UTOPIA FOR LAWYERS: Using Process to Accelerate Client Understanding
How well do lawyers really understand their clients?
In the legal industry, there is a critical gap between the client’s idea of great service and the lawyer’s idea of great service. Deep customer understanding takes many years of engagement to achieve and even then, happens only rarely.
Source: LexisNexis Bellwether Report 2015
Faced with this stark statistic, the Process jammers at Janders Dean’s Legal Service Design Jam in Sydney asked ourselves two pressing questions:
Q1. Could we use process to accelerate the lawyer’s journey to deep client understanding?
Q2. How would we ensure that “Utopia for Lawyers” also means “Utopia for Clients”?
Team Process learns first-hand just how hard process is!
A quick survey of conference delegates revealed these frustrations with process in law firms:
- Waste, duplication of effort
- Over-engineering, perfectionism
- Insufficient time spent thinking about process and an under-appreciation of time spent on non-billable activities
- Reluctance by lawyers to accept that what they do is a process rather than bespoke
- Lack of skill
- Rush to apply technology to a process before fully understanding it
Generating ideas using the Process team rule “No idea is too stupid!”
We then brainstormed how process could positively affect legal services design, which we clustered into 5 themes.
- Relevant, good process
- Better collaboration between lawyers internally, and between lawyers and clients
- Removal of structural and cultural roadblocks
- Process identification, understanding, review and optimization
- Creation of “meta-processes” at an industry level
Now it was time to ask delegates to prioritise our top three themes.
The dots have it!
Our winning topic? “Wouldn’t it be great if our clients could actively collaborate with us in our space and we in their space”.
From this, we quickly determined our Challenge Statement:
BUILD AN EARLY INTERVENTION MODEL TO FULLY UNDERSTAND OUR CLIENTS
We used Lego to convey what success in addressing this Challenge Statement might look like. Initially cynical, I was surprised and moved to see how powerful a medium Lego is to convey meaning and to help us keep the client front and centre.
Conveying meaning through Lego
However, zooming in on exactly how we might do this proved challenging.
For me our group’s breakthrough moment came when one of the Process jammers described how a lawyer at her firm, returning after a client secondment, described the level of client understanding she had achieved through meaningful co-location as “mind-blowing”.
Secondment, however, was hardly an innovative nor scalable solution to our challenge statement.
What we wanted to figure out was this - could we use process to recreate that “mind-blowing” client engagement in a two-way, systemic and scalable fashion, both in individual firms and in aggregate across the industry?
Project Lab: Co-locate, Co-design
Tangible benefits are derived from the co-location of clients, lawyers, other service providers and enablers such as tools and technology into a single shared space on a project basis:
- Elevation of law firm from technical advisor to Trusted Business Partner
- Improved mutual understanding of organizational business objectives, processes and culture
- Process co-creation through process incubation and improvement
- Co-ownership of process and outcomes leading to better advice and problem resolution
- Ability to catch issues early minimizing risk and cost
- Increased speed, efficiency and effectiveness
Conference delegates were receptive to the Project Lab concept, but there were concerns, namely:
- Who would provide and pay for the space?
- Conflicts of interest
- Would I get recognition for my contribution when I’m not in the office?
- Self-preservation – are we doing ourselves out of a job?
- How would we manage our work?
For Project Lab to succeed, we agreed :
- Must be flexible – you could work there 100% of the time, or 50% of the time.
- Must have the right technology – I could co-locate but still be working on other matters
- Set clear objectives
- Set clear success measures
- Capture learnings – process innovation shouldn’t happen in silo’d project labs. There has to be a way to bring new learnings and processes back into the firm or client or industry.
- An open mind
- Being comfortable with risk (having appetite for risk) – typically challenging from many lawyers
Project Lab: the ultimate lawyer-client “mind-meld”
In terms of legal service design, the Project Lab concept presents some interesting possibilities.
Virtual collaboration: Once a team is well established, perhaps the need for physical co-location could be reduced or eliminated and moved into a virtual realm.
Service extension/bundling: an extension of the traditional law firm offering to include not just legal advice but legal project management.
Legal Agile: Rapid spin up and deployment of legal project scrum teams in iterative sprints to drive the biggest customer value in the shortest possible time and cost.
Monetisation: co-design of a specialist legal process between client and law firm which could be on-sold to other client firms with similar business or legal issues - the “collaboration strategy” as envisioned by Richard Susskind in 2013.
Multi-disciplinary service: creation of a new breed of multi-disciplinary service firm. Traditional law’s answer to the Big 4?
The potential for law firms to optimise process is exponential but requires the right mindset, buy-in, time and skill. And accelerating the process by which lawyers gain meaningful insight into their client’s organisations is an achievable Utopia for both lawyers and clients.
Many thanks to Janders Dean, my fellow Process jammers, and Co-squared for the opportunity to participate in this awesome event.
Progress is the realization of Utopias
Read more about the Legal Service Design Jam Sydney and ‘How jam can reinvent the future of law’
And for more about the Jam’s designs:
1Susskind, R (2013) Tomorrow’s Lawyers OUP, p. 19