Lean Law Firms?


Adam Smith, Esq.: An inquiry into the economics of law firms….

No, that isn't the title of my next book. I have zero interest in that industry. That said, one lawyer and blogger is on to something… how would you apply Lean principles to a law firm? The same questions could apply to any professional services firm, like consulting.

From the post, the author, Bruce MacEwen, does nice job of trying to bridge the gap for the skeptics who would wonder Toyota or something from factories could lend to a law firm. He writes:

Now consider what adopting the TPS in your firm would need. Here are just some thoughts:

  • Can associates suggest changes to the KM system or procedures for finding precedent, template, and sample documents and clauses?
  • How are assignments made? Who has input? What are the criteria?
  • Are “vacuums” in training part of the assignment process? How are they monitored and addressed?
  • Has anyone thought about how time worked is lost between the actual work and the final bill? Where are the leakages?
  • Do associates have the opportunity to be exposed to other practice areas than the one they first choose, even tangentially?
  • When partners are assembling teams for deals and cases, who has input?

The point is not, really, to suggest anything specific for your firm. The point is to suggest that you might embark on the continuing pursuit of excellence in all you day. Even matters so small as moving a parts shelf closer. For surely, part of the genius of the TPS is not just its concrete suggestions, multitudinous as they are: It's the sense of engagement it engenders. By some measures, Toyota workers generate one hundred times as many suggestions per capita as workers at their competitors.

That, without doubt, is the single most significant component of the genius of the TPS. Why wouldn't you want to embrace that?

The concepts of value streams (not suboptimizing just one function), employee engagement, kaizen… they're all applicable to law office management and processes, I would suppose.

It's a good read…. check it out…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Lean principles can and should be applied in any and every industry. I remember enjoying reading about the “lean” dentist(http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/061707/bus_177737907.shtml). Also, one of my favorite sections in Industrial Engineer magazine is entitled “Uncommon IE” where each month someone with industrial engineering training applies IE principles in unique environments and industries. One of the greatest strengths of the Toyota Production System is the unversality of the principles employed.

  2. Actually any business where you see, feel or sense accumulations in the various processes is the place where LEAN THINKING is applicaple:-))

    To apply LEAN THINKING however it takes a lot of COURAGE to change the traditional way of thinking and doing things.

    COURAGE alone however won’t help, as one doesn’t see it in the context of the whole SYSTEM (that will be changed by the courage as well as by the new way of thinking).

    It is a bit like the Wright Brothers that probably had been told silly, stupid boys playing with their fllight machines (How many of us would have taken the courage to show that flying is possible? I guess not too many;-( — Nowadays, it is not much different, other that we are talking about other things, such as LEAN THINKING).

    LEAN THINKING is as universial as SYSTEM DYNAMICS (http://www.systemdynamics.org/wiki/index.php/System_Dynamics) and to see how the two can be combined have a look at http://www.strategy-business.com.

    There is a whole lot more to change in the world of processes (not just on carmakers’ shopfloors) and we should step forward and DO with the necessary COURAGE (even in the law firm, if you have a chance;-)).



  3. Just got the new book by John Seddon, "Systems Thinking in the Public Sector – the failure of the reform regime … and a manifesto for a better way" (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Systems-Thinking-Public-Sector-Regime/dp/0955008182?SubscriptionId=0VMG0VFGBMRWVRA58R02&tag=ldvd-21&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=0955008182) and before really getting into medias res it is interesting to read at the first pages:

    "A note to the reader:

    Taiichi Ohno, in inspiration hehind the enduringly successful Toyota Production System (TPS), ….., taught that, at its simplest, the TPS was concerned with the relentless pursuit of removing waste. To remove waste you have to understand its causes. … If you are a leader in the public sector or sit anywhere in the regime's hierarchy above those who provide the services, and you worry about whether your service is subject to problems I outline, don't ask anyone to you a report – go and look for yourself, something else that Ohno taught. …."

    There are more than 200 pages to go and yet one get a clear feeling that lean thinking has to be applied in any process in order to improve the system (if we really want to improve the system(?) -as we hear every day all around the world).

    I would like to organize a skypecast (discussion via skype) on the above question in the coming weeks.

    Anybody interested, please send a note to ralf_lippold(at)web.de.




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