The time has come for lawyers to embrace Lean Six Sigma

Guest post by Adam Marsland, head of Lean Six Sigma at Pinsent Masons Vario

Marsland: LSS can be applied to everyday processes

It’s long been known that some of the world’s most successful companies have adopted Lean Six Sigma (LSS), the team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance of companies by eliminating waste and defects.

Adoption across the legal industry has been slow, but this is changing.

LSS is a combination of two different process improvement approaches, Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean originated in the automotive sector and aims to eliminate activities that don’t add value to a process, or steps that the customer is not willing to pay for. Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology to remove variation or defects.

Over the years they forged together due to having a natural and complimentary synergy – a full toolset that any business in any sector could use to improve efficiency.

Whilst governments and the biggest companies in manufacturing, engineering, retail, food & beverage, finance (to name only a few) have used this process improvement tool and benefitted from it – think McDonalds, Amazon, Bank of America, Caterpillar – the legal sector has lagged behind.

Law was traditionally not seen as a process and, within the structure of a firm, the emphasis was placed on the knowledge and expertise you would acquire climbing up the ranks, rather than on understanding the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of the services you would be providing to clients.

Recognise the phrase “Because we’ve always done it that way”?

But now the legal industry is changing and more firms are adopting different charging models, with costs measured by output rather than hours. Clients are demanding more value from their legal services and reduced costs, in a more flexible arrangement.

Put simply, law firms are now expected to do more with less.

Some will question how they can still give the same excellent legal advice under these pressures, but there is always room for improvement and small everyday inefficiencies can amount to huge differences in time, cost and value to the client.

Here are some examples of how LSS can be applied to a law firm.

Bound volumes – Starting late in a transaction and unnecessary printing can mean this task requires more effort and time.

Bringing every member of the team who is involved in preparing bound volumes into identifying the causes behind delays is important so you can initiate solutions.

This ties into the Lean pillar of ‘respect for people’. Or, put another way, engage and empower the people closest to the work to identify improvements. We have successfully applied this principle at Pinsent Masons, equipping our lawyers to embed lean thinking in their own practice.

Transactions – A Lean Six Sigma tool is called Voice of the Customer. This allows us to understand client requirements in greater depth, including the strategic reasoning behind an engagement.

Through identifying the ‘why’, we have been able to build our process architecture to deliver an efficient transactional service, to the client’s specific expectations.

We have utilised such an approach with a property client who needed documentation reviewed quickly and accurately. Understanding which parts of the process the client wished to engage with allowed us to design an efficient production system, keeping the client abreast of progress.

LSS can be applied to everyday processes – and law firms should look to this improvement tool when facing increased pressure from their clients. LSS isn’t the latest fad, it’s a way of providing a better service for your clients, revolutionising their experience of your legal services.

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