Improving efficiencies is a topic at the forefront of business leaders minds at all times, but with a greater emergence of innovative technologies, this is something that has been better enabled in recent years. Through digital transformation projects, organisations are achieving greater efficiencies, but an area often overlooked by the legal sector, in particular, is the implementation of Six Sigma initiatives.
Six Sigma initiatives are at the heart of many major corporate commitments to constantly reengineer and reinvent themselves. Champions of the industry believe that the gains possible by focusing on Six Sigma at every level of endeavour in their corporations will ensure their own respective organisations continue to triumph and maintain competitive advantage both today and into the future.
But how does this concept feed into the legal industry, impacting the everyday work of lawyers?
Firstly it’s important to understand what Six Sigma is and where it originates from – fundamentally, Six Sigma is a mathematical concept. At the sixth standard deviation from the mean under a bell curve, 99.9996 per cent of the population under the curve is embraced.
(Image credit Six Sigma Article)
As a management mantra, Six Sigma has become a metaphor for approaching perfection at all levels of processes. Motorola pioneered the metaphor as a management device when it faced annihilation at the hands of competitors in the 1980s. Management initiated a top-to-bottom review of everything that the company was doing to create products, with the goal to remove all nonessential elements of overhead and to devise the quickest, most efficient methods to respond to orders and market demands.
As a result of the techniques they implemented as part of this it is reported that Motorola, by focusing iteratively on refining the processes involved, was able to reduce the time it took for the placement of an order for a cell phone to reach the manufacturing floor from forty days to one hour!
Overall defects in products reaching the consumer plummeted, and orders began to grow again. Motorola re-established itself as one of the world’s great industrial/technology juggernauts and this is due to the Six Sigma initiatives it implemented.
Within any organisation, in any sector, implementing this kind of thinking will improve efficiencies. But within the legal sector specifically, Six Sigma initiatives at the least help to identify, collect, update, verify, and distribute knowledge so that everyone who needs to can access such knowledge 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with no marginal cost associated.
When, and wherever, a client approaches a law firm for service or advice, they should be supported by systems and training that ensure that they have immediate access to the firm’s or department’s best practices information, knowledge, or advice, so as to enable them to efficiently and correctly deal with the client’s issue. They should also have ready access to facilities to record any knowledge of the transaction or encounter that the department or law firm might need for its own purposes or subsequent dealings with that customer.
Legal and compliance departments are in an interesting position. They are both service-providing organisations (to business units within the company and to customers of those business units) and service-receiving organisations (from legal, accounting, appraisers and other expert firms around the world).
Six Sigma initiatives can be directed to the benefit of a company, its customers, and shareholders with respect to both aspects of this dual personality. Law firms are (at least for present purposes) only service-providing organisations.
The critical issues for every law firm’s clients are the productivity, quality, and timeliness with which they acquire knowledge, form judgements, and deliver advice and/or documentation.
Legal departments or law firms can, therefore, benefit from applying the concept of Six Sigma in their relationships with their clients and outside counsel (as the case may be). The processes involved in mastering fact, researching law and prior practice, formatting and communication judgement, and documenting transactions or advice are susceptible to process reengineering.
By bearing down on each area of practice, legal work can be performed much more efficiently and cost-effectively by the universal deployment of well-thought though information technology strategies.
Those that implement the strategies and technologies that enable them to improve efficiencies will ultimately win competitive advantage.
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