A new order for law (firm), adhocracy there as well?
One law firm’s story shows how lean management can transform even the most complicated, tradition-bound, and intellectually demanding of businesses.
Since 2005, the 800-lawyer, Chicago-based international law firm Seyfarth Shaw has been rethinking how it practices law, applying lean-management principles to create greater predictability, transparency, and collaboration—even in highly complex specialties. That experience has enabled Seyfarth to expand the scope of its advice beyond the resolution of legal problems, and now includes improving workflows within clients’ law departments and providing training on high-risk compliance issues. Seyfarth has sustained its commitment, winning accolades in the industry and showing unusual resilience through a period in which many storied law-firm names disappeared in mergers or bankruptcies. Over the past four years, the firm’s revenues have grown more than 20 percent, and profits are up more than 25 percent…….
……That cycle camouflaged a structural problem. Corporate legal departments were facing more demands from internal clients to deliver higher value at a lower cost. As a result, the solutions that general counsels needed were becoming more sophisticated, driven by their desire to become value centers rather than cost centers. Law firms were not meeting that challenge.
…..the review process for conflicts of interest—a complex, difficult task at any law firm. It is a high-pressure process requiring accuracy and speed, and centers on the continual evaluation of client relationships for conflicts that might require the firm to recuse itself. This was a pain point across our organization, so improvement would be highly visible
So far, we’ve created “process maps” for more than 500 different workflows associated with legal work. For each type of project, such as a corporate acquisition, we assemble the best practitioners—partners, associate attorneys, project managers, technology specialists—around a table. They come up with a list of all of the tasks involved and estimate how much time each task should typically take. The end result is a form of what lean-management practitioners would call “standard work,” setting guidance for what each project should look like…..
These aren’t exact scripts, but they give us more discipline. If our process map estimates that writing a particular contract should take two hours, and an associate starts to think the task will take closer to eight hours, that’s a signal to her that she should probably talk to somebody.
Historically lawyers have not been big on transparency or on standards to guide how they do their day-to-day tasks. But once you open the black box, you and your client can see the same data and the same problems. The conversations become more meaningful because you’re working together to improve how legal services are performed.
The organization has become very flat, because often a secretary knows more about a particular process stage or root-cause issue than the lead partner will. It’s an example of “adhocracy,” the idea that people have authority based on their actual expertise and knowledge of a situation rather than their title. That lack of hierarchy has become incredibly important to us in reinforcing collaboration. It’s an intense sense of cohesiveness; you feel it in the room as people are working together differently.