4 Simple Steps to Tighten Your Law Firm’s Processes & “Lean” Into Increased Income

The “Lean” management methodology is all about continuous improvement. It was popularized by Toyota and other manufacturers, but can be applied to any business – even those that provide services, such as law firms. It recommends focusing on your firm as a system and prioritizing waste elimination, client focus, and continuous process improvement.

By focusing on these keys, you will improve client satisfaction and employee engagement, and ultimately, increase firm profits. It’s a straightforward and effective management methodology – and it can be applied successfully within your law firm. Many law firms are still suffering from the lingering effects of the pandemic, including declining intake and revenue. In the dos and don’ts of law firm marketing in the new normal, I offered up some key marketing strategies and tactics aimed at increasing your intake. Here, I’d like to focus at a high level on how the Lean methodology can help you make your case management and systems more efficient – from intake through resolution.

In my previous article, I confessed to a reliance on … data. It’s a well-known fact around my firm (one of the largest personal injury firms in the Southeast) that I make decisions based on data – numbers, reports, trends, research – sprinkled with empirical evidence and seasoned with real-life experience.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I also admit to a fondness for formulas. Let me share what I have learned about optimizing case management, and provide a very simple formula (and some examples) to guide your efforts.

The Lean Formula for Law Firms

Here’s one of the most simple, high-level formulas proposed in the Lean methodology, and this is one that should drive all your efforts:

lean formula for law firms 1

Pretty straightforward, right? And it logically follows that to increase income (the right side of the equation), you need to increase the number of cases you resolve and/or the value of your cases (the left side of the equation). It’s basic math.

Let’s take it one step further. Let’s assume you are getting maximum value for your cases and direct our attention to the case resolution rate. And remember that the Lean methodology dictates that you focus on your firm as a system. Affecting the cases portion of the equation is not a matter of simply increasing your intakes (though that is part of it). It’s about improving the entire system so that cases flow more efficiently through it.

So let’s concentrate on how to use the Lean methodology to optimize your processes in order to allow more cases to flow more efficiently from intake to disbursal at your firm. This will have a positive effect on client results and firm dynamics, and it will ultimately improve firm profitability.

Putting the Lean Formula to Work

The Lean methodology looks at the firm as a system and prioritizes waste elimination, client focus, and continuous process improvement. Going back to the formula, you can improve your profitability by prioritizing these same three things.

If you can shorten the amount of time it takes to get a case to disbursal without sacrificing value, then you can increase firm income. To do this, you need to find all the parts of that process that are slow, or getting held up, and find ways to clear the bottlenecks and eliminate the delays.

Process formula magnifiying glass

This exercise of identifying and optimizing should be repeated over and over to continuously improve the overall system. Nothing is perfect, and as technology moves forward, new opportunities for optimization will appear.

Step 1: Define the Process

The idea behind the Lean methodology is that when you focus on improving your process, you can achieve higher profits. That’s what everyone wants – higher profits. The first thing you have to do to improve the process is to identify each step of the process – in writing.

Write down every action currently being taken between the start and the finish of a case.

Evaluate if each action is adding value to the client’s case. This will reveal steps that do not add value and can be removed from the process, which will reduce process time and result in faster case resolution.

Remove those steps. In a Lean initiative, most of the progress will come from removing “lead time” and actions that don’t add value.

Here are some key questions to ask throughout this step:

Can you reduce the number of steps?

Is there waste in the process?

Can you remove human error?

When mapping out your process, you will see that there are some steps that can’t be adjusted, such as the amount of time a defendant has to answer a complaint or the amount of time a client has to complete medical treatment. While these steps need to be identified in order to understand the complete process, the majority of improvements in the process will be made to other actions that you have control over.

Mapping out the entire process helps you identify what steps you have control over (internal constraints) and those that you do not (external constraints). Then you can focus on positively affecting the internal constraints through waste elimination, standardization, and testing.

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