Inside a Legal Process Improvement Project – Part 1: Preparation

Many lawyers and law firm professionals find it hard to imagine the reality of a legal process improvement project. How much time will it take? What will happen? Who has to attend? What are the outcomes?

Well, here’s how it worked for one of our clients. Their story provides a great example of a typical legal process mapping project with Gimbal. We’ve broken it down into three blogs. This Part 1 describes the preparation phase that happens with every client before we arrive on-site. Part 2 describes the first two days of our on-site visit: mapping the current state and designing the future state of the targeted process. Part 3 explains how we help teams develop their implementation plan for achieving an improved process.

Our client asked us to help improve their incorporations process. Incorporations were taking too long, and the cost to the firm was higher than what the market would bear for the work. Our role was to guide the team in creating a more time- and cost-efficient process (their future state) and establishing the implementation plan that would get them there.

Because the incorporations process involved lawyers and clerks, we recommended a multi-disciplinary team of attorneys, paralegals, and assistants. Time is a big issue for all our clients. A mapping project typically takes at least three on-site days, plus preparation and follow-up. Committing to process improvement means committing the valuable time of legal and non-legal personnel.

Because the incorporations process involved primarily the paralegals, we asked them to attend for the entire 3 days we were on-site working on this project. Recognizing the attorneys couldn’t be present the whole time, we limited their involvement to specific times across the 3 days.

We started the preparation phase with scoping. What type of incorporation were we looking at? The firm deals with many jurisdictions, and with corporate structures ranging from simple companies (3 directors, one shareholder) to complex companies with many directors and shareholders, and multiple classes of shares with complex provisions. We helped the improvement team limit the scope of the project to something realistic, achievable, and relevant. In this case, the team focused on incorporating simple NewCos (1 class of shares, 3 directors, and up to 3 shareholders) in a limited set of jurisdictions. 

When you’re starting out, you must clearly define your process. If you begin with too many variables, the team becomes overwhelmed and risks getting lost in details and variations. We knew that if this team could get the process right for the simple companies, they could easily adapt it to more complex ones.

We also asked our client to complete a project charter and a basic process grid or SIPOC diagram, supporting them as needed. These tools helped us and the team define the process – the D in DMAIC. Once their charter was complete and the team and project sponsor agreed to it, we recommended they collect some initial metrics. We also challenged every member of the team to arrive on day one with a list of their three most important/significant frustrations with the current system.

Good preparation is critical for a successful project. With this stage completed, we were ready to go on-site and start mapping. Our next post will describe the first two days of our on-site work, mapping the current and future states of the incorporations process. The last post in this series will explain how we helped the team prioritize their improvement ideas and create a realistic and achievable implementation plan. Stay tuned.

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