Should law firms look outside the law to find efficiencies?

by Kirsten Hodgson

There’s no doubt that law firms are under increasing pressure to do more with less.

There’s increased competition from non-traditional market players such as LPOs, Axiom style firms and those who’ve registered under ABS’s (at least in the UK and Australia).

Plus, there’s increased pressure on pricing from in-house counsel.

It’s no wonder firms are coming out of denial and are thinking about what they could or should be doing differently.

Richard Susskind was recently quoted in a great Legal Futures article – Susskind: firms starting to embrace new ways of working as ‘legal factories’ loom. In it he talked about how his consulting work has shifted from helping firms understand the need for change, to devising actual strategies to deal with it.

“The question now is ‘How do we go about rethinking the way we deliver our services? How do we go about analysing what we do, how do we go about managing it a different way, how do we decide whether or not we should be doing this routine work internally or externally?’”

He talked about the emergence of a legal process analyst, as

“a species of lawyer because while they need non-legal skills, they also require quite a lot of legal insight to know what the nature of the problem is, how best to break it down, how best to resource it and so forth”.

I am far from an expert in this area, but I do question whether this person does in fact, need to be a lawyer.

Or is it a case of the legal sector ASSUMING this is the case?

I may be wrong, but it strikes me that, what firms are looking to do, is very similar to the process the manufacturing sector has gone through with its focus on lean manufacturing.

I just wonder whether there’s something the legal community can learn from the manufacturing industry?

And from lean manufacturing specialists themselves.

I talked to one of my clients, a membership organisation for manufacturing-based organisations, whose members have been through the lean manufacturing process. They made an interesting observation:

“The output needs to be legal but the process doesn’t have to be.”

It’s a good point and possibly accounts for the rapid rise of LPOs.

So, where’s a good place to start?

Through my own business I’ve found that if you have a strong enough impetus to change, you will.

For me, it was the need to run my business and meet client demands within strict hours, given that I have to pick up my children from school each day.

It got me thinking that a logical starting point might be to ask those performing each task to write down their process as they’re doing it and to say how long it would typically take.

Then ask them to do it in half that time. They may just surprise you by coming up with a streamlined process that gets the same result. An analyst can then be brought in to find further efficiencies.

It’s great that law firms are engaging legal analysts. They should. But does the person really need to be a lawyer?

I’m not so sure…perhaps they could also look to lean manufacturing specialists to see if they can benefit from the process another sector has already been through.

What’s your view?

Specialising in professional services and law firm marketing. I help firms to retain and grow existing clients and attract more of their ideal clients. My core services include social media for lead generation, voice of the client programmes and tender strategy and development. Outside of work I love to run. I’m a bit like Forest Gump in that I’m not that quick but can keep going for ages. I also enjoy coming up with new inventions. Unfortunately, most of them have already been invented! | * Professional services marketing consultant | * Legal marketing consultant | * Law firm marketing consultant