Clifford Chance focuses on process as it trains all lawyers in ‘Continuous Improvement’ principles

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17 January 2014


Clifford Chance: 20% of lawyers trained by April

Global giant Clifford Chance is rolling out firm-wide training in Continuous Improvement (CI) methodologies as it embraces the concept of law as a process.

It has already reported increased efficiencies in several areas of operation, ranging from the compilation of transaction ‘bibles’ and document review to reducing the cost of regular asset disposals for a client.

Publishing a white paper on its experience of CI over recent years, Clifford Chance said that in the future even at the high end, where legal work is characterised by complexity, “it will become more project managed and process-driven”.

CI – which is akin to Lean Six Sigma principles – focuses on process improvement. “Put simply, it involves applying scientific rigour to determining the best approach to carrying out a piece of work,” the firm explained.

The white paper continued: “Almost any task that has a beginning, middle and end can be construed as a process, including the practice of law.

“However, the threshold challenge for applying Continuous Improvement in this industry is that lawyers historically have not been trained to look at the work they do as a process… Trainee lawyers learn by observing how more senior lawyers operate; the focus is on the acquisition of knowledge and expertise, rather than understanding the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of service delivery.

“The result is not a lack of process, but fewer fully standardised processes.”

But although it starts by focusing on repetitive or consistent processes, CI can also be applied to more complex transactions where problems are identified, Clifford Chance said.

CI operates by: achieving buy-in from all those involved, with it working best when clients are fully integrated in the project; ‘baselining’ the current performance of the process (depending on what improvement is sought, such as cheaper or quicker); convening all those involved to analyse the process in depth and identify where the improvements can be made; and then making sure the improvements are sustained.

The white paper said it was critical to bring all of Clifford Chance’s lawyers on board. “While about 450 associates and partners have already been involved in CI projects, we are now rolling out an ambitious training programme that will help all our lawyers to apply the techniques to their work.”

By the end of April, about 20% of the firm’s lawyers should have been trained, “with the ambition that all of our lawyers will be trained over the coming years”.

At some point, CI will “change from being something that we do ‘to’ the way we work, and will simply become the way we work”, the white paper said.

“This will involve an even greater focus on understanding the client’s particular requirements for each piece of work. We expect to see our legal teams increasingly incorporated into the client’s team, not as a supplier or external adviser, but as an integral element of the transaction.”

This may also drive “a fundamental shift” in the way law firms and their clients value and price legal services. “CI may have been a long time coming to legal services, but we fully believe it will become integral to how many private practice and in-house teams work over the next few years.”

Oliver Campbell, global head of business transformation at Clifford Chance, who runs the CI programme, told Legal Futures that the underlying steps of legal matters are more standard than might be anticipated and can often be mapped as a process without too much difficulty.

“The challenge is, therefore, not to design a new way of working but to ensure that it is adopted uniformly and doesn’t just become something that gathers dust on the shelf,” he said.

“In theory, adoption and ongoing monitoring of the new way of working would be the responsibility of a ‘process owner’ who promotes the new process, supports and monitors its adoption and provides feedback to the teams involved. But this does not easily fit with the organisation of our lawyer teams around clients and matters.

“In order to ensure our new processes are adopted, we seek to create a new ‘process ownership’ team independent of the deal teams. Although this is still a work in progress, we have had initial success with groups of senior lawyers taking on the ‘process owner’ tasks collectively.”



3 Responses to “Clifford Chance focuses on process as it trains all lawyers in ‘Continuous Improvement’ principles”

  1. This is very significant. Such firms have not had to concern themselves with thinking about process in the past (with some honourable pioneering exceptions) and the fact that an outfit of this standing is doing it may be a sign at last that the new reality is dawning.

    The steps taken by Clifford Chance as described in the article are just a start, but I am expecting it will lead to a great deal more.

  2. Martin Langan on January 17th, 2014 at 4:03 pm
  3. The one item that is not discussed in the white paper, but is of great importance, is how Clifford Chance has adjusted compensation to reward and incentivize doing “less law.” Most firms that I encounter agree that efficiency, predictability and not looking under every rock is what clients want. But, the lawyers are still paid and bonused based on meeting those billable hour targets. Has Clifford Chance made changes, additions or adjustments to compensation so that the lawyers’ self interests are aligned with clients’ needs for less? This seems to be where the rubber hits the road for firms – whether they are rolling out Legal Project Management, Agile, Lean or CI.

  4. Pam Woldow on January 19th, 2014 at 5:16 pm
  5. Er – this isn’t innovation it’s no more than the client has every right to expect from anyone working in the law from those who man the from office up to the senior partner/managing director. Law has always been a process – the trouble is too many lawyers have for decades hidden behind the generic description ‘professional’ and seem to think that shields them from business-like behaviour. In the case of CC and many others I suspect that what has happened is some consultancy has impressed on them the need for change and they have bought into it. Continuous improvement is no more than the client should expect from law and any other service or manufacturing industry. It’s the same with prices – huge money is being spent on pricing initiative when in a market of oversupply (of lawyers) price becomes little more than an economic imperative driven by supply and demand. The key is to always give value and be transparent and price is a part of that discussion. Clients want quality of outcome not some fancy discussion explaining detailed minutiae. Back to the knitting everyone?

  6. Ashley Balls on January 19th, 2014 at 10:10 pm

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