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The “Five Whys” of Lean in Legal

Zachary “Zak” Moen, VP Legal Acceleration at Revlegal.

The use of lean principles and methodology in the legal field has become more prevalent in recent years and continues to gain traction in law firms and corporate legal departments. For those who may be interested in “lean in legal,” but haven’t started implementing it in their own practice or department yet, the first question that may come to mind is “Why use lean in legal at all?”

To answer that question, especially in the context of lean, what better way to analyze the “why” than by using the “five whys” (at least loosely).

For those who aren’t familiar with the “five whys,” it is a simple but powerful tool used in lean to explore the cause and effect relationships underlying a problem or issue and to get to the root cause of the problem or issue. The “five whys” technique was developed within the Toyota Motor Corporation as a critical component of its lean problem-solving training. Taiichi Ohno describes the method in his book “Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production” as follows: “By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

The “five whys” are reminiscent of a three-year-old child driving their parents crazy by repeatedly asking “why?” But if you have ever been on the receiving end of those questions from a child, you know how difficult and enlightening this seemingly simple exercise can be.

So, let’s begin. Why should one use lean principles in connection with the delivery of legal services?

1. Why use lean in legal?

In a broad sense, lean should be used in the legal field because it can improve the delivery of legal services.

2. Why do we want to use lean to improve the delivery of legal services?

When one thinks of why one would want to improve the delivery of legal services, reasons that come to mind are:

  • Optimize
  • Improve speed
  • Improve accuracy / quality
  • Reduce waste
  • Improve efficiency

3. Why do we want to do those things?

The words above are all results that one might obtain from using lean principles in the legal space. But why do we want to achieve those results? Reasons that come to mind are:

  • To “do more with less”
  • To cut costs
  • Because of reduced budgets
  • To increase profits

4. But is that really why?

Those are all important reasons, but are they really why we should implement lean in legal? Is it all just about numbers – reducing costs and increasing profits? Although lower costs and increased profits are great benefits, the real reasons to implement lean in legal are:

  • Happy clients
    • Increase client loyalty
    • Increase client satisfaction
    • Increase value to client
    • Increase access to affordable legal services
  • Happy people in the legal field
    • Increase career satisfaction
    • Increased sense of ownership and accountability
    • Improved morale

5. Why Does That Matter?

It’s great that everyone is happy and satisfied, but why does that matter?

It matters because, despite all of the process and technology out there, legal is still fundamentally about people – solving their problems, making their lives easier, growing their careers, helping them to grow and protect their business, etc. Although tools like lean and technology are critical to help to further this goal, they aren’t the ultimate goal itself. The “why” is about happy clients and happy people in the legal field. And that, at least in my view, is why lean should be used to improve the delivery of legal services.

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