The past ten years have ushered in many changes to the legal landscape, including the introduction of New Law firms, specialists in legal process innovation, and a plethora of new technology companies. However, many law firms were still slow to engage even as new competitors emerged and client demand for more efficient legal services grew. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, it has become even more apparent that today’s legal market requires a new approach to service delivery. For law firms, this means cutting costs and improving pricing models while becoming more profitable and competitive. However, to make any meaningful change, attorneys must understand the basics of process improvement.
What Is Process Improvement?
Process improvement is more than just process mapping or setting policies and guidelines. It is a collaborative approach where you can use different tools and techniques to analyze a specific process and find ways to do it better and more efficiently.
Any project with a beginning, a middle, and an end can be construed as a process; but as attorneys, we have not been trained to look at our work in that way. Even if cases are rarely repetitive or consistent, there are always processes involved that can be improved.
Process improvement is a helpful methodology to achieve excellence in all aspects of your service delivery model. Legal, business, and administrative processes can be improved while attaining operational efficiency in its broadest sense. Efficiency is not about doing more with less or just managing expenses. Efficiency means transforming standard processes to avoid wasting resources.
Common Process Failures in Law Firms
Let’s examine some examples of resources that are often wasted while delivering legal services.
How often have you encountered a scenario in which you were drafting a memorandum on an issue, but you later find out that a colleague had previously prepared a memo on the exact same problem? This is a classic example of overproduction.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes the same associates do all the work, while others do not have enough to do? This is an example of non-utilized talent, which I experienced plenty as an entry-level attorney.
Finally, have you ever encountered a situation where documents are misfiled and cannot be located? This is an example of a defect in a process.
How Lawyers Can Implement Process Improvement
The legal business is a relationship business, and relationships thrive best under ongoing improvement. Even as an attorney, you can improve small tasks. So how can you start improving your tasks and processes? Use the DMAIC approach.
DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, a methodology to improve and optimize processes. Let’s use an example and imagine you want to improve how you draft and generate legal documents.
- Define the problem and why it has to be solved. Ask yourself: what does the client want? Is your work being completed correctly in one try? In our example, the client wants legal documents quickly, without having to pay too much money. Sometimes, although rarely, your legal documents have no typos or mistakes. However, 98% of the time, there is a mistake that needs to be fixed, which annoys the client.
- Measure the current performance of the process. Ask yourself: How do we work to get that result? For the creation of legal documents, manually drafting the documents using generic templates is the typical way of drafting the documents. That is, if we are lucky enough to find templates saved on the firm’s intranet. If there are no templates, then the attorney has to start drafting a document from scratch. If we are working on an hourly rate, the bill will be excessive. For example, if we are preparing a Data Sharing Agreement, we are looking at five to seven billable hours.
- Analyze the opportunities to reduce waste. Ask yourself: why do we work that way? In our example, it has been the standard form of operating. There are no other better alternatives at the moment.
- Improve the process by identifying, implementing, and validating process changes. Ask yourself: how can we improve? For this step, you will need to brainstorm and prioritize your ideas. Furthermore, you will need to involve subject matter experts who can give additional insights to improve your process. For instance, a way of improving the way of drafting legal documents can be by using document automation software. As an attorney, I can rely on tools such as Documate, Community Lawyer, or Docassemble to produce legal documents, just by selecting the template that I need. This will lead to an efficient document generation process, in which clients can be charged a fixed price rather than an hourly rate.
- Control the process and ensure that improvements are sustainable and anticipated benefits are delivered. Ask yourself: Are you following the new process? This step will need measuring the new process and the benefits that are resulting from it. This control will let you develop and adopt pricing models.
This same approach can be used for any legal process. Drafting a legal memorandum, writing an appellate brief, client intake, or email management are just a few examples. You can always improve your process using the right tools. Process improvement is not only about technology, but rather about an honest assessment to optimize services and demonstrate measurable efficiencies.
Learn More about Process Improvement for Lawyers
You can learn more by checking out the Legal Lean Sigma Institute. This organization provides expert consulting support and certification courses, workshops, programs, retreats, and presentations designed for process improvement.
Small changes add up to change the way legal services are delivered. Attorneys must remain competitive in a market where technology, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), and the Big Four are critical players in the legal market. The only way to stay relevant is to implement process improvements to ensure greater efficiency and client value.
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