Legal Process Improvement: Transforming the Way Lawyers Work

Updated January 23, 2024
12 min read
Legal Process Improvement: Transforming the Way Lawyers Work


Despite client pressure and considerable evolvement of the legal profession, most lawyers and law firms are struggling to implement legal process management practices. This set of disciplines aligns with legal operations, although there are various models across large law firms, in-house legal teams, and the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). In this article, I will elaborate on legal operations and process improvement for law firms.

Process Improvement Concepts

Any type of work is a process, and you can improve any process. A process is a number of steps and decisions that help to get the job done, while improvements focus on removing errors and useless activities from the process.

The key process improvement concepts are:

  • Efficiency includes resources and costs. The goal here is to reduce the efforts to achieve consistent or improved quality, which cuts the process expenses and improves future viability.

  • Effectiveness is about meeting clients' expectations. Here, effectiveness ensures key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level standards for WCQ are met and exceeded across the board.

  • Lean manufacturing helps reduce the process time framework by removing errors and useless activities.

  • Six Sigma helps legal professionals improve the quality of process results by identifying and removing the causes of errors or defects and minimizing variability. 

  • Lean Six Sigma encompasses the following legal process simplification tools and methods:

    1. Reviewing the approach of a specific legal task to define what can be improved;
    2. Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma provide their tools and techniques to improve quality;
    3. Removing defects and streamlining legal work to deliver more efficient results;
    4. Meet exact clients' expectations in less time and at a reduced cost.
  • Quality assurance is the activities made before and during a process to ensure quality results, decrease errors, and avoid overtime work. For example, these are recruitment and training events, development and use of precedents, regular work reviews, co-worker reviews, cooperation, coaching, and mentoring.

  • Quality control provides necessary actions, e.g., supervisor reviews, at the end of the work process to detect errors.

"Quality assurance is always preferred over quality control. The aim is to remove defects from the process so none are found at the end. The later a defect is found, the more expensive and the longer it takes to rectify."

Therese Linton, Founder and Principal Consultant of The BASALT Group

Comparing Lean Six Sigma To Design Thinking

There are several leading principles that help professionals change their legal work, and one of these ways is Lean Six Sigma. It emerged during the 1980s and '90s in Japan and the US when lean manufacturing and Six Sigma methods of process improvement established total quality management.

It's a highly mathematical approach to process improvement that aims to cut all errors to 3.4 per every million units or opportunities. Total quality management is applied to produce physical deliverables in manufacturing processes, and it has been applied in service-based principles since the early 2000s. In service-based processes, the Six Sigma unit measure for errors is often unreasonable and leads to statistical analysis and broader usage of the concepts and principles.

Recently, more firms have been looking towards more modern frameworks, such as design thinking. The legal design merges the basic principles of process improvement and streamlining with a more human-centered and client-oriented approach. LSS does this as well by taking the voice of the customer into account when improving or designing processes. As the benchmark for process performance, LSS also relies on the client's definition of quality. Still, a hybrid approach when legal process improvement is a combination of Lean Six Sigma and legal design thinking turns out to be the most effective. 


Legal process improvement is an essentially client-centric and statistics-free Lean Six Sigma framework. The lack of statistics within legal design frameworks makes them more accessible to the average lawyer. The greatest implementation success comes when human-backed Lean Six Sigma is merged with design thinking to highlight the human elements and de-emphasize the mathematical elements. These tools can enhance client satisfaction and loyalty while increasing income and boosting the work of legal teams in the future.

Article by
Therese Linton
The BASALT Group

Therese Linton is a global Legal Project Management and Process Improvement leader. She wrote the book on Legal Project Management, published by LexisNexis in 2014. She also created The Positive Lawyer ® program, which combines online learning and coaching to transform legal mindsets and ways of working. Over the last decade, she has worked with thousands of lawyers to develop their capabilities and expand their skills in legal transformation and personal productivity.