Making the case for process improvement

April 15, 2013

one of a kind dec 2012 blogMost law firms believe they deliver a high quality legal product.  Their websites offer quality, excellence, and client service, all of which are important considerations in choosing a law firm.  But most firms don’t actually measure their performance along these lines; indeed, many would admit they have room for improvement on many fronts.  Firms may be able to create a competitive advantage by using methodologies found in other sectors like business and manufacturing; like process improvement.

Process improvement can focus on operations, where the billing process is standardized to reduce errors and improve collections and realization.  Strict adherence to process improvement in specific workflows like the M&A process or litigation process will help a law firm to deliver better, higher quality legal work supported by efficient internal operations.

The current economic climate demands new ways of thinking about what the firm is good at and what is attractive to clients.  For example, having repeatable and controllable project management processes may allow for a greater volume of work to be done by lower level employees, who bill at lower rates.  The concepts are strategic in nature and encompass alignment with the firm’s goals, knowledge management, and being able to measure outcomes including areas like competence and performance of attorneys and support staff

The good news is that there is not “one size that fits all” in terms of reducing the cost of creating quality legal work and closely monitoring processes and outputs.  Some firms concentrate on professional development, making legal project management (LPM) the centerpiece of their new associate training.  Other firms teach mid-level associates about supervision and delegation of work to help them work smarter.  Sometimes one practice area will fire up a campaign to increase billings and arrive at its own combination of approaches that can be migrated to various parts of the wider firm.

Strategic decisions can be made considering firm culture and management, to increase business generation and reduce write offs in a variety of ways.  The March 2013 issue of Practice Innovations, a quarterly newsletter about managing in a changing legal environment, contains several interesting articles about the intersection of process and profitability and highlights various ways in which firms can begin to think about these important areas.