Applying Lean to Law: Why Legal Departments Are Ripe for Operational Change

January 25, 2017 - 3 minutes read
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Few things are more American than apple pie, baseball, and lawsuits.

In fact, the U.S. is the largest distributor of legal services in the world, ranking #1 for lawyers per capita, with 1 for every 300 people. The U.S. legal market is estimated to generate about $437 billion in revenue from law firms, legal process outsourcing firms, and internal legal departments. Carrying out these proceedings requires a lot of long hours for the lawyers and their legal teams. Applying Lean Six Sigma methodologies to their workplace means gaining back that precious time while netting larger profit margins and staying within budget.

Lean Six Sigma has a relatively short history in the service industries, as process improvement originated in the automotive and manufacturing industries. Prior to the early 2000s, Lean Six Sigma was about as foreign to service and financial industries as the Japanese terms Kaizen, Muda and Gemba are to the uninitiated.Dilbert-lean-six-sigma-problem-solving-3

However, the recent application of Lean Six Sigma tools and concepts to professional spaces only reinforces that all businesses will benefit when they center their operations on providing greater value to their customer and optimizing how time is spent.

So why should legal departments apply Lean now?

  1. Waste Exists Within Processes

By removing waste from legal processes, clients get better service, work gets done faster, and the department stays on budget because there’s less costs associated. Not surprisingly, greater productivity also brings greater satisfaction at work. It’s win for everyone involved.

  1. Variability Creates Unnecessary Costs

For complicated tasks, streamlining the processes by incorporating checklists, standardizing forms and creating standards removes the opportunity for error. When a task is clear-cut no time will be wasted trying to decipher exactly what is needed. Standardization means less defects—such as incomplete forms, data entry errors, and bad drafts.

  1. Talent Goes Underutilized

Traditional law firm culture often leaves little room for new ideas that could result in great improvement, originating from the ground-up. Converting existing know-how into process improvement engages and utilizes the talent in your office. Invite strategies and ideas from all employees.

  1. The right people aren’t performing the right tasks.

Optimization includes the reviewing the roles and responsibilities of firm and departmental employees—from counsel to administrative support. Ensuring the right work goes to the support staff allows lawyers to focus on the higher-complexity tasks.

With all this in mind, how do you know if your department/law firm is in need of Lean?

  • Are your talented people working overdrive with processes that don’t serve them well?
  • Are you operating in silos?
  • Do you find yourself reinventing the wheel?
  • Does your pricing strategy leave much to be desired?
  • Are you struggling with departmental budgeting?

If you answered yes or found these questions difficult to answer, your department could benefit from an introduction to Lean Six Sigma.


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