Despite notable successes, process improvement and its benefits to in-house counsel
have been slow to catch on. ACC data indicates that only 21 percent3 of large corporate
law departments currently use some form of process improvement, even though many
of their internal clients rely on similar techniques to improve and streamline their own
In-house lawyers –– like their law firm counterparts –– have resisted the idea that their
work could be properly characterized as a project or process. Even large, successful
consulting companies that have helped entire organizations transform themselves
report a stalemate when it comes to applying process improvement techniques to those
organizations’ law departments. When it comes to process improvement, it’s common
for lawyers to ask, “How does this fit into the legal world?” Often, they imply that
Lawyers’ own perceptions of themselves as “artisans” and highly skilled experts in the
practice of law can also contribute to their resistance to exploring and adopting process
The practice of law, while varied in scope and complexity, has process interwoven
throughout the delivery of services. Defining the practice of law as a collection of
processes — or as an interconnected chain of value-creating activities — opens up
opportunities to assess those activities to increase efficiencies, improve predictability,
and reduce waste. The nuances, people, and fact patterns may vary — sometimes
drastically — but generally there is a roadmap that seasoned lawyers follow each time
they are presented with a new legal need.
A critical step is to help lawyers see their own time and attention as finite
assets. Not all tasks included in that roadmap are of equal value: whether teams are
litigating a case or negotiating a deal, they encounter many routine, repetitive processes.
When the routine mechanics of practice overwhelm legal teams, lawyers and their
internal clients pay a steep opportunity cost.
Encouraging practitioners to envision what they’d like to do instead with the time and
attention they now allocate to low-value tasks can be an energizing exercise. Process
improvement provides a disciplined approach to identifying, eliminating, automating, or
delegating those steps. “Top-of-license” practice for highly skilled experts is just one
benefit; effective processes can help the legal team achieve enhanced alignment with
internal clients and measurably higher performance for the department as a whole.