We’re told that we should not watch anyone make sausages or laws. These are messy (and, in the view of some, stomach-churning) processes that can produce wonderful results. Unfortunately, many have extended this aversion from the making of laws to the providing of legal services. So we go through our days doing whatever the client needs without pulling back the curtain to see the reality of what it takes to provide that level of client service.
Well, I’ve got bad news for you: if you want to continue to provide a high level of service at a price your clients are willing to pay, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves, pull back the curtain, and take a much closer look at how sausages are made in your firm. Do you have the right ingredients, recipes, workers, machinery and processes? Do you consistently turn out high quality work at a predictable price? What sorts of changes might improve the way you work and what you produce? Have you analyzed the effect on work product, efficiency and morale of changing your ingredients, recipes, workers, machinery and processes? Do you know exactly where you might create sustainable improvements? These are the questions every lawyer, law firm and law department should be asking.
In fact, these questions are being asked in businesses of all types. As a result, more people are beginning to understand better what it takes to do what they do. In order to get to this realization, we need many open conversations between the experts who do the work and the experts who understand how work processes may be improved. Mark MacDonald describes this well with respect to how an IT department can assist in improving business processes. We could say something similar about knowledge management personnel:
Process experts create value through working with their business peers in an environment of discovery and problem solving. This is in contrast to many application development shops that gather requirements then go away to build the system. Process change makes the sausage best in open collaboration with the business.
I’m not suggesting that we engineer a law firm to death, turning it into a soulless factory producing bland, unappetizing sausages at rock bottom prices. However, I do think it’s possible to make our firms efficient producers of artisanal sausages — where we marry state of the art methods and machinery with highly skilled (even artistic) personnel to produce extraordinary, memorable, successful work product. And, I believe there is an important role for knowledge management and IT to play in achieving high quality artisanal work product at a price that makes our clients happy.
[Photo Credit: cobalt 123]