Lean in law firms?

Posted on 2 Sep 2011 by The Manufacturer

Roberto Priolo shares his thoughts on the opportunities offered by lean in non-manufacturing sectors.

Sometimes, bad news never stops piling up. Since we got back to work from a nice three-day bank holiday weekend on Tuesday, we have been bombarded with reports of manufacturing production sinking to a 26-month low, of record level of graduates unemployment and of zero new jobs created in the States in August.

Is the entire Western world on the edge of the abyss? Sometimes, it might be tempting to think so. The only country that seemed to have escaped the violent blow of the economic crisis, Germany, had to review its growth expectations, only to find out that its economy is shrinking too.

Whatever happens next, it’s clear that government and business leaders will have to do some serious thinking, and trying to figure out alternative ways to design policy and tackle issues of national and international interest. The status quo is simply not sustainable anymore.

Lean has been on the agenda of many (non-manufacturing) sectors for a while now, with many types of businesses and institutions looking at continuous improvement to try and revolutionise the way they carry out daily activities. Yesterday, while on Twitter, I ran into an interesting article written by Mark Greenhouse, of lean implementation specialist ResQ, on the application of lean principles to law firms. At first, I was slightly surprised: continuous improvement in a legal firm? How would that work? However, as I read the article, I soon figured out that a legal law firm will want to increase responsiveness, cut costs and improve the quality of its service, just like a manufacturer or a local government agency.

We are all after the same thing: achieving growth and reducing the costs we run into as we try to do so. If implemented correctly, lean can represent a win-win: the customers are content with a high-quality product delivered to them by a company that has listened to their needs, and in the process of providing that product the company saves money, cuts waste and speeds up its processes, which will win new business.

The next issue of LMJ includes an article on lean applied to sales and marketing, written by Richard Harrison of the Sales Transformation Partnership. This is further proof of the ability of lean to change and adjust to the requirements of sectors it wasn’t devised for originally.

Manufacturers today face new challenges, as they struggle to please an ever-changing customer base and to make ends meet in the face of increasing costs. However, examples of successful businesses abound in many sectors. It is no coincidence that lean ranks high in these companies’ priority lists. If you want to know how they achieved their results, there is only one tool you can use: benchmarking, on which Mark Knowlton of KPS has written an article for the next LMJ.

It’s almost overwhelming for me to look at the massive amount of data and research available to those who are interested in undertaking a lean journey, and I am not even a business leader. There are seminars and conferences you can attend, books you can read, courses you can take, and even factory tours. It may be the compelling argument on the importance of comparing your operations with others’ that Mark Knowlton expresses in his article on benchmarking, but I am so convinced by this that I have decided to give more space in the journal to a section we’ve had before, that’s called LMJ in conference.

I believe it’s very important for the readers of the magazine to be able to learn and share best practice, and to see what other companies do. LMJ in conference wants to achieve this by offering article reviews of the events we have attended.

We have to put an extra effort in trying to see opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than reasons why we are probably going to stay in the same difficult situation. We shouldn’t concentrate on bad news and try to develop a deeper understanding of the world behind us and of the way it works. When businesses start with lean, they often struggle to believe that one day they might be able to get to the point where those they look up to already are. Lean may sound like a leap into the unknown at first, but few things make more sense.

Roberto Priolo
Editor, Lean Management Journal