All law firms talk about "quality," but few can actually demonstrate it consistently. To ensure a significant return on investment, quality assurance must be planned and managed using supervision and documentation methods specific to each practice area. It must also incorporate the special needs and characteristics of risk management in legal practice.
With all the possible areas for improvement, even in well-managed firms, where should a law firm start to build a systematic, sustainable quality assurance system? We recommend that you begin with a quality assurance demonstration project.
A demonstration project is not an experiment or academic exercise.
It solves a real and substantial problem in your firm. In as little as 45 days, it also can produce permanent, sustainable improvements, including:
- significantly lower operating costs
- improved financial productivity of lawyers and other senior fee earners
- substantial reduction of rework, which does not generate revenue for the firm
- improved work capacity with little or no investment in new employees or equipment
- increased client satisfaction
- differentiating competitive advantages
the first step: select the right process to fix
"We have lots of things that need improvement. We can't fix them all at once. Where do we start?"
We ask our clients to consider seven factors when selecting the subject for a first quality assurance demonstration project. The process that is most suitable for a QA demonstration project will fit within most of these guidelines:
Does the process produce a significant legal product or service that is delivered to the client? Well-managed quality assurance in a substantive process – i.e., one that produces a legal product or service – will usually produce greater economic benefits than support or "back room" process.
Do relatively senior and relatively junior fee earners and staff participate in the process? To get the best long-term improvements in profitability, there must be someone to whom work can be delegated. Moreover, the greatest economic opportunities usually appear in work processes that involve fee earners and staff of different levels of experience and seniority.
Is the process relatively stable? If there have been major changes in leadership, staffing, or work procedures in the past 90 days, it may be too soon to apply quality assurance methods.Has there been a wide variation in performance over the past three to six months? Does the process seem to be out of control? Quality assurance methods work best with processes that have demonstrated relatively consistent performance over the past three to six months, even if it has been consistently poor performance.
Is the work process flexible enough to permit significant reorganization of responsibilities for the work? Some work processes in law firms are very strictly constrained by law, regulations, or enforceable standards of professional responsibility. The opportunities for delegation and reorganization of these processes, without incurring significantly greater risk, may be too limited to produce significant results.
Have there been significant problems in the past with errors in this work process? Do we spend a significant amount of time fixing mistakes either before or after we deliver a product or service to the client? There are several advantages to selecting an error-prone process for a QA demonstration project. First, a process that is not working well usually offers obvious opportunities for noticeable improvement. Moreover, the basic causes of the problems frequently are relatively minor factors that, once discovered and understood, can be quickly and inexpensively fixed. Second, the experience of a QA demonstration project provides insight and greater confidence in the ability of the firm to address other quality assurance problems that might be more complicated. Fixing mistakes after they happen is a strong indicator of the a process that needs attention.
When mistakes occur in the process, are they obvious and measurable? Measurement is an important part of quality assurance. The ability to identify and measure errors, quickly and as the mistakes occur, provides a simple, reliable way to measure progress. It helps to identify and control the causes of errors. Measurements also help the firm to move from after-the-fact inspection to more effective quality assurance procedures.
Do we have a culture in our firm that will view errors in this process as opportunities for improvement rather than reasons for retribution? For quality assurance to deliver worthwhile results, people must feel encouraged to report their own errors rather than hide them.
how Walker Clark can help
Walker Clark members have been facilitating quality assurance projects for law firms, corporate law departments, and government legal agencies for more than 20 years. We know how to help your team get the results your firm needs efficiently and with significant, sustainable results. With our help, most groups can complete a demonstration project in 45 to 60 days, and their firms can start observing measurable improvements shortly thereafter. Click here for more information about our quality assurance services.