Archive for December, 2011
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.
It’s December. The time you stop and wonder where the year went. I’ve been fortunate to have been extremely busy this year, but that is not an excuse to lose sight of my long-term goals. With winter just around the corner, now is the opportunity to refocus on priorities and develop a plan for the coming year. To me, planning must always begin with a discussion about vision.
Vision is one of those lofty words that can be off putting to some, but that should not diminish its importance. Vision is really about knowing who you are and what you want to be. I co-hosted a panel sponsored by the Center for Competitive Management earlier this month where I described vision as a practice group’s “WHY.” Another way to think about it is, “What does success look like?”
Regardless of how you ask the question, developing a short, concise statement of what you aspire to be is an essential component of a successful practice group plan. To ignore vision is to ignore defining what you are trying to accomplish. Equally important, from the perspective of building a strong practice group, a clear vision provides other benefits:
1) A vision provides your practice group with an identity. This aids in decision making about work that should or shouldn’t be done. It also drives decisions about the people side of the practice.
2) Discussions about vision offer an opportunity to emotionally engage members of the practice group. How often have you sat in practice group meetings, where colleagues eat their lunch, nod in the appropriate places and then go back to work without truly participating in the discussion? Meetings focused around vision offer an opportunity to engage your group. The point is not so much the words you end up using as it is the process of keeping your purpose at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
3) Vision guides planning. Once you have a clear vision, planning is easier. It also gives you a framework for ensuring your plans stay on track.
To be sure, law firms as a whole need to focus on vision. If your firm has a defined vision statement, then that should be the starting point for your practice group discussion. That said, even with firms that do have a vision statement, many attorneys are not aware of it or have not been part of the discussion to create it. Bringing vision to the practice group level offers multiple benefits in engaging attorneys. It’s a leadership opportunity.