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The Lean Law Firm

 Maximizing value and minimizing blog at a time.


Back to Basics: What's DMAIC?

There’s no shortage of jargon in Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement . Some of the jargon is helpful, some of it less so. Quite a while ago, we started a series of posts we tagged Lean 101. We wanted to reduce the confusion and show you that Lean really can work in law. It’s time to revive Lean 101 and get back to basics.

For the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at the 5-step approach we use in process improvement. It’s called DMAIC. It’s pronounced as if it were an actual word, duh-may-ick, and it’s one of the useful bits of jargon.

DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. It’s the core underlying structure we teach in our Boot Camps on Lean in law, and it's the approach that we use in every process improvement project with our clients. It ensures we (and they) identify and address the root causes of the process inefficiencies, wastes, and frustrations that prevent lawyers from delivering their quality services in less time and at less cost.

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Diving into Process Improvement

I’m a diver. When you dive, two things are important: planning and implementation. Getting ready for a recent dive, I spent some time thinking it through in my head as I packed my kit. Our group chatted about it as we geared up.  We made sure someone on shore knew our exact location and how to contact emergency services. Then, as we all stood in the water ready to descend, we talked it through again.

It’s a diving mantra:  plan the dive and dive the plan. Successful divers do that. Every time. Even for the easy dives. And trust me, there is a great deal of incentive to have a successful dive. The alternatives are not pretty.

It struck me that implementing process improvement is very much the same. Firms that struggle just jump into the water, flounder for a while, and then crawl out exhausted, frustrated, and wet. Successful firms create a plan and follow it.  

They start with a strategic decision to create a culture of continuous improvement over the long term. They plan out the types of training they’re going to undertake, who should attend, in what order they’ll roll it out. They examine their short- and long-term goals and make sure process improvement aligns with and supports those goals…and that those goals align and support process improvement.

Based on their objectives and the insights they learn through the training, they plan a series of process improvement projects. And then they work through them. Each one results in an improvement plan that fits into their long-term strategy. At every stage, we provide them with whatever support they need.

They plan the work…and then they work the plan. The alternatives are not pretty.


Zombies in the Legal Closet - Lean Pest Control

I have a friend who runs a very different kind of law firm in Toronto. He works hard to offer his clients an exceptional legal experience, top quality service, and value billing. He was once quoted as saying, “The billable hour is a zombie…We can’t actually kill it. Every time you kill one, another comes out.”

Alternatives to the billable hour present a huge challenge for many lawyers. You can see the confusion in a survey by InsideCounsel magazine, where they listed discounted hourly rates as a type of alternative fee arrangement. Over 80% of respondents claimed to use discounted fees as an alternative…to what? A discounted hourly rate is still an hourly rate.

Even the Ontario Court of Appeal has questioned the conflict of interest that underpins the billable hour:  “There is something inherently troubling about a billing system that pits a lawyer’s financial interest against that of its client and that has built-in incentives for inefficiency.”

So, how can you overcome that conflict and align your interests with those of your clients?

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If we can map litigation, we can map anything!

Back in January we did a series of blogs on what a process mapping project really looks like in a law firm. Since then, interest in process mapping in law firms has skyrocketed. In fact, we’ve got a summer webinar series on mapping starting next week. In it, we’ll be working with David Freedman, an experienced litigator, to map an employment law matter. We'll map at three different levels, showing how you can use process grids (SIPOC), value stream mapping and process mapping to improve a legal process.

Why litigation? Because litigators are often the first to say what they do cannot be mapped. Litigation is variable. It’s unpredictable. There's just too much that happens inside their heads. How can we improve that?

Litigators, like all attorneys, do a great deal of “processing” in their heads. No argument there. It's their greatest value-add. But that internal, creative knowledge work is just part of the litigation matter. We focus on improving everything else that has to happen from initial phone call to final resolution.

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Grappling with your CPD credits? Here's a new way to access continuing legal education in Canada

Continuing legal education, professional development, formation continue (for those of us in Quebec)…Whatever we call it, we still have to do it. Finding relevant, interesting courses that fit into our schedules can be challenging.

Enter Grapple. This easy-to-use online CLE site delivers content directly to you, when you want it, where you want it, on whatever device you want to use. It fits in perfectly with our philosophy at Gimbal: Grapple provides a high-quality product in way that saves you time, effort, and money.

Leading experts and thought leaders present their topics in a series/module format. You can mix and match individual modules as you like, or follow an entire series for a deeper dive. Current content ranges from practice management and professionalism to speciality areas like criminal, commercial, and administrative law, as well as litigation. The library is growing all the time.

All the modules will give you professional development credits in every Canadian jurisdiction. And each module is short—anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. You can earn credits while you have your morning coffee; no need to commit hours at a time.

If you can’t arrange a live workshop with us, this is the next best thing. You can watch our Grapple presentations on Lean and legal process improvement, and even legal writing. It won’t be quite the same as attending one of our workshops live, but it is an inexpensive, convenient way to get a great start.

As always, our emphasis is on the practical things you can do to improve. You’ll learn how you can make your practice more efficient, communicate more effectively with clients and colleagues, and deliver your top quality legal services in less time and at less cost.

Full disclosure: as content providers, we do make a small percentage of the fee, but don't let that hold you back. Check Grapple out and then tell us what you think by leaving us a comment below.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for practical tips on building a more efficient legal practice. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or contact us directly to find out more.

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