The LEAN process improvement philosophy comes from a management system developed in post-war Japan by Toyota. This system was designed to eliminate waste and inefficiency from a manufacturing process, creating opportunities to increase quality while simultaneously reducing costs. Over time, LEAN expanded beyond manufacturing and has been adopted by and adapted to nearly every major industry, including health care, finance, construction, engineering, and technology. While the legal industry has been slow to embrace the LEAN philosophy, that is quickly changing as major national and global firms like Seyfarth Shaw and Clifford Chance establish LEAN practices, and corporate law departments look for ways to control legal costs.
If you’re interested in making your legal practice “LEAN,” taking the first step can be intimidating. Hundreds of books, seminars, and experts offer the latest and greatest techniques. Not only that, but you’ll find an exceptional amount of jargon. If you talk to a LEAN practitioner, they may ask you about Muda, Mura, and Muri; they might suggest using a Kanban to implement your Kaizen; they might even offer to conduct a Gemba walk. But fear not! You do not need to know any of this terminology to become LEAN. Just remember that at its core, LEAN philosophy is simply about focusing on value-added activities by eliminating inefficiency—as mentioned above, doing more with less. And as long as you understand that basic concept, the methods become common sense.
After you begin making your process changes and seeing results, you might think that your LEAN journey is complete, but in reality, you are only getting started: Becoming lean, or incorporating LEAN principles into your legal practice, is not necessarily a short-term solution or a quick-fix. Practicing LEAN is a way of thinking—it is about embracing continuous improvement. That means constantly analyzing your processes and making adjustments to eliminate inefficiencies. And by doing this, you will continue to reap the benefits through happier clients, lower costs, and improved work/life balance.
The LEAN/Continuous Improvement Subcommittee is made up of volunteers from the State Bar of Michigan’s Affordable Legal Services Committee.
State Bar of Michigan
306 Townsend St
Lansing, MI 48933-2012