Is your law firm an integrated professional business or a collection of fiefdoms?
This is the tenth in 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.
W. Edwards Deming’s ninth point in his famed Fourteen Points of Total Quality Management stresses a vital, yet often overlooked, aspect of organizational effectiveness: "Break down barriers between departments." As the practice of law becomes more complex and competitive, with greater challenges to sustainable profitability, this point is more important than ever before, even among smaller firms.
With the growing competitive advantages that clients perceive in specialization in legal servies, the tendency to operate in silos becomes almost natural, even in smaller firms. While this approach may appear to streamline tasks within specialized units, it often leads to a lack of synergy across the organization, hampering overall effectiveness and growth. In the context of law firms, where various departments such as litigation, corporate, intellectual property, and administrative support often work independently, breaking down these barriers is essential for delivering comprehensive, client-centric services.
Why Break Down Departmental Barriers?
We have observed three clear benefits in law firms that have improved communication and collaboration across traditional practice-area boundaries:
1. Enhanced Innovation: Cross-departmental collaboration can lead to a pooling of diverse ideas and expertise, fostering innovation. For instance, a tech team's insights can significantly improve a marketing department's digital campaigns.
2. Efficiency in Problem-Solving: When lawyers and practice groups work in isolation, problem-solving is often limited to the scope of their own expertise. By collaborating, departments can leverage each other's strengths, leading to more efficient and effective solutions.
3. Improved Employee Morale and Engagement: Associates who engage with colleagues from different departments often report higher job satisfaction and are more likely to remain in the firm. This not only breaks monotony, but also allows them to appreciate the broader impact of their work and gain a broader, more insightful understanding of the client's business, needs, and expectatations.
When barriers between practice groups and departments dissolve, organizations can expect a significant improvement in their operational efficiency. There's a clear alignment in goals, leading to a more cohesive approach to business challenges. Moreover, the infusion of diverse perspectives can spark innovative solutions that might not emerge within the confines of a single department.
Deming's ninth point, while simple in its essence, demands a strategic shift in organizational culture. By embracing this principle, firms can unlock a wealth of benefits, from enhanced innovation and problem-solving capabilities to improved employee satisfaction and engagement. It is a major step along the path towards a more adaptive, resilient, and ultimately successful law firm.
Our next post: Eliminate Slogans and Exhortations.
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.