Jason McQuillen is a founder and head of managed legal services at Radiant Law, a law firm head quartered in London specialising in commercial contracts. LMJ spoke to him about the benefits and challenges of introducing lean in to the legal world and how the organisation plans to keep using it in the future.
LMJ: How do lean ideas relate to law and the practice of law professionally?
Jason McQuillen: To answer that question, it’s useful to start with a view of what lawyers actually do on a day to day basis. Perhaps the most useful framework is that of Jeff Carr, who sees four buckets of lawyerly activity:
1: Advocacy; representing the client’s interests externally (eg. negotiation or litigation with another party)
2: Counselling; advising the client and making recommendations internally (eg. to take or avoid taking a certain course of action)
3. Content; providing information and know how on legal issues (eg. what the law says and how this can be captured in a legal document)
4. Process; moving content around to create a legal product of some kind to meet the client’s need
We think of advocacy and counselling collectively as making judgement calls. This is usually where the client perceives the greatest value and it’s something lawyers typically do well. Content, on the other hand, is considered low value and it’s widely thought that it will one day be free (or very close to it). Process is something that lawyers are notoriously bad at and, considering it constitutes such a big part of what we do, represents the greatest opportunity for improvement. So it make sense that the legal industry looks to lean to find ways to unlock value for the client.
LMJ: How does lean relate to commercial contracts?
JM: It is rare that lawyers sit down and analyse their end to end processes, such as the process for producing a contract. But there are real advantages in doing so.
Like any other process, producing a contract contains a number of steps that can generally be organised into a beginning, a middle and an end. Of course there are variations, but it may look something like: (beginning) receiving client instructions and understanding objectives; (middle) producing document drafts and negotiating them with the other party; and (end) obtaining signature, extracting contract data and briefing the contract owner or manager.
By shining the light of lean principles onto the contracting process, we can identify duplicated steps and other waste that would otherwise have ended up on the client bill (at least where a client is paying their lawyer by the hour).
At Radiant, we use lean not only in our high volume management legal services business, but also in our more bespoke major transactions business. We critically analyse, optimise and to the extent appropriate, standardise our processes, applying various degrees and tiers of legal judgement depending on the complexity of the issue. Of course we don’t always get it right first time and, consistent with LSS, we are always seeking to improve our process.
LMJ: Where did you come across lean and why did you take up with it?
JM: When we founded Radiant Law in 2011, we set out to deliver value to clients in ways that traditional law firms could not, or would not, do. The first thing we did was to ditch the billable hour, which had a transformational effect on the way our lawyers approached tasks and looked at topics like business improvement. Charging on a fixed fee basis provided the right incentive to improve, to do things more efficiently, and ensure you are doing the right tasks in the right way. So there was always a natural appeal of lean, and we adopted a number of its principles from the beginning.
In 2014 I completed a LSS green belt course and since then have gone about ingraining lean into the Radiant way in a more deliberate and considered way. We are working with one of the UK’s leading providers of LSS training to develop a curriculum for all our staff; understanding the key principles of lean will be as important for our lawyers as knowing the principles of, say, termination of contract.
Clients are no longer willing to wait (and pay) as matters are passed down from partner, to senior associate, to associate, to trainee – and then back up again. Clients do not want to pay for the wheel to be reinvented and for junior lawyers to be trained on the job. Clients want a defined process and a commitment to continuous improvement to drive quality improvements and cost savings, and this needs to be understood by the lawyers as well as management. As an industry, law needs to stop just throwing people at the problem.
LMJ: What challenges did you have adapting to lean?
JM: One of the biggest challenges for a lawyer using lean is to think of reviewing a contract, or whatever the task is, as a process and approaching it in a standardised manner. This does not mean that you leave your expertise and judgement at the door, it means that you go through the steps in the process, be proactive rather than reactive. We are trying to take some of the art out of being a lawyer and look at it more methodically. In this way, LSS is also a valuable risk minimisation tool for legal departments, and a GC can confidently state that identified steps will have been addressed every time.
LMJ: You’ve mentioned value to the customer- what are the causes for this?
JM: Standardisation and efficiency in process generally lead to more predictable and competitive legal fees, but this far from the only advantage of applying lean. Standardisation also drives risk out of the business. Where our clients are in sales mode, more efficient contracting brings revenue through the door quicker. This is real, measurable, above the line, value for clients.
LMJ: Are there any changes you had to make to lean ideas to fit into your specific situation?
JM: LSS is a body of tools that need to be applied intelligently to a problem. Law is no different. How, when and to what degree to import the judgement calls piece into our process is something we think about every day. We have to ensure that our processes always allow for proper legal judgement to be applied, and always to look for potentially bespoke situations. With every bespoke situation, we create an opportunity to improve our process.
LMJ: Do you have future specific ideas for Radiant Law and their lean transformation?
JM: We are being asked by a number of our clients to assist them with mapping their own processes as part of performance improvement programmes. We expect this trend to continue and more in the legal industry recognise the value that lean can deliver.