What is Legal Process Improvement?

On the up

“Legal Process Improvement” is a new concept to many people so it was my intention to start this blog with a definition to illustrate what it is that we’re referring to.  However, after much searching, it appears that no such definition exists.  So allow me to venture my own definition.  In order to do so, let’s decompose the term into two parts:  1. “Legal” and 2. “Process Improvement”.  I’ll assume that you’re very familiar with the first term (in this context, I mean “of relevance to legal service providers” and am not referring to its lawfulness!)

So in order to get a good definition, let’s first, start with the “Process Improvement” part and I’ll apply the “Legal” context to it as we go along.

“Process improvement is an aspect of organizational development in which a series of actions are taken by a process owner to identify, analyze and improve existing business processes within an organization to meet new goals and objectivessuch as increasing profits and performance,reducing costs and accelerating schedules.  These actions often follow a specific methodology or strategy to encourage and ultimately create successful results.”

Let’s look at a few of the items in that definition.

  1. A series of actions are taken…. to identify, analyse and improve business processes
  2. To meet new goals and objectives
  3. Often follow a specific methodology
  4. Create successful results

I’ll cover each of these 4 aspects in more detail in separate blogs over the coming weeks to explain how to improve legal processes.  In the meantime, let’s just consider them more generally.

So the definition suggests that Process Improvement is a ‘series of actions taken to identify, analyse and improve processes’.  I agree with this and, on the face of it, this is a simple thing to do.  I’ll point out the potential pitfalls and things to look out for in more detail in coming blogs, but for now, just bear in mind that the chronology of this definition is important.

  • First, identify (that is; define and scope out) the process or processes [More on this later].
  • Secondly analyse it (that is; review it, document how it works, how well it achieves its goals and what doesn’t work).  My one tip at this stage is don’t skimp on the “Analyse” phase and jump straight into proposing solutions – if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it, and if it is broken, make sure you know why and how it should be improved for the long term otherwise any change will not stick and you’ll be back to where you started.
  • Thirdly, improve the process.  If you’ve done step 2 properly, then this will be very easy to define how the process should be improved.  Implementing the change is harder, but not impossible (again, if you do it correctly!)

The definition also states ‘to meet new goals and objectives’.  This is vital to any successful Legal Process Improvement programme and the thing that I most often see missed.  Ask yourself (and others); “What are we trying to achieve” and don’t accept wishy-washy, generalised answers like “we want to make the process more efficient” or “improve quality of service”.

To improve a legal process significantly, you will need to invest some time and energy so you need to know from the outset that it is worth doing.  That means having a clear strategy and setting some quantifiable goals so that you get a decent Return-on-Investment.  So by making the process more efficient, start thinking of specific measurable objectives, do we want to:

  • Improve average matter profitability from 20% to 35%,
  • Reduce the average cost per matter to £X or $Y,
  • Increase the caseload per fee earner from 10 to 15,
  • Reduce Work-In-Progress (Yes, I do mean “reduce”!),
  • Increase throughput rate of cases / matters from 6 months to 3 months,
  • Release cash from the working capital cycle by £0.5million, etc, etc.

The definition also says ‘often follow a specific methodology’.  The important word here is “often”, i.e. not “always”.  Be careful of anyone who waxes lyrical about the benefits of a particular methodology or approach e.g. Lean or Six Sigma.  For the record, I’m a certified practitioner of both, but the important thing here is that the methodology is your slave and not your master.  The old adage goes:  “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  Methodologies are useful to provide structure and useful tools, but the important thing is how are things improved for your clients and your firm and not have you followed a particular methodology to the letter.

The final part of the definition is to ‘create successful results’.  Watch this space for how to do this.  Click “Follow” to ensure you don’t miss out on the latest posts.

Welcome on the journey.

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4 responses to “What is Legal Process Improvement?

  1. Nice site – I’d be interested in comparing notes. I am a lawyer and am very interested in legal productivity and job satisfaction. I also set up a blog this year (using the same theme as you – great minds etc.) Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks Chris. Yes, I’d be more than happy to share some ideas. I’ll send you my skype / email details and we can set something up. I’m assuming it’ll have to be late evening UK time / early morning NZ time.

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