Legal organizations can significantly increase their production efficiency by re-organizing their workflow and take advantage of resource specialization. Achieving this goal successfully requires lawyers to challenge their existing paradigms about how lawyers perform legal work, how lawyers create value, and what leadership means in the profession.
In this post, we will first examine how one can re-organize a traditional legal process to achieve greater efficiency. Then, we will explore some consequences for law firm operational strategy. In our next post, we will examine how this kind of operational strategic thinking challenges some deeply held cultural norms in the legal profession.
As part of our series on the Toyota Production System and how its concepts apply to legal organizations, we are reviewing how the minimizing of the “7 wastes” form a core part of how the Toyota Production Systems is applied within organizations. In doing so, we adapt those concepts to the law firm context. In our previous post, we examined how minimizing wait times can dramatically increase the profitability of a wills and estates offering for the Main Street or High Street solicitor and attorney.
In this article, we will use an example from the litigation context to demonstrate how lawyers can “minimize movement” to create efficiency.
Consider the following diagram:
In this diagram, the first five rows illustrate some fairly typical steps in many litigation matters. In example 1, we start with a litigation team engaged in an investigation step, then creating originating documents (these might be civil complaints, statements of claims, petitions, applications, or whatever the proper term may be). There is a common process of document discovery, written discovery, oral discovery, all leading to some resolution step.
Example 2 shows a similar step, but with the steps spaced apart differently and in a slightly different order.
Examples 3-5 each show litigation processes having different start times, different orders, and different steps.
Typically, each matter (unique represented by a row) is staffed by a unique litigation team, headed by a senior lawyer. Each team will proceed with each step sequentially through the process. As such, each team leader, perhaps all lawyers, within a team perceives only the deadlines and resources required to conduct a litigation file that they manage. If a team happens to manage several litigation matters, that team will perceive a very challenging calendar of managing the execution of different tasks at different times.
To most operational researches, this kind of operation is ripe for inefficiency. The team faces uneven work loads and inconsistent activity types. At any one time, a litigation team handling multiple matters in the traditional way must often juggle several different kinds of activities, each requiring different skill sets, competencies, tools, and capital equipment to create value for the client – often simultaneously. Resources are not levelled.
Consider the alternative.
The bottom part of the diagram illustrates what can happen if we can group similar activities together and have them performed by dedicated resources. For example, we can assign the task of investigating all claims to an investigation resources (this may be a single person or a team). We create the “originating document” team, the document discovery team, and so on.
By the diagram, we trace when different tasks are scheduled to execute from the individual projects and map them against the availability of the newly created specialized resource.
By grouping like activities together, we can see how each specialized resource can now execute a “flow”. The investigation team has a flow of work, enabling the team to focus on individual matters in sequence. This enables them to use the same skills, expertise, and tool to generate an investigation result. They can spread out their work and balance the workload.
Similarly, different specialized resources can experience a “flow” by focusing on executing one unique task within the litigation process. The document discovery team can focus on extracting facts from documents and creating useful fact chronologies and tables. The oral discovery team can focus on preparing and executing thorough discoveries, and so on. The specialization of skills and labour also facilitates the acquisition of tools such as document automation and document assembly tools or legal knowledge management platforms.
Organizing a workflow in this way enables the legal organization to standardize processes, standardize skills sets and processes, enabling them to monitor workloads, cycles times, and productivity.
In our next post, we will examine how law firms can use project managers to coordinate between the functions, ensure that the specialize functions work to achieve the common vision for the matter, and manage the knowledge generated at each phase of the matter and ensure that it is properly and thoroughly shared with previous and subsequent phases of the litigation. We will also examine some strategic opportunities that this work re-engineering creates, such as the ability to outsource or re-staff entire functions in non-traditional ways to lower operating costs. In our final post, we will examine how this approach challenges existing legal cultural norms.
Let us know what you think about this process. We’ll be sure to incorporate the discussion in our next two posts.