Extinction or Evolution — Pass on Processes
There are notions that business processes considered state-of-the-art almost 30 years ago, such as Six Sigma (1986) and Lean Management (1988) along with project management, which has been around since the earth cooled and deemed “modern” in 1950, might help jump-start law firms into this century and maybe even take them into the future.
This thinking seems predicated on the success of other professional disciplines, such as accounting and consulting that retooled in the early 1990s by adopting facets of these types of business mindsets. Now these processes, like anything three decades old, are showing their age.
Furthermore, they focus primarily on “doing more with less” rather than “providing quality more efficiently” which is what most law firm clients want. Also, adopting these dated processes now only goes to prove that many law firms are fiercely behind the times.
Some of us who were in management positions in businesses outside of law in the late eighties and early nineties adopted only those process pieces that were strictly applicable to our needs and rooted in common sense. Some of these factors are noted below along with proven business practices:
- Objectives, strategies and tactics must be communicated clearly and deliverable on an expected timeline
- Consider money finite but what you do with it to be infinite; know exactly where your budget stands at all times
- Manage different people differently: nurture those get it, release those who don’t and won’t, and take time to find the very best new people – they are always worth the wait – and hire them into positions where they will flourish
- Invest in infrastructure, including technology and systems so that people can focus on their jobs rather than on their tools
- Execute the plan and be prepared for workarounds when the unexpected happens – it always does
- Be organized, keep your eye on the overall objective and remain resolute
- Expect to deliver on schedule and on budget
These pieces of common sense business practice were among tactics helpful to me when leading turnarounds of divisions within two companies in 1988 and 1995. While both turnarounds came in ahead of schedule and under budget, they were tough to the point of blood, sweat and tears, and being a change agent in resistant environments didn’t make me particularly popular. But rewards for all involved came quickly. Both divisions turned profits – the 1988 venture in six months and the 1995 turnaround in 19 months – and both continue to attract terrific people and thrive.
All to say that that if we are to learn anything from the past, wouldn’t it make better sense to bring in professional turnaround management with hands-on experience executing these types of changes in the current business environment and get out of their way long enough for them to retool firms to bring them up to date?
Undertaking this type of fast-forward evolution will, in some cases, be trial-by-fire but the end result will make all the difference as to whether law firms will continue to exist in some way, shape or form in 30 years’ time or if they will be relics of the past singing the company song.
Heather Suttie is a legal marketing and business development consultant. She works with a range of law firms and legal service providers — Global to Solo, BigLaw to NewLaw. Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or www.heathersuttie.ca.