Thomas Eakins, Oarsmen on the Schuylkill (1874)

Most law firms talk a lot about their "professional quality."

Most of them also unwittingly obstruct it.

W. Edwards Deming's Twelfth Point of quality management, "Remove Barriers to Pride of Workmanship," is essential for law firms that honestly want to excel in an increasingly competitive and demanding legal landscape. By identifying and dismantling the barriers that prevent legal professionals from taking pride in their work, law firms can unlock a higher level of employee satisfaction and commitment, leading to superior service, client satisfaction, and overall firm success.

This is the thirteenth in a series of sixteen articles that 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.

Understanding Deming's Twelfth Point

Employees should take pride in their work. In a law firm, this translates to lawyers and staff feeling a genuine sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in their roles. However, in law firms as in any other business, organizational barriers often impede this sense of pride, affecting motivation, productivity, and ultimately, the quality of legal services.

Identifying Barriers in Law Firms

  1. Excessive Workloads: Unrealistic billable hours or case loads can lead to burnout, making it difficult for lawyers to take pride in their work.

  2. Lack of Recognition: If a firm fails to acknowledge the hard work and successes of its lawyers and staff, it can lead to a decline in morale.

  3. Inadequate Resources or Support: Without the necessary tools, training, or administrative support, legal professionals may struggle to perform to the best of their abilities.

  4. Hierarchical Constraints: Overly rigid structures can stifle creativity and initiative, leaving lawyers feeling undervalued and disengaged.

Strategies for Removing Barriers

  1. Balanced Workloads: Law firms should strive for workload management that challenges yet does not overwhelm their staff. This can be achieved through efficient resource allocation and realistic goal setting.

  2. Recognition and Feedback: Regular, meaningful recognition of employees' efforts and achievements fosters a sense of accomplishment. Constructive feedback, rather than criticism, can also boost morale.

  3. Providing Adequate Resources: Investing in the latest legal technologies, ongoing training, and efficient administrative support can empower lawyers to perform at their best.

  4. Encouraging Autonomy and Creativity: Fostering an environment where lawyers have the freedom to approach cases creatively and make certain decisions autonomously can enhance their sense of ownership and pride in their work.

  5. Promoting a Collaborative Culture: A culture that values collaboration over competition can create a more supportive and engaging work environment.

  6. Transparent Career Pathways: Clear, merit-based pathways for career advancement can motivate lawyers to strive for excellence.

  7. Involving Employees in Decision-Making: Encouraging lawyers and staff to contribute ideas and be part of decision-making processes can increase their investment in the firm's success.

The Impact on Law Firms

  1. Improved Quality of Service: When lawyers take pride in their work, they are more likely to be thorough, innovative, and committed to excellence, leading to higher quality legal services.

  2. Enhanced Reputation: Law firms that are known for their dedicated and satisfied workforce naturally attract more clients and top talent.

  3. Increased Productivity: A motivated employee is often a productive one. Removing barriers to pride of workmanship can lead to enhanced efficiency and output.

  4. Reduced Turnover: A workplace where professionals feel valued and proud of their work is likely to experience lower turnover rates.

  5. Client Satisfaction: Satisfied and engaged lawyers are more likely to build strong, trust-based relationships with clients, enhancing client retention and referrals.

Long-Term Implications

By implementing Deming’s 12th principle, law firms are not just enhancing their current operational efficiency; they are investing in their long-term viability. The legal industry, with its inherent pressures and complexities, can greatly benefit from fostering an environment where pride in workmanship is a central tenet. This approach not only elevates the individual performances of lawyers and staff but also enhances the collective stature and success of the firm.

Our next post: Invest in Professional Development

Norman Clark


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.  

The members of Walker Clark have been guiding law firms, corporate law departments, and other legal services organizations to introduce quality management since the 1990s. For more information about how we can help you integrate the Fourteen Points into a strategy for sustainable success in quality management in your organization, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.