Bringing Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement Disciplines Into Legal Services: A CCCA Spring Conference Workshop

CCCA logo

These are notes from a workshop by Patricia Olah and Andrew Terrett of BLG Adroit from Borden Ladner Gervais, on April 15, 2013 at the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association National Spring Conference 2013 in Toronto. Note: these are my selected notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own and not the speakers’.

In this workshop, the speakers gave a brief introductory lecture about Six Sigma and then had participants work through a scenario. These notes are from the introductory lecture only.

Workshop 103 – Process Improvement: Bringing Lean Six Sigma Disciplines into Legal Services

Patricia Olah, National Co-Leader, BLG Adroit & National Lean Project Management Counsel, BLG, Montreal
Andrew Terrett, National Co-Leader, BLG Adroit & National Director of Knowledge Management, BLG, Toronto

Process improvement is different than project management. Seyfarth Shaw LLP got into this with Dupont as well as large manufacturing companies. BLG saw an opportunity to get into this.

Project management

  • initiate, plan, execute, control and close the work
  • knowing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, by whom

Process improvement

  • delivering value in a more efficient way while delivering his quality services
  • focuses on the client – seeking out and listening to the “voice of the client”

Origins of process improvement – lean and six sigma

  • lean production piloted at Toyota
    • reducing “waste” – something that creates no value
    • doing more with less but still coming close to giving the customer what they want
  • Six Sigma started at Motorola

Lean Process Improvement – look at what provides client satisfaction and will provide value

  • may vary by clients
  • works between the law firm and client, and also between legal counsel and internal business unit clients



  • Define – What does the client want/what is the problem?
  • Measure – How will we work with the client to get from A to Z?
  • Analyze – How can we improve the current workflow process?
    • Are there areas where efficiency gains be made?
  • Improve – create a new process map
    • Using all the good thinking that has been done
    • Prioritize and implement a different plan
    • Use the map to keep the process in control – need to find ways of keeping people “on map”
  • Control – develop a control plan

Voice of the client

  • Does the work take too long?
  • Does it cost too much?
  • Is there adequate communication between the firm and the client?

Measure – what we do today

  • 3 versions – “as we think it is”, “as it really is” and “how it should be”
  • decompose work into component work, estimate time for each task.

Lawyers have often been doing the work for 30 years, know it cold, but have never documented the process. The process map can be used with associates to help them understand.

Analyze – ask a lot of questions, look for efficiency improvement opportunities

The 8 Wastes – you can’t eliminate waste if you don’t know what it looks like

  • Defects – mistakes that require re-work
  • Overproduction – over-lawyering (e.g. delivering a more detailed report than the client needs or wants)
  • Waiting – too many steps to be completed before the next step is ready to occur
  • Transportation – too many touches – too many people are touching the document
  • Inventory – build-up of backlog in the process
  • Motion – duplication of effort – process mapping helps identify this – counsel often does not know what paralegals are doing versus associates – often the same work
  • Overprocessing – unnecessary sign-offs and approves
  • Skills and intellect – using the skill levels of the person at the lowest level who can do the work

Improve: Future State Process Mapping

  • Run a “Kaizen” session (Japanese term for continuous improvement)
  • Looking for ways to standardize, create greater efficiency
  • Ideally do with clients – takes a certain amount of trust to have this conversation
  • Do not jump to solutions – easy to see perceived solutions early on – they ask people to hold the ideas for the Kaizen session
  • Eliminating tasks, changing task flow, look at a sub-process and automate it such as with document assembly, re-delegation of work, general re-mix of work
  • Come out with a “future state” map [i.e. a detailed chart or flow-chart], showing how the work will be done
  • 10 key questions to ask:
    • What steps & activities are typically included in this process?
    • Which steps & activities does the client value most highly?
    • Which steps & activities do NOT add value & could be eliminated?
    • Could you standardize the process?
    • Coul you streamline the process?
    • Coud you reduce or eliminate repetition?
    • Could you reduce or eliminate bottlenecks?
    • Could you improve communication within the team and/or with Clients?
    • Could you reduce cost by delegating some tasks to junior staff who bill at a lower rate?
    • Could you reduce cost by “delegating UP” to senior staff who can accomplish a task more quickly at a total lower cost?
  • Control plan should be data driven
    • What data will you need to track once the new process is implemented?
      • Use of phase/task codes in the content management system (CMS)
      • Budget/manager reports
    • Where can the data be captured
    • Who should monitor the data

Summary: expected benefits

  • better collaboration between Clients and Firm
  • has allowed them to focus on true value
  • has helped them with development of delivery and AFA
  • law firms can put together much more meaningful AFAs and pricing

BLG Adroit does this service free for clients; they believe this is the way of the future and how legal service will be delivered.




  1. Melissa LaFlair

    Thanks for the summary Connie. All of your CCCA Spring Conference posts have been great.

    Personally I think the purported distinction between legal project management (LPM) and lean six sigma (Lean) that many refer to is really based on a difference in emphasis as the underlying basic concepts of stakeholder/client focus, measuring activity versus an identified baseline and continuous process improvement are consistent between the two.

    Any approach that encompasses these concepts is long overdue in the legal profession, for the sake of the laywers delivering the services and for the clients receiving them. After all, what lawyer doesn’t want to focus on interesting, value-added work and be appreciated for the hard work and knowledge that they bring to the table? What client doesn’t want their problems addressed as effectively and efficiently as possible? Both LPM and Lean generate these lawyer and client oriented results. A win-win outcome if you ask me.