My journey from paralegal to product manager
Like a lot of students, I went into University unsure of what I really wanted to do after law school. I knew I had a passion for the law but didn’t know what area of practice I wanted to go into, or whether I even wanted to practice law at all.
After graduating, I spent some time as a paralegal within a property department for a high street law firm. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t what I was expecting. There were a lot more administrative work and paper-pushing than I had envisioned.
I then moved over to my current employer GlobalX. A company that provides conveyancers with property searches and data. Working here I made a move from paralegal work to product management.
I had no previous experience as a product manager when this position opened up, but with a passion for both law and technology, our CEO saw potential in me. He was also willing to invest in my retraining.
What is a product manager?
If you don’t know what a product manager is, I’ll quickly summarise what we do.
Product managers are often seen as senior software developers who have taken on a project management role. While the rise in popularity of the product manager role is closely tied to the increase in software products, the role extends far beyond digital solutions, and you don’t have to write code to be a good PM (I’d even say sometimes it’s better that PM’s don’t code).
Product managers are responsible for the entire development lifecycle of a product. This involves understanding both the needs of the business, and more importantly, the needs of the user/customer, and turning these into deliverable, working products.
What I do on a day-to-day basis is to understand and translate the problems our users are facing into features that our engineers can build, while ensuring this meets the clients’ overall objectives.
The challenges of transitioning from law to tech
The biggest challenge I faced at the start of my journey was getting to grips with the taxonomy, theories and techniques that go hand in hand with product management. You’ve probably heard of legalese, well there’s also an equivalent language when it comes to product
management and software development.
Once I got a good understanding of the technical elements of software development, I found my background in law to be very beneficial.
Having worked as a conveyancer, that really helped with interpreting the intentions of our users into solutions, but other skills carried over well too.
In law, you are often-explaining complex concepts to people with little background knowledge, all whilst managing multiple stakeholders, and the same applies to product development. The two disciplines rely heavily on excellent communication skills.
Attention to detail, without doubt, is another attribute that has transferred well. There are very few industries that require a level of attention to detail that the legal sector requires. Applying that to product development has helped reduce costly errors and resulted in better end products.
Lessons I’ve learned as a PM that could apply to law
One aspect of agile project management that can be easily transferred to the legal sector, and any other, is the concept of a retrospective.
A retrospective is a meeting at the end of a sprint (project) where the team reflects on what worked well, what didn’t, and what actions can we take to improve things moving forward.
Not enough businesses really take the time to reflect upon the work they’ve just done. If they do so, it’s usually an unstructured meeting with no definitive outcomes. Retrospectives help keep things focussed with an emphasis on returning actionable insights.
User stories are another great technique that helps aid communication and understanding by making the user’s intentions very specific. When people consume products or legal services, they do so to solve a specific problem. User stories are a great way to try to understand precisely what that problem is, and how we can best address it, as service providers.
If you take conveyancing for example. There are very few people who move house purely for sake of moving. Underneath this, there is a story to be told, and underneath that again is a need, which as service providers we should seek to address. For example, the user may prefer to be kept updated over a quick conveyance, or they may prefer face-to-face contact over remote, and understanding our users to this degree helps us optimise our business processes, and ultimately the service we provide.
Both techniques can be applied to improving operational performance as well as addressing
issues in a particular case.
Advice to others thinking of taking a similar route
There are numerous resources online that allow anyone interested in learning more about product management and its various different approaches, such as agile or lean.
For anyone looking to get started with agile, I would recommend reading User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton, and Inspired by Marty Cagan. I found these resources very helpful at the start of the journey, and I regularly refer back to them.
If you’re a law firm looking to implement some of the techniques I mentioned earlier, then you can either use the resources above or bring a consultant to work with your team on a specific paint point.
About the author
Kai Hellstrom is the lead product manager for GlobalX in the UK. Using his background in conveyancing Kai is responsible for the development of Matter Centre, an automated workflow solution for property law professionals.