How to Improve Workflow for Increased Profitability in the Legal World

How to Improve Workflow for Increased Profitability in the Legal World

What happens when a small law firm in Philadelphia decides to go out on a marketing campaign – and succeeds? How can it manage to handle the new workload? The answer lies in SIPOC. Read more about it in this article.

Written by Jerry Rosenthal, a Tefen Professional Associate

A pile of books

A small law firm in Philadelphia, staffed by 10 lawyers, paralegals, and administrative assistants, was looking for ways to expand the practice. They decided to pursue a very focused niche in the marketplace using targeted advertising. Saying that their marketing campaign was successful would be an understatement: the responses to it exceeded their expectations, and they were clearly unprepared to handle the surge of requests for consultations, let alone actually provide legal services with the same level of support and quality client-focused attention, normally delivered by the firm.

A nice problem to have in the short term, but one that must be addressed very quickly to avoid the negative consequences of too much success (and overload that is difficult to manage). What could the firm do to handle the new potential customer volume, without incurring additional staffing costs? Something had to change. What was the right lever to pull? Looking at the firm’s internal workflow process, from what happens when a call from a new potential client was the starting point. Facilitated by experts from the world of Operational-Commercial Excellence, several ideally suited tools were quickly deployed to resolve the firm’s current bottleneck and to ensure its continued success.

First: Determine client expectations and specifications

Whether you are conscious of it or not, most everything in life has some type of specification: what type of coffee would you like? What kind of gasoline do you put into your vehicle? How much starch do you want the dry cleaner to use? How much ice do you like in your drink? How do you like your steak prepared? etc. So, it is reasonable to think that the same would apply to legal services: who in the firm is going to do what, how much time will it take, and what will it cost? Once you have some general ideas about your client's specifications, the next step or tool to consider is a SIPOC.

Second: The SIPOC Tool

SIPOC stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer. What is this and how does it apply to the practice of law? SIPOC is a common acronym used in manufacturing and commercial operations. Its main goal is to help the legal firm understand what the customer wants and to determine what the client is willing to pay for.

The SIPOC tool is also used to review what is success from a client viewpoint: i.e., what process is the firm using in order to achieve what the client wants, what things are needed for that process, and where do these things originate [Note: "Customers" in the legal realms are "Clients", and the concept applies to the relationship between the firm and the client (can include business units/legal departments)].

A SIPOC becomes the basis of a simple process map that will lead to the development of value stream maps. These maps are the keys to identifying critical opportunities, that will add to the client's experience, thus creating a "win-win situation" for the firm as well as the client. And as we all know, it is cheaper to keep a client than finding new ones. So first, let’s go into a little more detail on the simple, but very useful tool known as SIPOC.

Working through the SIPOC:

Business Justification for Using SIPOC to Gain Profitability*Business Justification for Using SIPOC to Gain Profitability

 

  • Supplier: In this case, Clients. Without clients bringing in business, there is no reason for existence (See above)
  • Inputs: What is needed (information, documentation, knowledge of legal issues/case law, etc.) to be able to start the process?
  • Process: What is the Process undertaken, that the client is paying for,thatwouldhelpachieving the desired output?
    • Keep it simple: What are the 5-7 high-level steps needed to achieve the desired output?
  • Output: What is it that the Supplier (also Client in this case) is looking to receive?
  • Clients: No explanation needed - without clients, there is no reason for existence

And back to that law firm in Philadelphia, what happened and how did it capitalize (by using a SIPOC) on increasing not only revenue, but profitability?

In order to understand how much “success” has been achieved when processes change, you have to have a baseline to measure against. Additionally, the firm needs to focus on the critical few metrics that truly measure success in terms of what you want to achieve. In this case, our focus was on developing 3-5 critical measurements that could be presented in a one-page format.

Here are the metrics that the firm used, and the improvement results:

  • Requests received for consultations per day (Average # through phone calls or website)
    • Before marketing campaign: 3-4 per day
    • After marketing campaign: 9-12 per day  
  • Closure Rate (# of free consultations/# paid engagements)
    • Before marketing campaign: <5%
    • After marketing campaign: 5-8%
  • Time to Close (Average # of days between free consultation to payment of retainer)
    • Before marketing campaign: 12 days
    • After marketing campaign: 6 days
  • Time to onboard a new client (duration of time between payment of initial retainer to detailed gathering of case-critical information)
    • Before marketing campaign: 8-10 days
    • After marketing campaign: 4-5 days

It is important to note that improvement was seen in all areas:
For the scope of this work, targets were not set (e.g. achieve a 20% improvement in time to close; in reality, the firm did much better). Setting target goals requires using other tools that would involve activities like “Voice of The Customer”, to better understand what is it that the client wants and is willing to pay for.
For example, some clients might be willing to pay more for faster service (immediate access to their attorney with no or minimal wait time). Aligning to customer wants is beyond the scope of this case study and will be addressed in a future writing.
To learn more about applying lean methodology in your law firm to save precious time, improve efficiencies and ultimately generate higher margins, contact Tefen: www.tefen.com

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Adrienne Pelleg

Director at Tefen USA

Strategy, Life Sciences, Organizational Effectiveness and Change Management Expert

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