Lean for Legal (Part 1) - 5 Minute Overview of Lean

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.

Why is Lean Important?

The legal industry is under pressures like never before.

For all but a few firms, demand for legal services is flat. Many firms have increased rates in response but are seeing realization rates decline. Productivity has decreased and profitability is suffering. In-house legal departments are being asked to reduce costs and do more with less.

The good news is that there are time-tested tools like Lean that can help.

5-Minute Overview of Lean

In it’s simplest terms, Lean is a systematic approach to creating more client value using fewer resources by eliminating waste. It started in the automotive manufacturing industry more than 100 years ago with people like Henry Ford and his assembly line for the Model T. Taichii Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, expanded the ideas with an approach called Toyota Production System. Many of the methods can easily be applied to legal work.

As you get started, there are a couple key points to keep in mind:

  • VALUE is defined by the CLIENT

  • WASTE is anything the client will not pay for (Realization)

  • WASTE should be passionately sought out and eliminated (Productivity)

In Lean, there are 8 types of waste. Here are the types and examples of how they might appear in legal work:

  • Inventory: Legal research software for all lawyers and paralegals.

  • Transportation: Entering the same data in multiple systems (e.g. keeping a spreadsheet for client time, then typing into the e-billing system)

  • Waiting: Lawyer A waits to draft motion for summary judgment until Lawyer B finishes legal research and Paralegal C prepares deposition summary.

  • Motion: Poorly organized digital information-hunting through shared drive, poor office layout-location of filing

  • Over-processing: Writing a 10-page brief when the client would prefer 1-page of bullet points, excessive research, excessive reviews/approvals

  • Defects: Data entry errors, poor drafting

  • Under-utilized talent: Partners doing work of associates, not fully utilizing staff/paralegals

Spotting waste is the first step in fixing it. Many people intuitively sense waste. Pay attention to the things that irritate or frustrate you about how you have to work.  Pay attention to customer complaints. These are your opportunities to use lean tools to improve your processes.

Tips for Getting Started

Introducing Lean to any organization can be a long journey. Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Look for quick wins and don’t overthink it

  • Stick to easy tools at the beginning

  • Involve others – excitement will build momentum

  • Reach out experts from other industries - especially manufacturing

Next, check out part 2…