How Streeterlaw got Lean!3-March-2014 General By Mark Streeter
We are not the first legal firm to apply “Lean” (or Lean Six Sigma as it is described in the USA) as part of our management system but we may be one of the first in Australia. But don’t expect Lean to become popular in the legal profession. The idea of continuous improvement and striving to add value by reducing and eliminating waste is deeply threatening to conventional lawyers who assess and measure themselves based on the amount of time they spend (and fees they bill) to their clients.
By application of Lean management strategies, methods and tools, lawyers can perform the work quicker, which equates to happier clients! The typical lawyer’s approach (using the time-charging model) unfortunately handicaps their professional development and it does not allow them to fulfil their potential.
Work processes and anything that does not assist or facilitate the provision of value to our clients is reduced or eliminated.
Fundamentally, Lean management systems seek to reduce and eliminate waste. Waste is defined to be anything that does not add value to the end product or service. The “value adding” elements are carefully examined in each stage of the service line with the view to the ultimate consumer or client. Accordingly, we have applied a client-focused and client-centric analysis of our work and work processes and anything that does not assist or facilitate the provision of value to our clients is reduced or eliminated.
The Lean experts have identified and characterised seven different types of waste (the 7 Ws) commonly found in workplaces. These include:
- Waiting (time on hand)
- Transportation (or conveyance)
- Overprocessing or incorrect processing
- Excess inventory
- Unnecessary movement
Lawyers are very good at focusing on compliance with ‘Standards’. However, the challenge of Lean is to define what lawyers assess as “quality”. Streeterlaw has been certified as complying with the international standards organisation quality management system ISO9001 since 2009. The legal profession in Australia have tweaked this standard and created a further standard specific to the legal profession called LAW9000.
Historically, quality has been assessed simply on whether lawyers fulfilled their compliance documentation and met the minimum standard. Client or customer satisfaction was never considered in the assessment of the provision of a “quality standard”.
Lean management theory provides an approach and collection of tools to understand more deeply and to a different degree the “work” and promotes a seismic shift in orientation, with the firm’s focus now firmly set on the level of client satisfaction.