Will law firm efficiency initiatives stifle good lawyering?

Law firms have never been under more pressure to provide efficiency, transparency and pricing predictability to clients. Yet attempts to adopt business practices that will help lawyers better understand the way they work and inform decisions on how to better serve clients are proving extremely difficult.

In the eyes of most lawyers, you can not take the knowledge that’s been developed over years of training and practice and force it into a “process” that can be measured. Or can it?

The Harvard Business Review thinks it can. In an October article, “Lean Knowledge Work,” authors Bradley R. Staats and David M. Upton, argue that knowledge-based professions in IT, finance, engineering and law can benefit from the same principles that manufacturing companies like Toyota have employed. Their argument:

1) A substantial amount of knowledge assumed to be tacit doesn’t have to be.

2) Knowledge can be captured if the organization makes the effort to pull it out of people’s heads.

3) All knowledge work includes some activities that have nothing to do with applying judgement and can be streamlined by training employees to continually find and root out waste.

4) Systems and rules to guide interactions can be developed to improve collaboration even when knowledge is genuinely tacit.

Lawyers are trained to follow legal precedent. Although there is little precedent in applying lean principles to the legal profession, models do exist for transforming business practices in other industries. Maybe all we need is a little creative lawyering to apply those principles to the practice of law.


Posted on December 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

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