Quality service, not price, rankings, or size, is what will differentiate successful law from from those that merely survive the 2020s.
Delivering the best quality legal services is a sincere aspiration of almost every law firm. For most fof them, however, the word quality is little more than a slogan on their websites.
This is the first of a series of sixteen articles that will explore the relevance and, for some law firms the existential importance, of W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points, especially for small and midsize law firms.
In today's increasingly competitive legal landscape, small and midsize law firms face a multitude of challenges, including technological advancements, changing client expectations, and market disruptions caused by the growing number of alternative legal service providers. These firms are under pressure to deliver superior client services while maintaining efficient operations and managing costs. Deming's Fourteen Points can provide the much-needed strategic direction, intellectual framework, and service delivery structures to not only survive but also thrive in this dynamic environment.
Deming's philosophy emphasizes continuous improvement, fostering an environment of trust and mutual respect, and replacing short-term goals with long-term strategies. These principles are particularly crucial for small and midsize law firms that may lack the extensive resources of their larger counterparts but still need to compete on the same fierce playing field. By focusing on improving their processes, law firms can deliver better quality services, increase client satisfaction, and present a compelling case for why a sophisticated consumer of legal services should select their firm over a bigger, better-known compeitor. A culture of openness and teamwork can lead to innovative solutions to challenges and help attract and retain top talent.
Moreover, the drive towards technological adoption in the legal sector has made Deming's principles even more relevant. Law firms are increasingly reliant on technology for case management, document review, and client communications. By following Deming's points, firms can ensure they implement these tools in a manner that genuinely adds value and improves their service rather than creating additional complications. In essence, Deming's Fourteen Points offer a timeless roadmap for law firms to navigate the complexities of the contemporary legal sector and build sustainable, client-focused businesses.
The Fourteen Points, in summary, are:
1. Create Constancy of Purpose for Improving Products and Services: For a law firm, maintaining a consistent goal means prioritizing client satisfaction through exceptional legal service. This vision helps in creating long-term strategies and encourages continuous improvement.
2. Adopt the New Philosophy: Deming advocated for a cultural shift towards quality. Law firms can adopt this philosophy by embracing innovation, prioritizing client needs, and maintaining an ethical business practice.
3. Cease Dependence on Inspection: Rather than relying on after-the-fact reviews to identify quality issues, law firms should strive to improve their processes to identify the causes of mistakes and eliminate those causes altogether. This proactive approach enhances efficiency and service quality. Most importantly, it reduces rework -- the otherwise chargeable fee-earner time needed to fix mistakes that could have been avoided, and which cannot be billed.
4. End the Practice of Awarding Business Based on Price: Instead of choosing external vendors based on price, Deming advises selecting partners that prioritize quality. For law firms, this might mean choosing expert witnesses, investigators, or software vendors with a proven record of excellence.
5. Improve Constantly and Forever the System of Production and Service: Continuous improvement is key. Law firms should regularly review and update their legal procedures, technology, and client service protocols to ensure they are offering the best possible service.
6. Institute Training: Deming emphasized the importance of education and self-improvement. Law firms should provide ongoing training for their employees to keep up-to-date with the latest legal developments, technologies, and best practices.
7. Institute Leadership: Strong leadership helps law firms adapt to changes, maintain staff morale, and ensure the firm's goals are met. Leaders should strive to mentor their staff, support their professional growth, and guide the firm’s strategic direction.
8. Drive out Fear: A positive, open, and communicative work environment helps to increase productivity and morale. Law firms should encourage a culture where employees feel safe to express their ideas and concerns without fear of retribution.
9. Break Down Barriers Between Departments: Law firms often operate in silo-like teams specialized in specific legal areas. However, cooperation and communication across these departments are crucial for the overall success of the firm.
10. Eliminate Slogans, Exhortations, and Targets for the Workforce: Deming warned against setting unrealistic goals and using vague slogans. Instead, law firms should provide clear objectives and actionable plans for their employees.
11. Eliminate Numerical Quotas: Rather than focusing on quantitative measures like billable hours or financial measurements as indicators of performance, law firms should use these numbers as diagnostic indicators, which can often detect a potential problem long before it becomes a crisis. Llaw firms should prioritize qualitative outcomes.
12. Remove Barriers to Pride of Workmanship: Every employee in a law firm, from partners to paralegals, should take pride in their work. Law firms should recognize the efforts of their staff and create an environment that values high-quality work.
13. Encourage Education and Self-Improvement for Everyone: Continuous learning is vital in the ever-changing field of law. Law firms should foster an environment of lifelong learning for everyone -- from the most senior partner to the most junior staff member -- and should commit significant resources for personal and professional development.
14. Take Action to Accomplish the Transformation: To fully adopt Deming's philosophy, law firms must be proactive. This could involve hiring a consultant to help introduce quality management concepts and methods, redesigning working procedures, or even working to change the firm’s culture from one in which mistakes are covered up to one in which they are valued as opportunities for permanent improvement.
W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points provide a framework for sustained growth, improved quality, and better client service. Their successful implementation will require commitment, leadership, and an ongoing dedication to improvement. The law firms that integrate these principles into their daily operations will be well-positioned for future success in the ever-evolving legal landscape.
To learn more about the Fourteen Points, consult W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, (Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1982). Future posts in the Walker Clark World View blog, will examine the strategic relevance and practical application of each of the Fourteen Points to law firm operations and management.
Our next post: Constancy of Purpose.