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Lean Is The Path To The Perfect Legal Practice | An Essay in Three Parts

On special request by students of Cambridge Law school we republish this article from March 8, 2017

Lean Is The Path To The Perfect Legal Practice

Lean is a philosophy that every lawyer says they understand, yet few really do understand. In this essay, I will give the longer explanation of what Lean really means and why it is critical for lawyers to learn. But, I also recognize that lawyers like the short, pithy version before they dig in to the details. So, this is the way one lean thinker explained what lean coaches do when his seven year-old daughter asked what teaching lean meant, “Daddy tries to teach people how to work faster and make less mistakes. And, most importantly, we also try to teach people to be nice and respect each other… that way everyone can do their very best.”

I have divided this essay into three parts. In the first part, I give a brief overview of the history and five basic principles of Lean. In the second part, I will explain how Lean can help legal services providers. In the final part, I will explain how to incorporate Lean ideas into your legal services and turn your organization into a continuous improvement enterprise.

Lean Unites Many Streams of Thought

In the 1940s, a startup in the automotive industry called Toyota Motor Company began uniting many streams of thought into what became the Toyota Production System (TPS). Five major streams form the core of TPS.

First, three philosophers in the United States—Charles Sanders Pierce, followed by C.I. Lewis and John Dewey—founded the pragmatism tradition of philosophy. Pragmatists focused on practicality, claiming “that an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, [and] that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it.” Walter Shewhart, who was followed by W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, created the quality movement in the manufacturing world. Shewhart built his statistical quality control ideas partly on the pragmatist tradition. Deming and Juran, who learned statistical quality control from Shewhart, introduced quality concepts to Japanese businesses after World War II.

Second, Henry Ford developed the moving assembly line. The moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing. Instead of a team of craftsman working in one spot to put together a car, the car chassis started a journey through the factory. Periodically, a group of workmen would perform a specialized task, such as put in the engine or the wheels. The change from one-spot production to the moving assembly line, essential for something as complicated as a car, became a core competency of manufacturing that still exists today.

Third, the United States corner dry goods grocers, butchers, bakers, and fresh vegetable markets were brought under one roof by the supermarket. One stop for all your grocery needs. Supermarkets used shelving systems customers served themselves from instead of using clerks to serve customers. The customer would pull a can of corn or peas off an inclined shelf that had many more cans ready to slide into place. This system was the origin of kanban.

Fourth, Frederick W. Taylor, a young engineer working at a steel company, developed the ideas of scientific management. Using his ideas, companies standardized work, used metrics to measure the time spent on tasks, and brought discipline to the unruly factory floor.

Finally, the United States government contributed by creating the Training Within Industry (TWI) system at the beginning of World War II. As trained workers left factories to join the armed forces, the U.S. had two problems. Factories needed to scale up production to meet the demands of the military. At the same time, the ranks of skilled workers were depleted. In one case, lens grinding, it took five years to train a replacement. Using TWI, the lens grinding companies were able to bring the time to train a replacement down to six months and by the end of the war it was down to six weeks. TWI was developed by the U.S. government and implemented by industry to address the worker problem and industry used it in offices and for services, not just on the factory floor. It performed far better than expected and was used from 1940 to 1945. According to many, TWI was key in the U.S. producing the products needed to win the war. While TWI was terminated in the U.S. when the war ended, General MacArthur, leader of the allied forces in Japan, introduced it to Japanese businesses to help them re-build. TWI was a major part of what became TPS. While TWI brought many elements to TPS, the most notable came to be known as “respect for humanity.”

At Toyota Motor Company, Taiichi Ohno was tasked with helping the company build its automotive manufacturing business under the harsh post-war conditions. Raw material, workers, and money were in limited supply. Everything had to be used wisely and wasting anything was the new enemy. Ohno, with a group of engineers working together as the Toyota Autonomous Study Group, pulled together these streams and developed many other pieces that they used to build the Toyota Production System.

In the early 1990s, John D. Krafcik, was doing research for James Womack, who was writing the book The Machine That Changed the World, which kicked off interest in TPS in the United States. Krafcik, a graduate student at MIT at the time who has since held many senior roles in the automotive industry including CEO of Hyundai Motor America Inc. and today is Alphabet’s CEO of Self-Driving Cars, coined the term “Lean” for Toyota’s system. Womack and one of his co-authors then published the primary work on Lean, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth In Your Corporation (Womack and Jones, 1996). They used the term “Lean Thinking,” because they recognized that U.S. manufacturers, especially automobile manufacturers, would be reluctant to adopt a system called the “Toyota Production System.”

Today, Lean is used in industries of all types throughout the world. According to the 4th Biennial PEX Network Survey (PEX, 2015), Lean is the most widely used form of operational excellence in corporations (53.27%). Reflecting the general trend of services moving to adopt operational excellence methodologies, corporate departments, such as finance, HR, legal, and customer service, are steadily increasing their use of Lean.

Despite the overwhelming success of Lean, the legal services industry has been one of the last to adopt its philosophy and methods. Lawyers believe that Lean will force them to give up their autonomy, pride in quality, and their professionalism, all of which lawyers cherish. It is time to debunk that myth.

Not Strange Bedfellows

Lawyers look skeptical when they hear “Lean” and “law.” Their visceral response is that something born and raised in the manufacturing world has no place in the professional services world. Lawyers don’t make toasters, they solve the world’s problems. This type of work should not be measured by a stopwatch and humans should not be treated as robots, asked to perform the same task again and again without variation.

Of course, there is some merit in what lawyers say. Delivering legal services is not the mass production of goods. But Lean also is not what they have been taught or imagine and so the comparison is inapt. What lawyers fear is not what Lean brings. Ironically, what lawyers do today is much closer to the dreaded production line and Lean is key to taking lawyers to the types of practices they would like to have.

Lean sits well with anything people do, legal services included. The Lean philosophy is built on five principles that form a virtuous circle. Womack and Jones enunciated those principles in Lean Thinking:

  1. Specify what creates value from the client’s perspective.

  2. Identify all the steps across the entire value stream.

  3. Create flow among those steps that create value.

  4. Only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time.

  5. Strive for perfection by continually removing waste.

Principle 1: What Creates Value

Lawyers provide services to clients. They help clients solve problems. Thus, whatever the lawyer does should create value for the client. While this seems self-evident, for lawyers there are some interesting twists.

Lawyers work under a regulatory scheme that does not permit them to do whatever a client wants, even though doing so would create value for the client. A lawyer may be creating value for his client by helping the client move funds to evade paying taxes, but the lawyer is not free to help his client commit a crime. While a lawyer should create value for his client, there are limits on such value creating efforts. But, it also is hard to justify a system where a lawyer spends a lot of time on things that don’t add value for the client and then charges the client for the non-value added services.

Principle 2: Identify the Value Stream

This principle is foreign to most lawyers. They simply do what they do to finish the task set before them by the client. They do not classify the things they do into those that provide value and those that do not. Within Lean, we do that classification. We want to know which steps are the ones adding value and which ones don’t, or in Lean terms, which ones are waste. When we identify the value stream, we pull together those groups and processes that stand between the client request and the delivered solution, and include only those that add value. This gives us a story book of how to get from beginning to end with minimal waste (I’ll show you an example of a value stream map in a bit). The things that add waste are the things which make the lawyer’s job stressful, boring, and more like the assembly line than a creative opportunity to bring innovative solutions to client problems.

Principle 3: Create Flow

Flow occurs when each value step connects to the next value step without waste. While this sounds simple, it is extremely difficult to achieve. The service provided must move from client to lawyer, and within a firm or other organization from lawyer to lawyer, and then from lawyer to client, without any drag or interruption. The entire process must be free of waste. To get flow, we must change processes so that instead of each person pushing work to the next, each person pulls work. Flow is something we all want to get to, but no one has yet to achieve in its ideal form.

Principle 4: Just-in-Time

The just-in-time principle comes from the supermarket. Ideally, when you go to the shelf and remove a can, another one drops into place for the next customer (who is right behind you). In its highest form, just-in-time (JIT) means that each thing done in the value stream happens immediately before the next activity in the stream, not too early or too late. On a production line, the parts to attach the engine arrive at the work station just when the worker needs to use them. They are the parts needed for that particular chassis and engine, no others. JIT in legal services happens when each person in the value stream does just the work the client needs, when the client needs it, and no more or less.

Principle 5: Strive for Perfection

In Lean, your value stream would achieve perfection if you could remove all of the waste in it. This does not happen in real life, and so the virtuous circle of Lean continues as we cycle through the principles over and over again, always trying to move a bit closer to perfection. This is where the term “continuous improvement” comes in. Lean is not episodic improvement events, it is a drive that means every day, every employee looks at what she does and questions how she can do it better.

In the second part of this essay, I will explain how Lean can help legal services providers.

Lean Is The Path to the Perfect Legal Practice

In the first part of this three-part essay, I gave a brief overview of the history and five basic principles of Lean. In this part, I explain how Lean can help legal services providers.

As James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones explained in their book, Lean Thinking, there are five principles at the core of the Lean philosophy:

  1. Specify what creates value from the client’s perspective.

  2. Identify all the steps across the entire value stream.

  3. Create flow among those steps that create value.

  4. Only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time

  5. Strive for perfection by continually removing waste.

To see how these principles work in law, let’s look at a simple legal service. The client calls a law firm asking the lawyer to draft a contract. This is the “pull” that triggers the value stream. Ideally, the lawyer to whom the matter is routed is the lawyer who will draft the contract (and if the contract can be assembled by a paralegal using document assembly software, then the paralegal would receive the call).

In our ideal value stream, the lawyer receiving the call is ready to work on the contract immediately. The client was routed to this lawyer because she had time to work on the contract and the necessary expertise (some consulting firms use software to help them achieve this). She opens a contract template (no searching) and fills in the necessary information. The software checks what she is typing so that errors are corrected on the fly. She finishes the drafting step, reads the document on the screen (this is the quality check step), and sends it to the client. The value stream is tight (there are ways to tighten it, but this isn’t bad) and the client receives what she requested—a contract that is fit for her purpose (not too complicated, but not missing critical elements). Even though many lawyers would protest that this describes how they draft a contract today, some quick observation and value stream mapping reveals that this is rarely if ever the case. Even if this idealized version of contract drafting were accurate, there are still many things we could do to improve the process. Using various Lean improvement techniques, we could bring the process closer to perfection, and then cycle again to get even closer. Each cycle would accomplish many things, including cost reduction. But it is this idea that all Lean has to offer is cost cutting that got Lean got off on the wrong foot in the legal industry.

Lean Reduces Costs, But It Is Not Cost Cutting

None of the five principles mentions cost cutting. And yet, within the legal industry, Lean has become known as simply a cost cutting tool. In part, this is because Lean was introduced to the legal industry at a time when corporations were focusing on what became the “more for less” dilemma. Corporate counsel faced increasing compliance and regulatory requirements in the United States and globally. Business models were evolving quickly and adding new areas, such as social media and digital tools. The combination of these factors meant in-house counsel needed to provide more to their clients. At the same time, in-house lawyers were being asked to focus more on their budgets. They were told to spend less, or at least not spend more. They also were told that budgets were real, not just estimates that could be missed. The increased financial discipline combined with increased service quantities created a problem. The solution seemed to be reducing the cost of each unit of legal service and Lean became one way to cut costs. Unfortunately, this got Lean off to a bad start. Rather than asking the broader question of how to improve legal services delivery in a way that would reduce cost, the industry focused on cost itself. In medical terms, this is treating the symptom without looking for the underlying cause of the disease.

Lawyers began taking one day seminars intended to teach them how to do short improvement events, which they thought would get costs down. The legal industry’s approach to Lean became: process map, remove some waste, and hope the cost dropped. Not surprisingly, this 1-2-3 approach to Lean has not been satisfying to many. While paying attention to a process will cause some improvement, without a more robust Lean approach built on a deeper understanding, the fast food fix to legal services delivery leaves one craving something more.

Re-Directing Lean In Legal Services

Starting fresh with Lean in the legal industry, we can see how it has the potential to help us do much more than cut costs. In their first book, The Machine that Changed the World, Womack and Jones set the goals for Lean much higher: “[T]he adoption of lean production, as it inevitably spreads beyond the auto industry, will change everything in almost every industry—choices for consumers, the nature of work, the fortune of companies, and ultimately, the fate of nations.”

One way to appreciate the benefits Lean can bring to legal services delivery is to start at the end of the value stream. Under the labor-intensive, craft system of legal services delivery every lawyer employs today, the time and cost of achieving what the client wants reaches a point where the client will pay no more even though the lawyer can imagine ways to reduce risk or improve the quality and value of the service. The lawyer must stop and deliver the service to the client.

Lean provides a way to get past the barriers created by the increasing cost of labor without resorting to the high cost of technology. The goal of Lean is perfection. To achieve that goal, we trim away everything that isn’t value. Again, looking at legal services value streams, Lean allows us to reduce what we spend on what does not add value and re-direct our energies on providing value. Doing so, we can do more to improve quality, enhance value, and generally improve services.

If a client will spend $10,000 for a service, Lean gives us two basic options (with many variations). First, we can reduce the cost of providing today’s service, while maintaining (usually improving) quality, timeliness, and fitness for purpose. This allows us to drop the price so the client pays less, while at the same time the cost to produce the service has dropped so the value (profit) to the lawyer remains the same (in a decent Lean program, profit would go up even though the price came down). For certain services, this helps the client and the firm.

Second, because the cost of providing the service has dropped, we can add value to the service while keeping the price to the customer the same. We can increase service levels (quality) or expand service levels (e.g., cover those ideas we couldn’t cover at a higher service level cost). In other words, the Lean lawyer can provide more and better quality service than the non-Lean lawyer at the same price.

Quality comes up a few times in these examples. Obviously, quality is important to lawyers. But in the labor-intensive processes we use today, we can only do so much before the cost of the service becomes too high given the price the client will pay (some clients are not price sensitive on some matters, but those form the minority). We don’t have the time or the money in the budget to read the brief again, check the citations again, or do other work (or re-work) to improve quality.

Lean’s goal, however, is perfection. Perfection means zero defects in the services delivered to the client. To achieve zero defects, we must re-design processes so that defects are removed as soon as they are created. We can’t wait to the end and look for defects (read the brief one more time), because the cost is too high to find and remove them. Lean’s goal, then, is consistent with and a better way of achieving what lawyers want to provide their clients—the highest possible quality in legal services.

In the final part of this essay, I will explain how to incorporate Lean ideas into your legal services and turn your organization into a continuous improvement enterprise.

Lean Is The Path to the Perfect Legal Practice

In the first part of this three-part essay, I gave a brief overview of the history and five basic principles of Lean. In the second part, I explained how Lean can help legal services providers. In this final part, I explain how to incorporate Lean ideas into your legal services and turn your organization into a continuous improvement enterprise.

Once we accept that Lean is consistent with the goals we want to achieve as lawyers, the question is how we can go about those goals using Lean. This is where we re-start our Lean journey by going back to the five principles and looking at them from the viewpoint of a legal services provider.

Principle 1: What Creates Value

We must first understand what our clients mean by value. Lawyers stumble over this principle, because for a long time lawyers have defined for their clients what value means, or at least assumed that was part of their job as professionals. The client came to the lawyer with a problem and the lawyer decided how to solve the problem, which presumably was the value the client wanted.

Law was mysterious, an opaque way of transforming inputs (problems) into outputs (solutions). Lay people were not trained in the mystical arts and could not be expected to discern what was valuable to them. That was the job of the lawyer.

At the corporate level, that paradigm has changed dramatically since the 1970s. The role of the in-house lawyer has grown considerably to where today, the in-house lawyer (typically a former law firm lawyer) is in a much better position to determine what value means to the client. The in-house lawyer understands the law, so there is no mystery about legal services, and she understands the needs of the client. She can set the bar for what is needed separate from what the law firm lawyer wants to provide.

The client and the outside lawyer must start by agreeing on what value means for each matter in its particular context. Put differently, each matter requires a risk-based evaluation of what value is needed to handle the matter. That value determination will guide the next step, where the lawyer determines the value stream.

Principle 2: Identify the Value Stream

Value determination is the starting point. You must know what your client values if you want to focus the stream of what you do to produce that value. As the famous baseball player Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” A value stream is the sequence of value-added steps that leads directly from the client request to what you and the client have defined as value to the client. Knowing the goal, you can now identify the value stream.

Many lawyers have been taught in what the trainer called “process mapping.” They assemble in a room and using sticky notes, create a flowchart-like diagram that shows the steps in a process from beginning to end, complete with detours. Unfortunately, these sessions seldom result in process maps or value stream maps. Lawyers create Centaur maps—a hybrid that does not serve any purpose well.

A value stream map is like a story book. At a high level, it pulls together in a visualization the groups that are part of the value stream, where the process is push or pull, inventories, numbers of participants, and major metrics for the system. It gives you a good overview of the system, which you can use to target processes needing improvement. It does not, however, provide the granularity or specificity needed for process improvement. A true process map is far more granular than what lawyers typically see in Lean training, but process mapping is for another day.

Value stream maps require a trip to gemba—the place where the action happens. For a manufacturing plant, the gemba is obvious. You go to the factory floor and observe the activities that make up the value stream. Lawyers think they can skip the trip to gemba, asking why they need to stare at an office. But going to gemba is essential. As you watch someone go through their routine in an office, you will see the many opportunities to remove waste (which is why the seminal value stream mapping book was titled “Learning to See”). Creating a value stream map helps you identify where to focus your improvement efforts.

Principle 3: Create Flow

Legal services delivery falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from flow. Remember, flow happens when each value added activity smoothly connects to the one before it and the one after it, with no waste. Legal services delivery is a jerky, pushy affair encrusted with waste.

The partner pushes work to the associate, whether the associate is ready to handle the work or not. The partner waits until the associate completes his task, which depends on the other things in the associate’s in-box (and the clout of the lawyers who assigned those things). Work jumps back and forth, as partner and associate correct each other’s mistakes, fill in blanks, and gather additional information through research or queries to the client. The circle expands to include work flowing back and forth with the in-house lawyer and perhaps members of the management team. Somehow, they all reach the point where they call “done.”

We can eliminate much of the back-and-forth activity with templates, checklists, and transparent processes. None of these steps impedes what lawyers want to do, yet all improve the process for delivering their services and, properly done, move processes towards flow.

Principle 4: Just-in-Time

When work arrives and you aren’t ready to do it, your system lacks on just-in-time. In the corporate law department, the description often is more just-when-I-can-get-to-it. Work rises and falls based on who asked, who screams, and which impending crisis needs to be averted. Multiply this case by many lawyers working across many matters and you have a system that fights fires.

JIT tackles these problems by improving the process. What causes work to build up (and the true answer seldom its “we have too much to do”)? Why are some activities performed too early and some performed too late?

Principle 5: Strive for Perfection

If there is one principle out of the five where legal services have stalled, it is in the drive to continuously improve, also called striving for perfection. In people, this is a quality that separates those who achieve much from those who don’t. Although I don’t have a scientific study at my fingertips to support this, I believe that this quality is closely linked to curiosity. I also believe that curiosity is something we find less frequently in lawyers today.

To strive for perfection, you must continuously ask “is there a better way”? This does not mean constantly re-working the contract or brief on the client’s dime. It does mean asking when each matter finished how you could have done it better, faster, or less expensively. It does mean questioning each day why you do the things you do and if clients perceive them as value.

Striving for perfection sets apart the Lean winners from the also-rans. In the legal industry in particular, we have seen very few firms that have employed Lean move from episodic use to continuous improvement—the constant drive to achieve perfection in legal services delivery. This isn’t surprising, because to go from an intermittent improvement environment to a continuous improvement environment is perhaps the most difficult, and yet the most rewarding, step in any Lean program. And, how to do so is the last point for this essay.

The Kata Of Continuous Improvement

Ask someone in the legal industry what they think Lean means, and you will probably hear a story about “process mapping.” In the last decade, as many legal consultants and others have run to introduce Lean to their clients, they have latched on to the idea that process mapping seminars and some training on how to do a “kaizen event” will launch clients into blissful days of ever-decreasing costs. Kaizen events are interesting—and very American—things. In the 1980s, Maasai Imai was a consultant in Japan who had worked for Toyota Motor Company, among other clients. He was a TPS aficionado and was bringing it to clients outside the automotive industry and outside of Japan. He needed a way to introduce clients to the concepts and so he built into his program a two-day workshop that included a kaizen burst (kaizen roughly translates into “continuous improvement”). A burst used a small team that focused for a brief period on a particular improvement problem. Toyota Motor Companyoccasionally used the burst approach when some problem needed a bit more than continuous improvement.

Imai’s workshops were successful and as he moved them to the United States he found that two days wasn’t sufficient, so he extended the workshops to five days and called them “kaizen events.” In other words, the concentrated burst that Toyota Motor Company occasionally used, became a two-day workshop and then a five-day workshop Imai used to market his consulting services. The Americans who took the workshops believed that kaizen events were the normal way to approach improvement efforts and the idea became embedded in the U.S. view of Lean.

As Lean moved into legal services, it brought with it the kaizen event. Now, lawyers hear the word Lean and they think “kaizen event”—the need for continuous improvement has been lost. Lawyers, law departments, and law firms think the way to implement Lean is through these concentrated events. That is bad, but the situation got worse. Lawyers are impatient and complain they don’t have five days to spend on one improvement event. So, the time for kaizen events decreased from five days, to a few days, to less than a day. Lean training workshops today typically last a day at most (often half a day) and have become show-and-tell mapping events. Continuous improvement has been transformed into quick fix. We have moved far away from the Lean that helps organizations.

This brings us to kata. If you have watched a video of a Japanese martial arts class practicing, you have seen a kata in action. In martial arts, it is a sequence of steps that are repeated over and over again so that the student becomes highly proficient in the steps. In the words of one popular meme, they become part of the student’s muscle memory. In Lean, kata stands for learning the improvement parts of Lean, so that continuous improvement becomes part of your daily routine. Improvement is not delegated to the few hours or days of a kaizen event, it happens all the time.

Kata is a culture change for an organization, especially a legal services delivery organization. Law firms are not set up for continuous improvement. The individual lawyers pay attention to the developments in their specialities and keep up with the law, but they do not continuously focus on ways to improve their practices. If anything, the compensation of most firms—based on the billable hour—tilts against improvement. Being less efficient has its rewards.

Kata isn’t easy. Remember how hard you fought against practicing the piano or learning to dribble the soccer ball? Habits are not easy to learn or break. To make the culture change so that the kata of continuous improvement becomes part of the organization, you typically need something that binds together the employees of the organization. This is the second (or perhaps first) major hurdle for legal services delivery organizations. Working under a common banner (a law firm name) or within a group (a law department) is not sufficient. People need something more to rise above the crowd—to invent them to practice the continuous improvement kata. Continuous improvement requires that individuals be bound together to achieve that something more, that greater purpose.

Healthcare is going through its own Lean transformation right now, and you can see where healthcare workers have an edge over lawyers when it comes to finding a greater purpose. Everyone who works on the pediatric cancer ward comes to work with a common purpose that drives them through the day. Wanting to reduce the suffering of children naturally drives people. Wanting to write a pithier contract to help a multi-billion dollar company earn more money pulls less on the heartstrings.

Though it may be difficult, for lawyers, law firms, law departments, and legal services delivery organizations generally to succeed at Lean, they must find their greater purpose. It is that purpose that will motivate individuals to expend the effort to learn the kata of continuous improvement and to approach each day as another opportunity to get better. With that transformation, legal services delivery organizations will find the multiplying effect of continuous improvement powers them past competitors; makes work more interesting for the participants; improves the quality, timeliness, and efficiency of services; and yes, drives down costs.

Embrace Lean And The Future Of Legal Services

Lean entered the legal industry through the backdoor as a way to address clients’ growing concern about how to provide more legal services using fewer resources. Lawyers immediately and not surprisingly pulled back from what they saw as an attack on the things they prized the most: autonomy, creativity in solving problems, and professionalism. Many met the meme “law is a business” with the rejoinder “law is a profession.”

Law is both, and one part without the other will not survive. When we say law is a business, we recognize that the time when money was no object is now firmly in the past. We are not likely to hear current day equivalents of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach (IBM’s former general counsel) respond to the question whether the sky was the limit for resources available to fight the government’s antitrust lawsuit with the answer “There is no limit.” That door has closed.

Lawyers also are not likely to hear clients say, “do what you think is best” and be left to decide for themselves what value to provide. Like many things, what it means to be a professional is no longer clear (and perhaps it never was). But it must stand for something and that something at a minimum is to perform one’s tasks at the highest level possible. It is inconsistent with legal professionalism to disrespect time, quality, or people.

This is where law and Lean are aligned. Whether counseling a client, preparing a contract, or judging a dispute, professionalism dictates using the means at our disposal to provide products and services clients cannot obtain through other means. Lawyers must provide their services at the highest level possible, but not at the highest cost possible. Reconciling these demands requires creativity, innovation, and deep respect. Lean is a well-established path to higher quality, improved productivity, increased timeliness, and greater respect for the people who provide the services. It sits on the direct line between what lawyers want to do and what clients want them to do. Lean is the path to the perfect legal practice.


This article is also published in eMag no. 1 2017

Kenneth A. Grady, Lean Law Evangelist at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Professor at Michigan State University College of Law.

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