I keep using the term “structured dialogue” to describe an important piece of my Service Delivery Review. I want to dig into what I mean.

I believe law departments, law firms, and individual legal professionals have an ethical obligation to do things Better, Faster, Cheaper wherever possible regardless of the economic incentives. But the trouble with incentives is that they work.

As businesses, law firms really do need to concern themselves with the return on investments in process improvement, training, or technology. If we do X, will we get more business? Will our profits increase? While it is relatively easy to make the case as to how a particular innovation might improve quality or reduce labor, it is less straight forward to demonstrate that clients will actually care. And clients are a rather important piece of the economic equation.

Clients are right to frequently give their firms low marks on cost-consciousness and innovation (see chart above from George Beaton). I am among those in-house counsel who have exhorted law firms to be more cost-effective, efficient, tech savvy, etc. But where I depart from many, but not all, of my former colleagues is that I recognize that adjectives like “innovative” and “efficient” are vague. Nebulous mandates to ‘do better’ fail to offer much in the way of concrete guidance.

If a law firm were suddenly to get 10% more efficient, would their clients notice? Would their clients reward them with more business? Or would their clients continue to demand the same discounts and cut invoices by the same amount? I don’t have the answers. But the problem is that no one else does either. This inability to project ROI is an obstacle to making the business case for investments in process and technology.

The presumptions against law firm efficiency are so ingrained that it surely not enough for law firms to simply say they are efficient (which all of them already do). And it probably isn’t even enough to be efficient (few are). It is likely necessary for them to prove they are getting more efficient. But how?

Law departments and their core law firms should engage in structured dialogue about what the efficient delivery of legal services looks like. This starts with an honest mapping of the value stream. Identification of areas needing improvement should be followed by prioritization and collective decisions about deliverables, timelines, and measurement. This should be a true dialogue in which both sides are accountable for achieving shared goals. Just as law firms can do better at delivering legal services, law departments can do better at sharing information and integrating their law firms into the client’s legal supply chain. System efficiency, rather than individual efficiency, should be the overarching objective.

Structured dialogue should be an iterative process focused on continuous improvement, not a discrete project. Previous initiatives serve as the baseline for subsequent discussions. Where have we improved? What difference did it make? What lessons did we learn and how can those lessons be applied in selecting new priorities and establishing new targets?< Law firms should be more than just participants, they should stand to gain from demonstrably improving their value proposition and fulfilling their commitments to better serve their clients. This may mean more work. This may mean higher rates. This may mean less pushback on invoices resulting in higher realizations and profits. Law firms must invest real resources to improve service delivery. As businesses, they should see a return on those investments. To be more concrete, below is some output from my Service Delivery Review. These are exemplar findings that seek to mesh what the firm is doing with the client’s priorities. (Click to enlarge)
Importantly, these findings are intended to be a starting point for dialogue. Once the dialogue is concluded, commitments, timelines, measurement, and deliverables will all be memorialized. Clear expectations follow informed, structured dialogue.

Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

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Photo of Casey Flaherty Casey Flaherty

I am the co-founder and chief strategy officer at LexFusion, the go-to-market collective of legal innovation companies (tech and services). I am also the co-founder of Procertas (competency-based tech training). I was a BigLaw litigator and then in-house counsel who went into…

I am the co-founder and chief strategy officer at LexFusion, the go-to-market collective of legal innovation companies (tech and services). I am also the co-founder of Procertas (competency-based tech training). I was a BigLaw litigator and then in-house counsel who went into legal operations consulting before one of my BigLaw consulting clients hired me full-time to help them build the biggest and best legal project management team in world. A Lean Six Sigma black belt, I tend to think in terms of scalable systems that properly leverage people through process and technology. I am deeply experienced in legal operations, legal tech, strategic sourcing, process improvement, systems re-engineering, and value storytelling, in addition to spending over a decade in the legal trenches as a practitioner. I’ve long served  as a mesh point between law departments and law firms to promote structured dialogue that fosters deep supplier relationships (read about that here). I am a regular writer and speaker on practical legal innovation.