Legal trends

Becoming a Lean Law Firm: Get Into the Mindset

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It’s More About Behavior Change Than Understanding Technology

How long have you been putting it off? You know what I’m talking about: figuring out how you can reduce overhead and become more lean. Do you cringe at the thought of adapting to yet another disappointing legal practice management tool? What if I told you you could cut your overhead in half without hurting production? Would that be enough of a motivation?

Come On In, The Water’s Fine

If you’re serious about sticking a toe into the lean waters – automating tasks, reducing overhead, becoming more efficient — then you have to know:

  1. It’s up to you to lead the firm in the right direction,
  2. The process is a marathon, not a sprint, and
  3. It’s a team effort – one person can not do it alone. (Unless you’re a solo practitioner. Then, of course, you can.)

Let’s say you’re the senior attorney in a small law firm. You can see the writing on the wall: Rates are being squeezed, legal budgets slashed and more and more often, your clients are Googling their first legal questions instead of asking you. If you can’t cut costs, you may lose partners and clients. Although it sounds drastic, you may need to become a lean lawyer to save your law firm. Remember how fast the music industry changed? That can happen to law.

Lead By Example

Becoming lean means you will have to do more tasks yourself and rely less on others. This entails some real changes in behavior that will initially feel uncomfortable. I have been through this myself. The key is to dive in and commit.

The best analogy I can give is pumping your own gas. Remember when there used to be people to pump your gas for you? Well, unless you live in Oregon or New Jersey, you’ve been pumping it yourself for decades. Sure, at first it felt strange, but now you don’t think twice about it.

This is how it’s going to feel to make your practice lean. Let’s take legal timekeeping and billing, for example. You will enter your time just once – on a computer, not on a yellow pad. It is not beneath you to do this. Once your time is in, you will not need an assistant to create a draft or final invoice, your software will facilitate these tasks for you. The invoice needs no postage stamp: you will email it. This means that, instead of three weeks of administration to get the invoice to your client, you can do it on the first of the month (or the day after you win the case). You will also receive payment from most of your clients through bank-to-bank transfer authorized directly from the invoice.

Physics fact: getting your bill to your client in a timely manner speeds up payment.

You Are the Tortoise

All of this lean thinking, automation and leading your practice fearlessly into the realm of 21st Century uber-productivity does not have to happen overnight. Trying to do it all at once would be overwhelming, stressful and counterproductive.

What if you took on one significant workflow each quarter to change course (first timekeeping, then scheduling, then e-mail and document management) – let’s say you turn your ship 10 degrees each month. Within a year and a half, you’ve made a 180-degree turn. Slow and steady…

Hang Together

One person cannot make a lean law firm. It is entirely a team effort. Although you may be the leader, you don’t have to do all the work to get your practice moving in the right direction. Empower someone in your firm to lead the process. Good ideas can come from anyone and typically, the best ideas come from the people who are in the weeds, doing the inefficient grunt work. This may be your office manager, a secretary or an associate. If you empower them, they can get excited and own the process, making them more valuable to the practice. Additionally, making them part of the process helps facilitate the lean culture and the macro behavior change that’s going to be central to its success.

Getting Started

If all of this sounds great in theory but you still don’t know where to begin, give me a call or shoot me an email. I started LeanLaw with the mission that every lawyer should have a lean practice. We stand ready to help your solo practice or small firm get lean.

Join the LeanLaw Movement!

Gary Allen, Founder and Practicing Attorney