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November 09, 2016

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

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Approach #3: Five steps to improve any business process

Step 1: Make a very quick list of the most critical processes that you want to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, use the standard task codes described on page 183 for a starting point. For example, a litigator focused on the discovery phase of cases could begin with these six tasks:

  • Written discovery
  • Document production
  • Depositions
  • Expert discovery
  • Discovery motions
  • Other discovery

Step 2: Pick one process to focus on first.

It is important to begin with the process that is most likely to allow you to meet your goals, which of course means that you have to be very clear about what your goals are. When you have several goals in mind, you could start by constructing a “process selection matrix” like the one below to make your choice.

 

 

Easy to change

Impact on profitability/ realization

Cost saving to client

TOTAL

Written discovery

2

2

2

6

Document production

2

4

3

9

Depositions

3

4

5

12

Expert discovery

4

2

4

10

Discovery motions

2

2

3

7

Other discovery

2

1

2

5

 

(Note: The format of the table in this example is based on the book Improving Business Processes (page 22). The rows are from the Uniform Task Based Management System and the column values are for a hypothetical mid-sized law firm.)

In this example, there are three different goals, all are rated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high), and the lawyer considers them equally important in selecting a process. Therefore, the last column, the total rating, can be used to determine that your process improvement should begin with the deposition process because it has the highest total rating.

Step 3: Define exactly what is included in the process. Where does it begin and end? Then break it down into five to 10 high-level parts.

Step 4: Decide which step to redesign first.

Again, the step you choose depends on your goals. The following questions from Improving Business Processes may help you to make your choice (p. 32):

  • At which points does this process break down or experience delays?
  • At which points do people typically experience frustration with the process?
  • Which parts of the process seem to consume an inordinate amount of time?
  • Which parts of the process lead to low-quality outcomes?
  • Which parts of the process incur unacceptable costs?

Step 5: Think through the details of the step you will redesign and look for ways to increase efficiency, e.g. by simplifying the process, creating a checklist, and/or focusing more clearly on the factors that the client values most highly. Define action items and implement them.

Approach #4: 10 steps to improve critical business processes

These 10 steps are explained in detail in Susan Page’s book, The Power of Business Process Improvement. Here, they have been adapted and simplified for legal matters.

Step 1: Develop the process inventory. List all the big picture processes within a particular legal area, establish criteria for prioritizing them, and pick the one you want to start with. (The discovery tasks in the table above provide a good example.)

Step 2: Establish the foundation. Write a scope definition document that defines the problem you need to solve and provides a blueprint for the start and the end of your process improvement.

Step 3: Draw the process map. Identify each activity with a specific action word (e.g. create, review, develop, approve, update, or communicate) and then diagram the steps in a form that can be communicated to everyone involved. (Chapter 4 of The Power of Business Process Improvement includes standard flow charting symbols and several sample process maps.) Be sure to include handoffs to lawyers, staff, clients, and others.

Step 4: Estimate time and cost. Specify what is involved in each stage or activity in the process, how long it usually takes, and what it costs.

Step 5: Verify the process map. Ask other stakeholders to review the process map for accuracy. This provides a baseline to begin improvement.

Step 6: Apply improvement techniques. This is where the rubber meets the road. Eliminate bureaucracy, evaluate value added activities, eliminate duplication and redundancy, simplify processes, reports, and forms, reduce cycle time, and more.

Step 7: Create internal controls, tools, and metrics. Create controls to avoid errors, tools to support the new business process, and metrics to quantify improvements.

Step 8: Test and rework. Pilot test the new process, identify any issues, and rework them before introducing the new and improved process on a wide scale.

Step 9: Implement the change. Just as businesses develop marketing plans before they introduce a new product, they must plan how to implement business process changes, including “who has to know about the change, what they need to know, and how to communicate the right information to the right people.” (See page 14 of The Power of Business Process Improvement).

Step 10: Drive continuous improvement. After the change succeeds, you will still need to invest in maintenance. Evaluate, test, assess, and execute to sustain any required change.

Conclusion

All four approaches have value in different situations, and all take advantage of the 80/20 rule to maximize the benefits you will receive while minimizing the time it will take.

If you want to use these approaches in your own personal practice, you should be able to identify improvements quickly. But if you want to get other lawyers in your group to do the same thing, that’s a lot harder.

Whether you use approach 1, 2, 3, or 4, or you go out and buy Page’s book for more detail, or you hire an outside consultant, figuring out how to improve legal business processes is not the hard part.

The hard part is getting lawyers to do it. For more about that, see Chapter 9, “How to implement LPM throughout a firm,” in the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

 

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

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