As outlined in an article in today's on-line edition of The Lawyer, the British firm Addleshaw Goddard is taking a closer look at its internal work processes to make them less expensive and more efficient for clients. Under the direction of the firm's head of client delivery, Andrew Chamberlain, the people in Addleshaws have mapped the internal processes by which it delivers legal services in 46 service lines.
Quoted in The Lawyer, Chamberlain observed:
The starting point was that the legal market is broken, clients aren't happy and haven't been for years and they want greater certainty and innovation around pricing. ...The economic crash was the final piece of the jigsaw to make a perfect storm.
Chamberlain's comment implicitly leads to a powerful point: A law firm cannot produce "greater certainty and innovation" when it does not understand how the work gets done inside its doors.
The article goes a little over the top in reporting that Addleshaws is the first law firm to do this. They aren't. My colleagues and I at Walker Clark LLC have been helping law firms to map internal processes in the delivery of legal services since the mid-1990s, primarily to improve quality assurance, client satisfaction, and profitability. Addleshaws does deserve credit, however, as one of the first major law firms to do so on such a large scale.
I also think that it is a little unfortunate that a law firm has to designate formally a "head of client delivery," as one would hope that this was already the responsibility of every lawyer in the firm.
These snipes aside, Addleshaws deserves congratulations and emulation. Their probing analysis of how the work gets done in a law firm is essential to achieving any serious improvements in client service and satisfaction. It is an essential element of a comprehensive approach to quality that is long overdue in the legal profession.
It also helps law firms solve the puzzle of how to delivery better and more sophisticated legal services at a lower price -- something that clients expect as a threshold qualification to compete for their work.
Efforts such as those that Andrew Chamberlain is leading at Addleshaw Goddard are not the latest management fad or fuzzy business school theory force-fitted into a professional services firm. When combined with an openness to change and commitment by senior leaders in the firm, these "exercises" usually produce dramatic short-term results and sustainable long-term improvements that partners can see and measure in their profit distributions, and that clients can see as a compelling competitive advantage.
In short, this stuff really works.