An example of a simplified approach to process improvement: How to improve associate and paralegal time entries
Several years ago, I wrote in this blog about lawyers’ confusion about the differences between process improvement and legal project management (LPM). To this day, we often hear from lawyers who think process improvement is the first or the only step in LPM.
In my book Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I have argued that process improvement is just a small sub-area within LPM, and usually the worst place to start.
The confusion has arisen largely because Seyfarth Shaw has been so successful in publicizing its SeyfarthLean® process improvement programs. What many lawyers don’t remember is that Seyfarth began working on these programs nearly a decade ago, and according to an April 2010 article in The American Lawyer, reported spending over $3 million in just its first few years working on these programs.
There is no question that process improvement can improve efficiency. But there is a huge question about when or even if a particular firm should start down this path.
At LegalBizDev, we believe that few - if any - firms can justify the time and money required for even a “lean” approach to process improvement. It simply takes too long and costs too much. And even after you define a better process, many lawyers will resist following it.
When I interviewed leaders of AmLaw 200 firms for my recent book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, I asked about their most pressing concerns and “low hanging fruit.” None mentioned process improvement. Instead, they reported that the two most urgent areas for LPM improvement are defining scope and communicating better with clients.
Fortunately, there are some highly simplified approaches to process improvement that don’t require spending millions of dollars, or even attending a half day workshop. Several are described in the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (beginning on page 36), and applied in our coaching and other programs. The short guest post below was written by one of our clients who used these very simple techniques.
A guest post by Judith Droz Keyes
Judith Droz Keyes completed our Certified Legal Project Manager Program® and is a labor and employment lawyer and partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. Several months ago, we published her guest post on another topic based on her answers to essay questions from her certification. In the example in this post, she quickly applied simplified process improvement techniques to address a problem faced by many law firms: Associate and paralegal timesheet entries are often written poorly, inconsistently, or not in accordance with firm standards, requirements or expectations. This can result in time wasted to rewrite them and ultimately in time being written off. Judith’s improved process is built around a few short steps:
- I could provide a written set of rules/standards to be followed in all matters on which I am working (e.g., capitalization, punctuation, avoidance of “email to J. Keyes” . . . .)
- As part of the project plan, the team and I could agree on phases and phrasing (e.g., complainant vs. claimant).
- Before I review a prebill, I could forward it to the associate on the matter, to review and improve it in accordance with the rules.
- Before I review a prebill, my secretary could review it for certain things, and she could forward it to the associate to review and improve.
- Regarding time: At the outset of every assignment or task, I could have a clear understanding with associates and paralegals about the time to be spent and billed.