and thought leader in ‘Agile Law’, the first step for lawyers is to create three simple columns: ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’, ‘Done’.

Imagine you’re starting new work for a client.

Write down the tasks associated with the new matter on cards (sticky notes).

Put them in the ‘To Do’ column.

For example, your cards may be something like this: review client’s documents, brief client about drafting documents, create power of attorney, or something alike.

Let’s say your first task is ‘review client’s docs’.

Take this particular card and move it to the ‘Doing’ column.


According to Grant, it’s important to take a moment and appreciate that there’s only one thing you’re doing right now.

A survey shows that only 2% of people can multitask effectively. So, focus your energy and attention only on the task at hand.

When you’ve completed the work on the card, put it in the ‘Done’ column. Remember, it’s essential that you take your time and enjoy the completed task. 

“Once you can actually see your work in a Kanban board, you will experience a sense of order and control that has no-doubt been missing from your work-life for some time.” ~ John Grant, Kanban For Lawyers


The retrospection of the finished work is a key component of the Kanban process. It will help you analyze each task, and uncover bottlenecks that are causing a delay in your legal service.

Kanban is all about efficiency. So, make sure you don’t waste effort and time.

Start a task (in ‘Doing’ column) only if you really plan to work on it and intend to finish it. If something unexpected occurs, move it in ‘To Do’, or create a special column ‘Backlog’.

Each task must be completely finished before starting a new one. There’s an important reason behind this.

One of the main goals in Kanban is to constrain the amount of work in progress (WIP). So, in the beginning of your Kanban journey, it’s best to put a strict limit and NOT exceed 2 or 3 items per person.

Still, you can choose any number you feel is suitable for your team and write it on ‘Doing’ cards.

Everybody will be able to see the WIP limit at any point, and the estimated length of work for each item. But that’s just part of the advantages of Kanban for your law firm.


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The Main Benefits of Kanban for Lawyers

✔ Benefit 1: More Organized Workflow

If you’re a partner in a mid-sized or large firm, you’ll agree it can be difficult to track colleagues’ work, and progress on every matter.

Kanban will help you see the big picture and the current state of work in plain sight. You can organize your firm with Kanban, by creating a board for each legal matter or for every instance of work.

Some law firms prefer to make boards for every team. How you organize your Kanban method depends on the specifics of your business.

Whatever you decide, the key is that you’ll have all tasks and deadlines in front of you at any moment.


✔ Benefit 2: Improved Collaboration

The beauty of Kanban is that it splits work and lets you allocate work within a team.

Your colleagues get real-time updates on WIP, and what others are doing, especially if you’re using Kanban software. The structured workload will have an enormous impact on large cases.

Collaboration in your firm will improve too, because your colleagues will be able to give feedback instantly on each Kanban card.

As a result, miscommunication will no longer be part of your firm.


✔ Benefit 3: Kanban Reveals Wasteful Processes in the Firm

With Kanban you can see clearly what processes need to be improved in your company.

In our opinion, this is the most valuable benefit for law firms, because it leads to greater efficiency and cost reductions.

In this article you can read what are the main ‘wastes’ in most law firms. Kanban will help you identify these wasteful processes that slow down your work.

Eliminate them and you’ll have more time for business, client development and you’ll increase profits.

✔ Benefit 4: Constant Improvements with Daily Stand-ups

A key element of Kanban is the daily stand-up meetings about your board.

Every day, your team should gather for a short meeting called ‘stand-up’. It’s named stand-up, because people are required to stand up, to keep the meeting short.

Everyone should give their view on the issues surrounding their card/s, and what is the best solution.

According to the Kanban philosophy, the meeting leader is not one person. Everyone should be encouraged to participate in discussions.

A wider perspective on each legal matter will help you get more ideas on how cases may be won.

Examples of Law Firms Using Kanban

Sound Immigration

Sound Immigration is Washington State’s first fully web-based immigration law firm.

The firm offers extraordinary client experience with price transparency, fast legal service, unlimited access to attorneys and secure online access to the case.

According to managing attorney Greg McLawsen, a Kanban board is the most intuitive way to visually display information about case status.

“When I showed our first Kanban board to my associate he immediately understood how it would work. It was basically the case management system we didn’t know we were looking for. It has completely changed how I manage all aspects of my professional life. Every project I work on is represented by cards on one or more Kanban boards.

With a Kanban board you can instantly identify bottlenecks in your case workflow. We realized that response time from our clients was the leading cause preventing cases from moving forward. That’s neither good or bad, but identifying bottlenecks is an extremely good thing: it’s the first step to increasing flow.” said Greg.

Prestige Lawyers

Prestige Lawyers is an international investment and immigration specialist, providing expert legal advice to Chinese-speaking communities in New Zealand since 2006.

Prestige Lawyers offers a personalized, tailor-made service to clients. Kanban is an important part of their work.

The methodology helps them reduce the stress of managing the workload. Visualizing the tasks they do every single day was an effective approach that also helped them change their mindset. Prestige Lawyers has a dedicated office ‘space to think’ and collaborative rooms for brainstorming ideas.

Tools that Can Help Law Firms in the Cloud

Some law firms use web-based tools to create digital Kanban boards. Web applications are beneficial in many ways, especially for firms with many offices and teams working remotely. Everything now happens in real time.

If a colleague in Boston adds a card, co-workers in Berlin see it immediately.

fee arrangementTechnology also lets you create Kanban boards faster.

The logic of building digital boards is the same. They host all stages of the work in columns, and all tasks in cards.

The difference is that you add a Kanban card with just a click of a button. When you want to move a card to another column, you just drag and drop it. It’s nice and simple! It’s a wonderful way to communicate, and finish your work quicker!

From day 1, we’ve believed that agile methods such as Kanban are powerful and simple to use in law firms. That’s why we’re working hard to build a Kanban board inside LegalTrek that will be designed especially for lawyers. Stay tuned!

Kanban is growing in various industries for a reason. For lawyers, it is introducing an entirely new world of management. A project management that is simpler, quicker, more efficient and universally applicable. That leads us to the question: is your current project management system agile enough?

Want to learn more about Kanban and how to apply it in your legal team?



Business Dictionary / http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/kanban.html

David J Anderson & Associates, Inc. / http://www.djaa.com/principles-general-practices-kanban-method

LeanPub, Kanban for Lawyers / https://leanpub.com/kanbanforlawyers

Lean in the Law Firm by Stephen Reed / http://www.slideshare.net/scrummasternz/lean-in-the-lawfirm-by-stephen-reed

LegalTrek / https://legaltrek.com/blog/2014/12/law-firm-wastes-see-the-7-business-wastes-that-are-damaging-your-practice/

LegalTrek / https://legaltrek.com/blog/2014/12/law-firm-profit-4-tips-that-will-boost-your-firms-collection-rate/

LegalTrek / https://legaltrek.com/blog/2015/03/7-reasons-for-implementing-agile-in-your-law-firm/

Prestige Lawyers / http://prestigelawyers.kiwi/english/

Psychology Today / https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-trust/201202/is-your-brain-multitasking

Sound Immigration / http://soundimmigration.com/

Toyota Global / http://www.toyota-global.com/company/vision_philosophy/toyota_production_system/just-in-time.html

Toyota Global / http://www.toyota-global.com/company/vision_philosophy/toyota_production_system/origin_of_the_toyota_production_system.html

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