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Continuous Improvement in the Legal Services Sector
Before I started my role as a senior consultant at Berlineaton, I was a full-time lawyer. Once I joined Berlineaton and while onboarding and developing competency in the Continuous Improvement (CI) practice area, I often tried to draw links between our continuous improvement methodology and the legal sector. At first, I admit that it was difficult. I was set in my ways. I came to Berlineaton with a solid understanding of how traditional law firms operate. In fact, that traditional nature of practice was ingrained in me. Eventually, as I became more familiar with Berlineaton’s CI methodology, I started to see things differently; especially when it comes to applying CI to the legal sector. 

Berlinaton has now worked with law firms, administrative tribunals and justice programs within the public sector to improve each organization’s effectiveness using a CI approach. Legal services organizations are just like any other organization or business. They are not immune from issues that other businesses face when trying to improve their effectiveness and track performance. 

Aligned with Berlineaton’s CI methodology, here are some common features I have observed during my time working with legal service organizations

Direction 

Working Well
For the most part, every member of the organization is there to practice or support the practice of law and people tend to “show up” for a higher meaning than just a paycheque. 

Challenge
People tend to do their own thing and focus on their own goals – that includes both lawyers and support staff. This creates a lack of consistency in practice as well as alignment among the team as a whole. 

Process

Working Well
Legal processes work pretty good in achieving fair and efficient legal outcomes. 

Challenge
Many of the legal processes require interaction/engagement with different stakeholder groups (clients, other lawyers/support staff, judicial offices). Such processes are demanding and lack a streamlined CI approach. 

People 

Working Well
Everyone is really smart. People that work in legal environments tend to be resourceful, intelligent and hard working. 

Challenge
Lack of alignment and focus on an overarching goal communicated to all can tend to create personality conflicts among individuals and teams. 

 
In light of this, here are three things you can do to help make legal services organizations more effective:

  1. Answer the question “what are we doing here?” and “what gift to we bring to the world of legal services?”. Communicate the answers among the entire organization and confirm then over and over again. 
  2. Define processes that you have control over. Make them clear and understandable. Balance efficiency with exceptional outcomes. 
  3. Engage the people around you, including clients, other lawyers and those that work in the judicial system. They are smart too. They have really good ideas and can provide insights and feedback as to their interaction with your organization. Create a system for doing this regularly and track your performance just like any other customer oriented organization. 

The big lesson for me in all of this learning is that legal service organizations are not unlike other organizations. If you were to look at the direction, process and people through a more objective lens, you will see the same things I do. 
 

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Organizations that thrive excel in three areas: 

  • Direction: a clear, widely shared, and aspirational vision of the future and a compelling road map to get there.
  • Process: clear, effective and efficient steps that create meaningful outputs. Daily tasks and deliverables yield their best results when processes are clear and strong, and aligned with organizational objectives. Processes facilitate the alignment of action with direction.
  • People: People make it all happen. People have the skills, capacity, and impetus to translate strategic intent into reality. Ultimately, people and the culture they create drive an organization towards its chosen future. 
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