With people and pricing in place, process offers the most levers to drive continuous improvement. An excellent way for law departments to drive continuous process improvement at law firms is for law departments to actually speak to law firms about continuous process improvement in concrete terms.

How?

Data-driven conversations. My approach to structured dialogue is the Service Delivery Review (“SDR”). I construct a questionnaire that focuses on the process and technology of how specific types of work are delivered to a specific client by the specific timekeepers and staff actually doing that work. The categories vary but may include:

  • Hardware/Software
  • Mobility
  • Training
  • Staffing
  • E-Signatures
  • Document Automation
  • Process/Project Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Data/Analytics
  • Billing Hygiene

The questions not only ask for specifics (e.g., the name and version of software deployed) but also quantitative data (e.g., the frequency of use/updating of a knowledge management system or statistics from the document management system about who spends how much time in which applications) where applicable. I then use the responses to create an onsite review protocol where I sit down with the people doing the work to understand what the systems they are using, when, and how. The object is to gain insight into how specific legal services are being delivered. I combine my findings with client priorities to produce a scorecard, a mock version of which I have provided here.Flaherty image

The scorecard serves as the starting point for structured dialogue. With the scorecard as a framework, the law department and law firm are able to sit in a room and discuss ways to improve the law firm’s delivery of legal services. Dialogue participants should include nontraditional stakeholders like project managers, technologists, and other allied professionals. The dialogue should result in commitments to concrete improvements. Concrete means both timelines and metrics to measure progress.

Moreover, the dialogue goes both ways. Law departments bear responsibility for how well law firms are integrated into their legal value chain. What, when, and how law departments communicate expectations, pertinent information, and feedback are essential to the functioning of the relationship. Just because something is amiss, does not mean that the law firm did something wrong. Incumbent law firms are the best source of insight for how the legal department is interfacing with external service providers.*

Even when the improvements have been delivered, the structured dialogue is not over. First, in a nod to capacity constraints, the commitments should be limited and targeted to high-impact improvements in priority areas. “Fix everything now” is incongruent with reality and the spirit of the SDR. Second, there is no finish line. Technologies, circumstances, and priorities all change. There will always be more to do. Completed improvements raise the baseline as the review is repeated on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly, annually). Continuous improvement through rigorous collaboration thereby gets built into the fabric of the relationship.

The goal of the SDR is to improve quality of work, quality of life (for those doing and reviewing the work), and the quality of the relationship while bringing down costs for the law department and enhancing profitability for the law firm. For those interested in digging deeper, I am happy to provide a copy of both a fully annotated SDR questionnaire and the scoring spreadsheet (email me at casey@procertas.com). In my next post, I’ll discuss why law departments and law firms are not playing a zero-sum game, even in a billable hour environment.

* I thought it would be useful to provide an example for how law departments can improve their own processes as a result of discussing legal service delivery with outside counsel. As inside counsel, I was once upset that outside counsel was taking so long to turnaround what I considered to be some pretty routine documents. They were often taking three weeks to provide documents that should have taken fifteen minutes to complete. Outside counsel informed me that, in fact, they only spent fifteen minutes producing the documents. They spent the remainder of the three weeks waiting for us to get them the information required to do so. The documents included current numbers from several monthly reports. Outside counsel would email me for the reports. I would forward the email to my paralegal. She would contact the relevant departments, and the reports would roll in over the course of two or three weeks. There was considerable waste endemic to the process, all of it on our side. So we setup a Dropbox-like sync folder into which the reports were placed as soon as they were generated. Outside counsel was given access to the folders and never had to ask or wait for the reports again.

This post was written by Casey Flaherty, founder of Procertas and former outside and inside counsel who first rose to prominence when he created the Service Delivery Review (“SDR”) to change the way he communicated with his outside counsel. Instead of generic complaints about inefficiency and arbitrary reductions in invoices, Flaherty sought to use metrics and benchmarking to foster structured dialogue, drive continuous improvement, and deepen the integration between his law department and his outside counsel. Follow Flaherty on Twitter at @DCaseyF.