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Posts Tagged ‘law firm transformation’

Lean in law firms – five key lessons

Monday, December 4th, 2017

by Alastair Ross

I’ve been working with many major UK law firms since 2005, helping them to improve both the value and the efficiency of their services. A key philosophy I have used in this work has been Lean thinking. I thought it would be useful to reflect on that experience and capture five key lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 years about applying Lean in law firms.

Lesson 1 – A law firm is not a factory (not quite anyway)

I first applied Lean back in 1990 as a manufacturing manager in IBM. It was not known as Lean then – but as ‘Continuous Flow Manufacturing, ‘Just in time’ or Kaizen. Later I used it in improvement projects in chemicals, automotive and aerospace companies. In the late 1990s the term ‘Lean’ was coined by Womack and Jones to cover this improvement philosophy and tools. In 2005 I began working with major law firms in the UK that were feeling the heat of increasing competition and market deregulation. It quickly became clear that Lean thinking could be readily applied to help these firms improve their service value and delivery efficiency. But it was also clear that the culture in a law firm, the ‘craft’ based working methods and the terminology meant that Lean needed to be communicated and tailored differently. Partners did not readily relate to case studies of car factories – they needed to understand how lean could be applied to knowledge-intensive services such as law. And equally lean approaches that worked on the factory floor did not always work quite so readily in a legal team!

Lesson 2 – Process thinking does not come naturally to lawyers

Lean thinking is naturally focused on how work activities and resources are applied to the flow of value from the business to the customer – the so-called ‘value stream’. This value stream is realised in a business process that delivers products or services to the customer. So lean thinking is used to assess and improve these processes. This approach comes naturally in a manufacturing environment where there is a common understanding of work being codified into production processes. But this is not the case in a law firm – ‘process thinking’ is an alien concept especially for work types where one fee earner may currently perform all of the work. This is where process mapping is very effective in getting a team of fee earners to draw up the activities that are required to deliver a service – thus producing a visual map of the process. This can then be used to highlight wastes and begin the journey to improvement. Doing this in a collaborative way with fee earners in a change team is the best approach in my experience – getting lawyer buy-in to the improvements and also creating a cadre of ‘process improvement advocates’ within the firm. (And by the way this is why I am not a fan of Six Sigma for law firms – it’s overkill and not as easily deployed as Lean).

Lesson 3 – There is a lot of waste in legal services

A core element of the Lean philosophy is a ruthless focus on the identification and elimination of waste. But what can be considered as waste? It is any activity or resource that does not add value to what is provided to the customer. Waste accumulates in businesses just like dust and debris in a house. Regular hoovering and the occasional major ‘spring clean’ is the solution in a house. And something similar is required in a business to keep its business processes effective and efficient. But what if a business doesn’t feel the need to do this? If the competitive and market pressures are not sufficiently tough that they need to do such ‘process housekeeping’? This was pretty much the situation in the legal sector for many years – times were good and margins were high. But since the financial crash in 2008, the dramatic impact of the internet and other information technologies and in the UK the deregulation of the sector – things have changed. Law firms are feeling the pressure from budget-squeezed clients, new entrants and new business models. So now firms are looking at their how they deliver their services – and they are finding much waste: Poorly defined, inefficient working methods, inefficient use of people (so much legal work is performed at too high a skill level), errors, rework and poor use of IT, for example.

There is a positive message: With this high level of waste, there is much improvement possible.

So firms can significantly improve their competitive position by using lean to identify and radically reduce this waste (see Lesson 5).

Lesson 4 – Start with a partner champion and a fixed fee service

Making change in partnerships is tough – much more so than in a corporate where the ‘it’s my way or the highway’ diktat can more readily be applied… The other major challenge is that ‘the billable’ hour discourages law firms from improving efficiency – as it results in reduced revenue. Great for the client, but not so compelling for the partnership. But the fee regime is changing with more clients in the UK looking for budget certainty and so enforcing reduced and fixed fees for many transactions. This has created financial pain for firms – much of my work has been with firms who have been forced to move to a fixed fee for a service and are making little or no profit for each matter.

To effectively harness this ‘burning platform’ for improvement, a Partner ‘champion’ is needed – one who is positive and committed to driving major improvement in the service. They are critical in being the business partner to an external change agent, in leading a change team of fee earners and removing road-blocks to change within the firm. From my experience, the presence of such a partner champion is a key ‘Go/No Go’ for a Lean improvement project.

 Lesson 5 – More for less is an achievable outcome

There is a common believe in professional services firms that cost reduction will inevitably lead to a reduction in service quality. In other words something has to give – you either have a high quality or low cost service, you can’t have both.

 This is simply not true.

My work with multiple law firms covering 20 legal services has enabled direct cost reductions of between 25 and 75% – whilst improving value to the client, with more consistency and responsiveness. Why is this possible? Because firms can reduce service cost by reducing or eliminating the waste inherent in legal service delivery (see Lesson 3). This waste adds no value to clients and indeed consumes lawyer resources and time – so removing it will not have any negative effects on client value. Only positive ones.

 So service quality can be improved and cost reduced at the same time.

So what’s the key message for law firms?

It’s a simple one, if a firm is not yet using Lean thinking as part of its transformation work it’s failing to grasp a major opportunity. For Lean can deliver significant business improvements with little capital investment (IT can help, but it’s not mandatory) and provide a foundation for ongoing improvement. And if a firm is looking to exploit new technologies such as AI, it had better make sure it’s building on solid foundations – automating a poor process may simply deliver the proverbial ‘pig with lipstick’….

 

This article was first published by Alastair Ross on LinkedIn on 1st December 2017.

How healthy are your legal services?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Business challenges are driving services thinking in law firms

Today law firms must compete on the basis of their legal services – not just their lawyers.  Clients buy legal services to get problems solved and these services are typically delivered by lawyers – but with increasing competition, the impact of IT and the internet and deregulation in some markets, this is changing. With the aim of meeting client demands of ‘more for less’ and doing so profitably, progressive firms are giving increased focus to improving the value of their services and the efficiency with which they are delivered.

The legal service paradigm has changed

Twenty years ago ‘legal services’ were simply the aggregate outcome of the work of a number of lawyers with a specific set of skills. The way the work was performed and delivered varied by office, by partner, by fee earner and over time. There was little consistency in how the service was performed or delivered.

The legal world is very different today. To find out more and how you can assess and improve your legal services read our new whitepaper: How healthy are your legal services?

If you would like to know more about Codexx experience or services in this area, please contact us.

 

 

Legal tech frenzy – lessons from industry

Friday, November 18th, 2016

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-man-working-modern-technology-image22891879The legal geek moves centre stage
There has been an explosion of interest in information technology in the legal sector of late – particularly technology at the leading edge such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). This interest was crystallised in the recent and well publicised ‘Legal Geek’ conference in London when a number of major law firms mingled with ‘LawTech’ companies and startups to discuss how new information technologies and new thinking could be used to transform ways of providing legal services. As well as AI and technologies such as blockchain the conference looked at ‘softer’ elements such as innovation and cultural change.

New thinking

This is a significant development in a business sector that has long been conservative and behind other sectors in its application of new business thinking and technology. It comes as many firms law struggle to maintain their levels of profitability in market conditions that have been challenging since the 2008 financial crash. The combination of price-focused clients, globalisation, the internet (and market deregulation in the UK) has driven law firms to seek to innovate in the services they provide and the ways they work.

Law firms typically have applied IT for legal research, case and document management and for the management of support activities such as time recording, billing and finance. This new wave of IT brings internet-based technologies and – what typically makes the press – Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. The application of these new technologies promises to revolutionalise the way law is provided – for the benefit of law firms who can work more efficiently and effectively – and for the benefit of clients who will receive ‘more for less’. The implementation of these technologies will – over time – help in digitizing key elements of legal services – making law more affordable and accessible to the large unmet market of small businesses and individuals.

Deja vu? Lessons from industry

Having worked for the last decade in helping major UK law firms transform their services through re-engineering and innovation – and also one who has consulted to multiple business sectors for twenty-five years – I am feeling a sense of deja vu.

In the 1990s, the industrial sector was in the midst of an ERP frenzy – implementing new Enterprise Resource Planning systems such as SAP and Oracle to transform the efficiency of their business operations. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the next wave of technology looked outwards into SCM (Supply Chain Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – to better link business with their suppliers and customers. In both these ‘tech frenzies’, many companies suffered from implementation programmes that significantly overran their budget and plan and failed to achieve their business goals.

The root cause of many of these problems was the lack of an holistic and integrated approach to implementing these technologies as business transformation programmes, not simply as technology projects. The lessons learned were that there were key success factors for IT exploitation, particularly:

1. A vision & strategy are required for effective communication within the business, getting buy-in from key stakeholders and coordinating the resources and activities.

2. To get the best out of the IT, business processes need to be re-engineered first (to avoid the all-too-common ‘pig in lipstick’ outcome).

3. Effective programme management is required for effective coordination of IT, process and people work-streams.

4. Change management is fundamental to effectively deploying the new technology and working methods into daily business.

Are law firms grasping for a silver bullet?

New technology can often be an attractive ‘silver bullet’ for management teams faced with major business challenges. It appears as a nice ‘clean’ solution to a firm’s problems – as compared to complex messy process and organisational-based improvements. For this reason many businesses have wasted money and sub-optimised the impact of their technology investments by not ‘preparing the ground first’ with re-engineering and restructuring work.

We should also be clear that those law firms currently looking to apply new IT such as AI systems, are typically larger firms – the ‘Top 50’ in the UK – not the other 10,433 firms*. These are the wealthier and more sophisticated firms.

However in my re-engineering work with these larger firms in the last decade, it is clear that their services and processes have much opportunity for improvement. Re-engineering projects have typically yielded 25-50% cost reduction – whilst improving service quality – without the application of any new technology.

These services simply were not designed or operated in a systematic and efficient way. Automating them without re-engineering them first would significantly reduce the benefits from IT investment. Indeed for smaller firms lacking the capital or the resources for major IT investment, internal re-engineering work would be a better approach  for now – then later exploit the use of these new technologies when prices have reduced and functionality improved.

Structured evaluation and execution

So law firms should look outside their sector and seek to learn from others’ experience on how best to truly transform their businesses by exploiting new technologies and thinking. They should strategically evaluate – and incubate – these new technologies to determine how they can be used to re-fashion their value proposition and their business model. They should prepare the way by first systemising their services and processes. And they should manage the implementation of these new technologies as an holistic programme.

 

For more information on law firm innovation, see ‘Innovating professional services – transforming value and efficiency’ by Alastair Ross, published in May 2015 by Gower.

* There are 10,483 law firms registered in England and Wales in September 2016 according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

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