Have the courage to ask

A while ago I had the pleasure of running into a podcast, ‘How workflows will set your law firm free’ produced by ‘Building New Law’. IP Lawyer and co-founder of Perry + Currier, Andrew Currier talks about the efficiency of using standard processes and workflows within the practice. The title of this blog is taken directly from this podcast, which is well worth listening too.

There were a couple of things that stood out to me when listening as Andrew spoke about the success they have had with implementing workflows within the practice. The first that stood out to me was the apparent lack of a general approach and strategy for process review within IP Law firms. There are so many things we do, just for the sake of doing them, because it has always been that way and because they have become ‘second nature’ or as Andrew put it ” We don’t put in a lot of time to think of these routine tasks”. But where will that get us, when we do not allow ourselves to think of what we do, think of why we do it and above all think of how we do it. These are three simple and fundamental questions that every organisation, including IP Law firms, need to ask themselves.

  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do it?
  • How do we do it?

If any task that we do, does not add value to the end customer, they need and should be reviewed. Not only do they take up additional resources which add additional overhead, they make work complicated for no apparent reason other than “we simply haven’t thought about it”.

As a customer, this becomes even more interesting, especially those customers who are on an hourly rate. Although taken slightly out of context, I will make my point by referring to another quote from the above podcast. “…on a purely hourly rate model the lawyer is quite honestly incentified to not be very efficient in what they are doing”. In that aspect, it may not be very strange that we simply don’t “think of these routine tasks”. The customer will pick up the overhead. That is, as long as they agree to be on an hourly rate. However it is becoming increasingly more common for customers to request fixed fee agreements and all of a sudden that overhead needs to be swallowed by the organization.

The What do we do may be a simple question to ask, but may not be equally simple to answer. Further, we may identify numerous of tasks that does not add value to the end customer, but due to the nature of the work, law, there are regulations that we must follow (why do we do it?) and as such, many routine tasks simply can’t be avoided.

But once we know the What and the Why we need to look at the How. This is where processes and process flow come into the picture. How can we make this process flow better from start to finish, enabling us to maximize resources within the organization and produce best possible value to the customer?  What hinders us from being more productive in our daily work and what can we do about it? Do we have supporting systems in place? Can we automate and schedule tasks to be done in batches? Perhaps even outsource some of the work? As a lawyer or a paralegal, is most of the work you perform during the day “special” enough to require your specific and distinct attention or is it better delegated to a colleague?

Whit this, I will leave you to ponder but before doing so I will provide you with one last quote from the above podcast as encouragement, “Have the courage to step inside to step back and look at what you are doing.”

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