Lean in Law FirmsJun 11, 2021
I’ve been working with law firms in the UK recently and was asked ‘What’s the difference between working with a law firm and working with a university?’.
On the face of it, this is an interesting question as you would expect there to be many differences. Why is this? Well, for one, law firms and universities exist for different purposes. Broadly, law firms advise and represent clients concerning legal matters whilst universities are in the business of teaching and research. Let’s take a quick look at some of the differences in the general UK context:
|Core high-level daily tasks||Advise and represent clients||Teaching and research|
|Rational for existence||Profit||Benefit society|
|Receive state funding||No||Yes|
|Staff aligned with vision||Yes||Often|
|Professional staff identify with organisation over specialiality||Yes||Sometimes|
|Commitment to change||Very strong (see rationale)||Depends (see alignment and identity)|
|Clients live on site||No||Yes|
|Provide pastoral care to clients||No||Yes|
While we could spend some time debating the contents of this table, these, and other differences, are not relevant to how we work. They merely make our work more varied and, thus, more interesting. But enough about the differences. We would be remiss to not appreciate that the lessons we learn from one piece of work, in one organisation, in one sector, can be readily applied elsewhere. And so we always focus on the similarities. These similarities are simply this: People, Process, and Potential, i.e. the 3 Ps.
As do all organisations, law firms and universities need people in a variety of roles in order to function. In addition to this, a functioning organisation also needs processes. However, those processes are not always efficient, hence the third P: potential. Both the potential within people to improve processes, and the potential for the process concerned to be improved significantly, dramatically even.
That processes in organisations have the potential to improve drastically is not a reflection on the people in those organisations. No one, or I hope no one, turns up to their place of employment to sabotage the process on which they work, since the days of the Luddite movement at least!
I am yet to encounter a process that does not work on some level. I have, however, encountered many processes that do not work well. They do not work well because they have evolved in response to past events, and the reasons for certain steps in the evolved process have since been lost in the mists of time. This means that many steps may be unnecessary. Those now redundant steps increase process complexity, and complexity provides opportunities for error.
That is where we come in. We work with people on their process to release the potential of that process and the people involved. We do this by finding out what happens in the process now and, as we do that, generating ideas for improvement. We then analyse those ideas and from this analysis we create the significantly, even dramatically, improved new world.
This has numerous benefits, both directly for our clients and indirectly for their customers. For our clients, this means a saving of time and resources, an increase in productivity, a decline in stress levels and newly empowered staff starting to think about how other processes can be improved. For the customers of our clients, this results in the level of service we all want. Service that is so smooth it makes every interaction with the company easy and efficient because nothing ever goes wrong. During a customer onboarding process, getting it right first time means happy and impressed customers, and no need for staff to follow up for missing information or to correct errors. Doing things the same way across all branches of the firm means that staff do not have to ask their peers what they should be doing, and customers always receive a consistently excellent service.
Given our background is in Higher Education, can we really deliver these same dramatic changes for law firms? What about all of the differences between law firms and universities? Oh, that’s right, they are not important when it comes to improving processes. For example, law firms and universities both:
- Hire staff
- Action payments
- Onboard new clients
- Purchase equipment and supplies
- Send staff here and there
- Maintain office space
- Operate libraries, physical or virtual
- Store information
- Serve customers
- Market services
- Develop new offerings
All processes follow the same path: all have a start, a middle and an end. The tidier each stage is, the better for the organisation (law firms and universities included) and all of their stakeholders.
This approach has allowed us to help law firms in the UK successfully improve both their specific processes and their business overall. So, if you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you, no matter where you are in the UK (or elsewhere in the world), please do get in touch at [email protected]