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(The Lean Law Firm Blog)

E212: Part 2 - An insider look at a Legal Process Improvement project with Gimbal

case study process improvement Dec 20, 2023
A group of professionals sit together at a table having a meeting.

Welcome to Part 2 of our three-part series giving you a look at process improvement from the inside.. In Part 1 we described the preparation phase of a project to improve the incorporations process in a law firm.

This post explains what happened when we arrived on-site for the first 2 days of a three-day process mapping event. You'll learn about mapping the current state (on Day 1) and designing the future state (on Day 2) of the target process. 

Then, in Part 3 of this series we will describe how, on Day 3, the team created an implementation plan for the proposed improvements and presented the results to the project champion.

Day 1

We began Day 1 with a review of the charter, a description of the days to come, and a quick overview of Lean’s DMAIC approach. We also reviewed the 8 wastes that often interfere with workflow and hamper productivity. Using the 8 Wastes approach gave the team a shared vocabulary that allowed them to identify a long list of frustrations with the existing process. 

This initial conversation gave the team critical insight into where they needed to focus their attention later in the improvement project, and the team returned to their list of frustrations frequently throughout the three-day event. The lawyers attended this kick-off and shared their frustrations with the process. They left, knowing their concerns had been heard, and returned at the end of the day to add their part to the process map.

Next, we led the team on a waste walk. In Lean, a waste walk is often called “Going to the Gemba,” that is, going to the place where the work is done. We toured the paralegals' offices and spoke to the people who do incorporations work regularly. 

Your Tip: Never skip the waste walk! We always recommend a waste walk, even for  what is often a virtual legal or business process. Never underestimate the value of seeing and hearing how a process really happens, and benefiting from the perspective of other people involved in the same work.

This waste walk revealed a number of issues, including a major source of transportation and motion waste arising from the placement and allocation of printers. Some of the paralegals had to walk approximately 30 yards to their designated printer. Although there was another printing station only 15 feet away, it was allocated to a different practice group. The affected people had to make the 60-yard round trip frequently, as many as 35 times a day! And each trip took extra time because inevitably, they would be stopped for a quick chat or question along the way. The team immediately added “move printer” to their list of improvements, a change that ultimately saved the entire group considerable time and eliminated a significant frustration.

The team spent the rest of Day 1 mapping the current state of the incorporations process. As we mapped, we parked every step in the process where the paralegals either delivered documents for attorney review, or sought instructions or other input from the attorney or the client. We marked each spot with a large orange stickie on the map. The lawyers returned at the end of Day 1 to describe their involvement in, requirements for, and constraints under the process, as well as their interaction with clients at various points. 

As we explained in Part 1, the attorneys’ participation on Days 2 and 3 followed this same pattern. It allowed them to participate actively while still respecting their commitments to clients. The attorneys were encouraged to drop by the project base camp whenever possible during the day to add their voices and contribute their insights. However, we structured the project to limit their time to discrete periods of focused engagement. The approach was very effective and much appreciated by the attorneys. 

By the end of Day 1, the improvement team had a great map of the current state of their incorporations process, as well as some very good ideas about where the problems lay. In the photo above David is discussing the map with the team. Process steps are yellow. You can clearly see the orange stickies marking where the attorneys are involved. The other colours represent tools, resources, metrics, problems, and ideas.


Day 2

Day 2 got off to a great start with the team revisiting the current state map to look at the problem spots they identified on Day 1. They expanded on those areas from the perspective of waste, keeping in mind the frustrations they'd discussed at the very beginning. 

  • Where was the waste? 
  • What was its impact? 
  • Could they determine the root causes?

With these questions, the team entered the Analyze phase of DMAIC.

We then led the team in a redesign, creating what they considered to be the ideal future state. How could they restructure their process to avoid some of the wastes they’d identified? What was the value of each step? Were there steps they could skip? Were there different ways to accomplish the same task? Who was the best person to do a particular task? What tools would they need to accomplish a particular task faster or more accurately? What could they automate?

After a fruitful brainstorming session and some critical discussion between paralegals, attorneys, and management, the team created a future state that would better meet client needs and significantly reduce the time and cost to complete a simple incorporation. They also created a very long list of potential improvements they’d need to examine, test, and implement to bridge the gap between their current and future states. You can see the future state map above the current state map in the picture above. Yes, we go through a lot of stickies in three days. And did I mention the candy in the afternoons?

The team ended Day 2 full of ideas for improvement. We returned the following morning to work on prioritizing their ideas and creating an implementation plan. You can read about it in our next post.

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