7 Sources of Legal Ops Waste (That Lean Processes Can Fix)

Even in ordinary circumstance, Legal Operations is under pressure to find more efficient ways for in-house legal departments to do business.  The upheavals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have thrown that need into even starker relief.

In part one of this series, we explored why Lean Six Sigma practices are relevant to Legal Ops, and how the fundamental steps involved in applying them.  This time around, we’ll get a bit more granular, and reveal seven areas where waste and inefficiency can occur within a legal department.  The goal?  To help you create and refine a vision for your own optimal, high-efficiency end systems.

Like all the posts in this series, we’re drawing on the work of Brian McGovern, Master Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma, and our own General Manager, Workflow Solutions at Mitratech.

As he’d point out? When we’re contemplating “waste,” it’s important to understand that we’re not defining it from our own viewpoint.  Instead:

Lean thinking defines waste from the customer/client’s perspective.

What’s that mean?  That we’re removing waste in order to improve the deliverable your client is receiving, which breaks down as:

  • Delivering value from the customer’s viewpoint
  • Reducing total cycle time
  • Reducing cost (to them)
  • Improving process flow and efficiency

Meeting (and overcoming) TIM WOOD

TIM WOOD is a mnemonic/acronym, though if this “Tim Wood” were an actual person, we’re pretty certain he’d be a lot like the guy at left.  That person you’ve probably known who has a real penchant for letting money, time, and opportunity slip through his fingers without even realizing it.

And we’d like to insert the disclaimer here that all the Tim Woods we’ve ever known don’t fit this description in the least.

So…what does TIM WOOD stand for?

Transportation/Conveyance

In this case, we’re talking about any unnecessary movement of materials, products, or information.​  Examples of that in Legal Ops would include routing a document for nonessential approvals and processing, the use of paper-based versus electronic data transfer, having information change hands by word or e-mail, or simply having a generally poor document flow in place.

Beyond the waste involved, there’s the risk and exposure sloppy document-handing processes can create, particularly when it comes to client confidentiality concerns.

Inventory

This refers to any work-in-progress or process that’s in excess of what you’re required to produce work for the client.​ Legal Ops examples here consist of backlogs, pending requests, transactions queuing up, callers stuck on hold, making unnecessary copies, buying excessive supplies, paperwork waiting to be processed and filed, or e-mails idling in the inbox.

Motion

The needless movement of workers is a form of waste; in Legal Ops, this can include walking to deliver paperwork, spending time chasing down necessary information, clicking through multiple screens to get to the one that’s needed, making multiple trips to do the same job, searching for files that are located somewhere in data or physical storage, or switching between computer domains or drives.

Waiting

Any delay between the end of one process step/activity and the start of the next step/activity.  Legal Ops examples: When a process is halted because paperwork needs multiple approvals/signatures, or when any task, document, or process participant is waiting in a queue to be processed, or when work comes to a halt because necessary information or a decision is not available.

Overproduction

When production of service outputs or products goes beyond what’s needed for immediate use. Examples in Legal Operations? Anytime more is done than is really necessary, such as turning out too many reports, conducting too many reviews, requiring too many approvals, processing items prior to there being an actual need, or making decisions too early in a process when they’re not yet required and may require later changes of direction or reworking.

Over-processing

Adding more value to a service or product than customers want or will pay for; in Legal Ops, this occurs when forms require the user to supply redundant or unnecessary information, or multiple signatures/approvals are stipulated when they’re unnecessary, when data or content needs to be re-entered, or when duplication of tasks or variations on the same process happen across different teams, units, or departments.

Defects

Any aspect of the product or service that doesn’t conform to client needs.  Legal Ops examples include errors, the work not meeting requirements, missing information, and the need to correct mistakes.  The results of these kinds of defects? The need to rework and correct content, re-enter data, fix typos, locate and include missing information, and unproductive meetings and delayed processes that are stymied by these mistakes.

Understanding Legal Ops waste is the first step

Understanding where waste can occur in your Legal Ops processes and making even small modifications can result in significant improvements.  As we said in the first post, it’s crucial to see your processes from an end-to-end perspective where you’re screening each step to see if it adds value for the client.

In our next post, we’ll examine how to avoid human error in Legal Ops processes, and mistake-proof them as much as possible.

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