I led the design of a brand new legal project management solution that enabled confident communication between legal teams, their clients, and third party contributors. This project became the new nucleus of both the product and the company’s business structure.
I came to Atrium, a tech-enabled legal solution for startup founders, as designer #2 and later led design through a significant restructuring before a surprise dissolution (</3). At the time of this project, startup founders were attracted to Atrium because we marketed ourselves as “tech-enabled”, but we fell short of that in reality. The technical efficiencies that could make our legal team and clients happier and more productive weren’t making a critical impact for the business.
I led the design and research of this project from the discovery phase through the rest of its lifecycle. I collaborated closest with our head product manager. Our full team also included our engineering manager, a frontend engineer, and two additional engineers.
Discovery research: Feb 2019 Prototype: March 19, 2019 First sprint: March 29, 2019 MVP (beta program): April 23, 2019 GA: August 21, 2019
Unseen value proposition. Atrium’s competitive edge was not a visible, first-hand experience for our clients. Our existing technology was mostly hidden, disparate, pinpoint solutions for our internal legal team.
Stunted company growth. Growing the headcount of the legal team was not sustainable, but the product wasn’t providing enough support or efficiency to increase client load.
No core product vision. My product manager and I were tasked with figuring out the point of entry to make “tech enabled law firm” a reality. A platform was the obvious SaaS framework, but the foundation of the platform was not yet known.
The hypothesis of the business at that time was that by leveraging tech, we’d create efficiencies for our legal team, enabling us to service more clients without growing headcount.
Legal work user flow
How might we build a platform to enable greater efficiency for our legal team?
Understanding the current state of legal work
I led the user research phase, personally conducting all internal research. The product manager helped with external interviews and synthesis. Contextual inquiries, interviews, and card sorting were the most successful methodologies.
The user flow diagram I created from this work was not just a foundational resource for this project, it became an asset for guiding product and process strategy in other areas of the business.
For Atrium's GC, project management = Post-its
Inefficient and inconsistent workflows
Expectation setting avoidance
The general consensus: Atrium attorneys and their teams lack the project management skill set to enable standardization and increased efficiency in legal service delivery.
Crazy Eights exercise with Atrium legal pods
How might we prevent dropped balls in the delivery of legal services?
How do we prescribe a universal legal workflow so that a standard exists to maximize efficiency and consistency?
How do we support a culture of “up-leveling” so that practice assistants, paralegals, and junior associates achieve more, faster?
Email isn’t going away. How does project management successfully fit in?
Defining the persona of each stakeholder provided clarity on what to focus on for the MVP.
Define and stay within the core: Committed to focusing on the legal work itself, we only needed to focus on the needs of one of our internal personas.
Some people won’t use it: Observed behavioral patterns made it clear that focusing on the core would not impact some personas. We were okay with people like lead attorney managers, sales, and client account managers not having features for their workflows.
Transparency for users: As the catalyst of the project, clients experiencing the technology was a priority the prototype must address.
Wait on uncertainties: Although very much a goal, the business was not yet aligned around our vision for integrating third-parties. The focus on our internal law firm was a testing ground to help guide that decision making.
Research, whiteboard, repeat
Formalizing goals: Project Jello
Now that the project was taking shape, I decided it was time to celebrate what we were to embark upon. To create buzz for what was to come, I branded the project as “Jello”. This internal name helped keep things fun as we got deep into turning an ubiquitous problem space (project management) into a specialized solution for legal. Jello’s goals were:
Support our growing partnerships with third-party practitioners. We wanted to make sure that from mundane practice assistant tasks to outsourced special projects, our solution would serve the unique needs of each stakeholder to collaborate on legal work.
Standardize project work to level up paralegals and practice assistants, galvanize firm-level best practices and maximize personal efficiency. Our long term vision was for project standardization to evolve into a rules engine that could automate routine tasks.
World-class service 💎
We wanted to establish a client-centric approach. Our solution would make it easy to extend visibility to clients so that they could track everything and prevent dropped balls. “Team views” would help contextualize work, prioritize highest value clients, and improve ease of context switching.
100% daily active usage by paralegals and practice assistants
100% weekly active usage by attorneys
How we built it
Quick iteration was the name of the game. Starting week 1, we shipped and tested in production. The development goal for the prototype phase was features and experimentation over quality and usability.
To keep things lean, engineering decided to build the prototype outside of the existing product using basic Bootstrap. This made it simpler and faster to translate designs to functionality.
Data structure exploration and early wires
Basic bootstrap for quick sprint cycles
Iterations of core flow
Beta feedback: Methodology
A big challenge throughout this project was training our users to work with product and design. The majority of Atrium’s legal team had never worked in a startup environment so aligning expectations was required.
Creating trust for a product in iterative development was especially challenging in the legal space. To break down barriers between our teams, we created a dedicated Slack channel for each product as an inviting and informal feedback channel. These channels were active and helped us evolve our processes around bug reporting, usability testing, and research to best resonate with our users.
Beta feedback: Methodology
The people love kanban. Introducing this common pattern to this use case provided at-a-glance consumption of project status and was a big win.
Core value resonates with paralegal and practice assistants. The goal of preventing dropped balls when drafting legal work was achieved.
Need to support manager persona. Little value for attorneys managing their pods. We had initially cut this out of scope, but lack of attorney engagement did have a negative impact on the engagement of our target use cases.
Lack of user roles/permissions creates confusion. There was a strict pod structure for legal teams in real life that was not reflected in the app. This caused a lack of clarity when more than one pod was working on projects for the same client.
Creates duplicate/manual work. Email is still where requests come in. It’s uncompelling for users to keep two systems of communication up to date at the same time.
How might we integrate Jello with existing tooling to create an end to end workflow ready for a GA launch?
Addressing issues from beta
Scope increased for two new features:
Email plugin. Bridge the gap between triage and project work, minimize manual effort
Notifications. Increase engagement for clients and a broader set of internal users
There were a couple final projects that made our formal launch a success.
Existing site UI
Existing site map
IA shift for a new platform core
Jello was now the foundation of the platform, so dropping it into the old app was not an option. GA would be the launch of the new Atrium Platform.
I did a separate project to update the information architecture of the product so that navigation usability improved. The resulting solution was amazing. When I showed users they were either overjoyed or let out a sigh, both signs that the intuitive upgrade was long overdue.
Bootstrap iteration, map view
Translating bootstrap to app UI
I paired with engineers working on frontend products to ensure a smooth transition to visual consistency as we integrated Jello into the existing app. This was in the early stages of formalizing our component library, so there were lots of decision making to ensure strategic development that also set us up for future success.
Final app UI, kanban view
Reflections & Impact
Quicker pivot to growth. The pieces of this project that focused on engagement and retention rather than feature development had a quicker, cheaper impact on sustainable, compounding grow. I believe if we made Jello a leaner feature set, we could have reached a stronger, more universally compelling experience sooner. We got there later, but it had heavier costs.
EPD teamwork is fun! We came out of this project with a solid framework for how our EPD teams can function together. We increased the culture of collaboration, user-centered engagement, cross-role understanding and employee satisfaction.
Seed stage design system
A foundation for more strategic (and less expensive) product development that brought cohesion to a financial services platform and the EPD team that built it.