Law firms and continuous improvement - yes, really

Ron Friedmann has a great find in law firm continuous improvement Clifford Chance Adopts Continuous Improvement Program

[This month] Clifford Chance, one of the largest law firms in the world, published a white paper called Applying Continuous Improvement to high-end legal services.  I view it as a potential turning point in BigLaw.

Ron offers a great summary, if you just want the top level. The white paper itself provides the detail and suggests this isn’t something new - Clifford Chance have been pursuing this effort for five years.

Given the language in the white paper, they are primarily talking about Lean and Six Sigma approaches to continuous improvement. Happily, they don’t go crazy with the “insider” language of these disciplines - I am guessing that this white paper is as much an advertisement and position paper aimed at their customers as it is a means to talk about application of these ideas in an unconventional environment.

I’m also encouraged to see language like “people need to agree that there is a problem” before any solution is developed or implemented.  And they have been brining in their client where those improvement efforts related to client engagements - especially where the client plays a part in creating the improvement.   

I see that they are doing the familiar internal training to bring everyone into the continuous improvement fold. I hope they aren’t making the common assumption that optimizing everywhere is going to lead to success. They need a focusing process as well.

The report’s summary of the results thus far point to internal cost savings (what about the bottom line?) and significant speed improvements. Of course, their clients are seeing these benefits too. I like the comment that improved speed has a ripple effect into their clients’ customer - helping to improve service at that level as well.  One almost throwaway comment said they have seen speed improvements of up to 50% - I would probably trumpet that one a little louder!

There are a number of interesting tidbits and a few case studies in the white paper to give a flavor of the projects they’ve undertaken.  I like one of the closing thoughts about continuous improvement, so I will close with it as well:

Continuous Improvement will, at some point, change from being something that we do ‘to’ the way we work and will simply become the way we work.

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