One Legal Ecosystem: Are You Ready for Process Improvement?

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For those ready to enhance long lasting business relationships, Lean Sigma has become the underpinning of great solutions engendering client loyalty...

These days, legal departments and law firms are forming more permanent and satisfying relationships engaging in deeper collaboration and team work. The efforts to make the delivery of legal services more predictable and efficient initially surfaced years ago; one can find many compelling examples and case studies from law departments and law firms that make the case for focusing on efficiency.  

With the more recent attention paid to the specific role of legal operations, the principles around it have started to coalesce. We’re working with an increasing number of law firms and legal departments wanting to achieve greater innovation focused on corporate business goals. More often now, they are interested in doing this work together.

For many years the legal ecosystem has been dancing around the frustration that the doing and delivery of our services are badly in need of reform. There have been great breakthroughs from numerous corporations as well as progressive law firms that are early adopters of process improvement and legal operations. These firms led the charge to make sustainable and real change with their clients by partnering on a deeper and more sophisticated level. 

Early adopter law firms reorganized and formulated better process improvement and project management strategies to respond to client needs by delivering more efficient services.

Technology and legal process outsourcing were incorporated into many early legal operations initiatives. These are still important but first, process improvement should be done. By engaging in tried and true frameworks, it is easier to identify the pain points and opportunities for improvement. By mapping the current state, we are able to identify where we have chances to optimize the process as well as gather data around how it is performing. 

...an increasing number of legal departments are requiring firms to demonstrate they are engaged in activities such as project planning, functional process mapping, and process improvement

With the hundreds of mid-size and large law firms in existence, why is it that more law firms have not realized and actually engaged in process improvement to deliver win-win results for their clients and themselves? There is ample evidence that process improvement works and that it benefits the entire ecosystem. You can read many case studies about these successes in the book, Lean Six Sigma for Law Firms.

The primary reasons have to do with skepticism and the strong resistance to thinking differently (no surprise to anyone in our field). Now, however, an increasing number of legal departments are requiring firms to demonstrate they are engaged in activities such as project planning, functional process mapping, and process improvement activities to improve how their legal work is delivered. 

Creating sustainable legal ecosystems between legal departments, law firms, and others is at the heart of these changes. Collaborative approaches to process improvement work delivers lasting and positive efficiencies and also reduces redundancies. Legal departments want outside counsel to put skin in the game and solve the bigger picture eliminating their most frustrating problems in receiving legal product. These types of legal operation initiatives create solid win-win relationships between the legal department and the law firm. 

Process improvement focuses first on understanding what value is in the eyes of the client. This includes exploring what would be a win for the clients of the legal department, such as the C-Level executives to whom they report and the business units whom they serve. 

It’s not enough to discuss the possibilities of these changes. Rather it is necessary to do this work. An increasing number of law firms are working with process improvement professionals who are skilled at bringing cross-organizational teams together to collaborate and create positive change that yields predictable and better solutions, less frustration, and less repetitive tasks. 

Some organizations aren’t sure how and where to start, or how much of a commitment they are ready to make. Some assistance in gaining deep insights into the current state of your organization and your key processes will be helpful. An operations assessment is an excellent place to start, as it provides a starting point for developing a plan to achieve process excellence that includes designing and building bridges to your desired future state. All of this to improve the client experience and journey.

For those ready to enhance long lasting business relationships, Lean Sigma has become the underpinning of great solutions engendering client loyalty to the highest degree. After all, we are one legal ecosystem. According to the Law of Disruptive Innovation, after the Early Adopters comes the Early Majority, then the Late Majority, and finally the Laggards. The Early Adopters are here. Where will your firm or legal department come out on this scale?

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Authored by Merry Neitlich, Managing Partner of EM Consulting and affiliate consultant with Lean Six Sigma.  merry@EMconsults.org   www.emconsults.org 

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