Lean for Legal (Part 2) - 3 Simple Tools

Nimble had the opportunity to present at the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) 2018 Regional Conferences in Chicago and Austin. In this 2-part post, we’ll share what we presented in our session, “Lean for Legal: A Case Study”. Read on to learn how law firms and legal departments can create more value with fewer resources and less effort.

In “Lean for Legal (Part 1) - Getting Started”, we covered a 5-minute overview of Lean and tips for getting started. In part 2, we’ll share three simple tools you can use to simplify your work.

Root Cause Analysis – 5 Whys

Before changing how work gets done, it’s important to make sure you’re fixing the real issues and not just symptoms of a deeper problem. “5 Whys” is a simple problem solving methodology that helps teams find root cause. To use this tool, just pretend you’re a toddler and ask “Why?”…5 times. Often, you’ll end up with a very different reason than you what you first assumed.


Work gets done more quickly and easily when people have exactly WHAT they need WHEN they need it. 5S is a method of creating a clean and orderly workplace that exposes waste and errors. It applies to both physical and digital work spaces. Here is a list of the 5S’s:

  1. Sort - eliminate things not needed

  2. Set In Order - organize what remains

  3. Shine - clean and inspect work area

  4. Standardize - write instructions or checklists for above

  5. Sustain - Apply the standards by training/re-training staff and regularly checking that they’re being followed

One simple example of how a law firm could apply 5S is in how they organize and manage the files for high-volume, repeatable work:

  1. Sort – identified the steps/documents that every file needed and created templates for each

  2. Set In Order – define a standard order for the documents within the file and rules for how the documents would be placed when they are complete/incomplete

  3. Shine – update all the files to be organized the same way

  4. Standardize – teach this approach to everyone handling these types of matters and create a checklist so everyone follows the same process

  5. Sustain – handle all matters the same way and train new hires to follow the process. No exceptions.

When the work is standardized, it is easy for any member of the team step in and help if needed and to quickly know the status of every matter.

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping is a tool used to visually map the flow of work showing both process steps and timeline. Typically, teams start by clearly mapping the steps as the work is done today. On these maps, it is common to show the following:

  • Process steps

  • Cycle time - how long you have to wait between

  • Lead time - time between the beginning of a process and the appearance of its results

The team then works together to identify how things could be done more easily to create a new and improved future state.

The following are Value Stream Map examples from a legal department that wanted to simplify their record subpoena process.



Here’s what the process looked like after the team centralized who received requests, started using email instead of interoffice and performed some of the steps in parallel.



Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool, but a bit complex if you’re new to lean. It can be helpful to find a facilitator with experience leading teams through creating the current/future state maps.

Tips for Getting Started

Learning to rethink how you work can be tough. Here are a couple ideas as you’re getting started:

  • Carve out enough time – start with a ½ day session to really tackle improvements

  • Try getting out of the office – sometimes a change of scene sparks creativity

Finding quick wins will energize the team and help build buy-in.