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Looking Outside In

Better, faster, cheaper. Those three words have been tossed around somewhat haphazardly in an effort to encapsulate the pressures the legal industry has been under the past decade. Leading law firms have answered with their own triumvirate - a focus on people, process, technology. But they’ve overlooked a potent fourth dimension – EXPERIENCE.

As a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, I’ve been driving a process-centric focus in BigLaw for well over a decade. I’ve facilitated hundreds of process mapping sessions to improve legal services and legal operations. I’ve made a career out of streamlining processes, looking for waste to kill, efficiencies to gain, helping lawyers get comfortable with that dirty word “process.”

But first things first. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve grown up in BigLaw and know the ins and outs really well. As a legal process mapping maven, I’ve had the good fortune to have expansive exposure to the vast array of a large firm’s nuances in every practice area – more than most any partner within the firm. And I’ve led many mapping sessions for inhouse counsel to streamline their internal legal operations.

The genesis for this “efficiency” craze really points to a pivotal change in the industry which is clients expressing a need for budgets from the legal work their legal service providers are supplying. And not just a finger in the wind budget but something predictable that they can use to forecast their annual budgets. While many clients still fall back to the billable hour, the percentage grows with earnest desire to shift significant portions of work to fixed fees or a variation of same.

Thus, most of the process mapping sessions I led were acutely focused on driving down the cost of legal services to the client, developing a reliable budget, improving profit margins, removing unnecessary steps that slowed down the process and ensuring the right people are doing the right work at the right time. Faster - check!, Cheaper - check. Better? By whose definition?

From the vantage of the law firm, do they interpret better to mean using smarter lawyers? More expensive lawyers? Isn’t faster and cheaper already better? So what more could a client want? Oh, we know … better outcomes. But that might lead to increased costs (not cheaper) and take longer (not faster). Now we’re back to what exactly does “better” mean? Here’s an idea … let’s ask the client.

There are many industry surveys out there (Georgetown Report, BTI, Altman Weil - to name a few) trying to answer that question from the client’s perspective. Add to that my own conversations with clients circling around that elusive description of “better.” Some excitedly speak of looking for their law firms to be “innovative” or “working smarter” or they spew a laundry list of items: understand my business, anticipate my needs, be more responsive, speak as one voice, more project management, tech, dashboards, data. All of that? Some of that? To what degree? The answer, “It depends,” reflects the unevenness of each client’s own unique needs and desires. What’s a law firm to do?

“Experience” matters. A lot. I’m not referring to the number of years since graduating law school or how many cases or deals you have handled. While clients can find it challenging to articulate the definition of “better,” what they are seeking is a positive EXPERIENCE. Legal service delivery often has countless, sometimes hundreds, of client touchpoints. Does the cadence, format, exchange and outcomes of these interactions denote positive or negative reactions from the client? To answer this, you have to scrutinize these touchpoints at a micro and macro level. Take each interaction in isolation and evaluate its impact on the client. And take a look at the aggregate of all of those touchpoints throughout a matter, assessing the entire experience from start to finish. As a client is bombarded with information via email, texts, telephone, billing invoices, integrated tech systems, disseminated at different intervals, with different tones, from a myriad of people within your organization – from the legal team, finance, administrative assistants, marketing and so on – is the client experience what you had intended? Is the overall experience what you had deigned it should be?

To really know the answer to this requires gaining an appreciation and understanding of the customer interactions and their impact. For some service and product providers, both inside and outside of legal, “user experience” is a common term and focus in developing their offerings. Design thinking takes customer focus to a deeper level striving to “walk in the customer’s shoes” seeing, hearing and feeling what they experience as they engage with the product or service in order to develop empathy for the customer. Many confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, feeling compassion and pity. Empathy is the ability to understand, having an awareness of and sensitivity to another’s feelings and thoughts. It allows you to get inside their head and feel what they feel. Developing empathy for the customer doesn’t come from just having direct conversations with them, it requires that you dig into those individual and cumulative touchpoints so that the experience is revealed fully to you. Then and only then can you understand how to develop “better” services for your customers.

Flipping the perspective over, another powerful way for law firms to put themselves under the microscope, looking from the outside in, is to ask themselves, “How easy are we to do business with?” Once they understand how their interactions impact the client, they can begin to redesign people, process and technologies to remove points of friction, to finetune those points of interaction to be more in line with what the client values and positively fuels the relationship, even if the client struggles to articulate their definition of “better.”

And here’s one more secret to improving legal service delivery that even those that focus on customer experience overlook, and it is just as important – actually critical. Emphasis and effort should be devoted to gaining an understanding of how the lawyers feel that deliver those services. If they are frustrated, bogged down by inefficient operations, not practicing at the top of their license, feeling apathy or not proud of their work, no matter how well the process has been streamlined and made faster and cheaper, it will NOT be better for the client if the activities do not generate positive feelings and experiences for the service providers.

Let’s be honest. Most lawyers shy away from talking to clients about their “feelings” or sharing their own feelings. They need to get over that trepidation if they want to discover the potency of experience design. Locking in on what and how to deliver BETTER customer experiences leads to customer stickiness, loyalty and longevity. It’s priceless.


About the Author

Kim Craig is the co-founder of Bold Duck Studio, a business design studio that specializes in legal service innovation and strategy. Prior to this, Kim led SeyfarthLean Consulting’s Client Services practice, comprised of one of the first and most mature teams of client-facing legal project managers and process improvement professionals. With emphasis on service model innovation and delivery optimization, Kim’s focus is on driving continuing advances in how legal teams work for enhanced value, better outcomes, brand differentiation and greater client experiences.

She has also worked extensively with legal aid organizations embedding lean approaches into their culture. She is passionate about the future generation of lawyers and teaches law school classes.

During Kim’s tenure at Seyfarth, the firm was formally recognized by clients and competitors alike and received several awards for the work her team did in driving innovation within the industry.

Kim is a Certified Project Management Professional, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt through Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and Certified Scrum Master.

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