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October 26, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

There is no shortage of theories, tactics, or opinions about the best way to increase efficiency, and hundreds of books and articles have been written on business process improvement and related techniques. Many of these systems have become so complicated and demanding that you can earn an MBA in the field. As Susan Page has written in her award winning book  The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability  (p. 5) this supports “the myth that business process improvement must be time consuming and complex.”

(Although we use Page’s book in our Certified Legal Project Manager® program, her full process is too time consuming for most lawyers most of the time. For example, the last chapter of her book is a case study applying her 10 steps to a real world example for the human resources department of a large bank. That chapter includes 67 pages of text, charts, and diagrams, and the simplification project took one year. Lawyers don’t have a year.)

Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series describe four approaches to business process improvement that we have developed with lawyers to increase legal efficiency quickly. They are listed in order of ease of use. We recommend that most lawyers start with Approach #1, which is limited to two simple questions. For critical, time consuming, and repetitive processes, we outline three increasingly sophisticated options which require more time, but can be more effective in simplifying the way you handle legal matters.

Approach #1: Two questions to improve a business process

Ask yourself:

  1. Of all the things you do for clients, what legal work provides the biggest opportunity to deliver greater value quickly or to increase efficiency?
  2. What could you do to improve this process?

Then do it.

Yes, this is so simple that it sounds trivial. But if in fact you stop and think about where inefficiencies lie, and act on what you already know, chances are you can increase efficiency very quickly.

No, it isn’t brain surgery, but for some lawyers, Approach #1 is a great way to get started. If you prefer an approach that is a bit more detailed, read on.

Approach #2: Ten questions to improve a business process

  1. What steps and activities are typically included in this process?
  2. Which steps and activities does the client value most highly?
  3. Which steps and activities do not add value, and could be eliminated?
  4. Could you standardize and/or streamline the process?
  5. Could you reduce or eliminate repetition?
  6. Could you reduce or eliminate bottlenecks?
  7. Could you improve communication within the team and/or with clients?
  8. Could you reduce cost by delegating some tasks to junior staff who bill at lower rates?
  9. Could you reduce cost by “delegating up” some tasks, to senior staff who can complete a task quickly at a low total cost?
  10. Could you reduce cost through legal process outsourcing of selected tasks to another law firm or a legal support services company in the US or in another country?

The final post in this series will describe two more approaches that are a bit more complex than these, but still far simpler than traditional, orthodox process improvement.

This post was adapted from the recently published fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

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