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The decision to represent a case can have major impact on a law firm; there is no room for a gap in the new business intake process. Cases that are not properly vetted can lead to scrutiny of internal procedures, negative public attention and case withdrawal. Process breakdowns are not uncommon at law firms, but they are preventable.
Many firms turn first to technology to facilitate new business intake and other processes. But they can sabotage technology investments if they don’t first lay a proper foundation with a well-defined process. Whether you are addressing common business processes—such as electronic file retention and destruction, e-discovery or new business intake—the Six Sigma framework can help firms not only reduces errors, but maximize technology investments.
Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in 1986, and was championed by General Electric in 1995. Wikipedia explains it: “Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (“Champions”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, “Yellow Belts”, etc.) who are experts in these methods.”
So how does a framework designed in the manufacturing industry translate to a law firm’s technology investments?
Processes must be defined in a way that meets the objectives of internal stakeholders (e.g. associates, staff, shareholders, etc.) and external stakeholders (e.g. clients, regulators, etc.), alike. Six Sigma provides the tools and structure to guide the way processes are defined and firms can ensure that its technology initiatives are aligned to organizational objectives.
Projects using the Six Sigma framework are broken down into five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. These sequential phases are known as DMAIC (pronounced “duh-may-ik”).
1. Define the project goals and key deliverables. The first phase focuses on outlining and defining the project goals, milestones, key stakeholders, organizational support and deliverables. A project charter, among other tools, is used in this critical phase. Key stakeholders may vary from firm partners to a dedicated new business intake process team.
2. Measure current performance. The second phase quantifies the problem and uses various tools, such as “voice of the customer.” Benchmarking and data collection is used to understand existing processes and performance. For example, if the new business intake process were a Six Sigma project, “voice of the customer” may be collected where stakeholders communicate their requirements, such as ensuring that a potential client matter will not pose disproportionate risk to the firm’s brand or corporate culture.
3. Analyze the source of the problem. This step leverages the data gathered in phase 2 to help the firm determine the root cause of problems. During this phase, a firm may realize gaps in the data collection stage of the new business intake process, exposing threats of inadequate background checks, credit checks, conflicts of interest, etc.
4. Improve the process by eliminating errors and process breaks. Potential approaches surface and potential failures are identified and ranked. The firm identifies risks to ensure adequate controls exist. For example, participants may conduct a matter review workflow evaluation, where internal stakeholders evaluate and rank the alignment of the new business to organizational objectives, values and culture. This helps the organization agree on and manage risks and mitigation plans.
5. Control processes and future performance. This final phase tests improved processes and validates sustainability. This phase also aims to substantiate the underlying processes that the technology supports, to maximize investment dollars. This stage also can help prevent deterioration of the plans after they have been launched.
The Six Sigma “process first” approach is key to ensuring that a firm’s technology supports the needs of the organization.
It is not unusual in firms that attorneys, other professionals, and clients complain about law firm technology. But often, it’s not the technology platform that is failing, it is the process supporting the technology.
Ted Theodoropoulos is president of Acrowire, a technology consultancy based in Charlotte, N.C.