Case Study: Optimizing a Small Family Law Practice

A quick tangent from my Domains of Activity series, I’m putting together some case studies of firms I’ve worked with and the improvements they’ve made. Here’s the first one:

Case Study: Optimizing a Small Family Law Practice

The Situation

A family law firm consisting of two attorneys and three staff struggled with workflow optimization and task balancing among staff. In order to keep track of the tasks and cases that were in process the head attorney (and firm owner) had put elaborate checklists and a rigid schedule in place. This approach had left the support staff disempowered and limited their investment in the completion of each case.

The firm had also noticed a subset of clients that would engage services initially then choose to self-represent after preliminary documents were drawn up. This decreased the billable hours expected per case and made it difficult to predict timelines and schedule an optimum caseload.

Needs

  • This firm needed a process that would empower the staff, increase productivity and facilitate task completion;
  • They also needed a way to understand the workload of each individual to be able to better distribute tasks and recognize bottlenecks;
  • Finally, they needed a way to better plan case flow and understand where and why clients were choosing to self-represent.

Overall, they needed to develop a way to serve all clients and increase the benefit to the firm

Approach

The lead attorney at this firm attended an Agile Project Management CLE that I delivered to her state’s Solo & Small Firm Section. When she got back to her office that day, she immediately created a project management flow board (using Kanban) for her team based off of the board described at the CLE.

That initial board identified the source and status of each case as well as where the case was within the process. Case cards also depicted client retainer balances which shed light on case complexities and quickly prioritized completions.  But, being inexperienced with the methodology, she struggled to organize the board in a way that consistently made sense to her and her team.

She brought me in for a full-day workshop consisting of (1) a more robust needs assessment discussion involving her entire team, (2) training and application of the Lean and Agile underpinnings of the Kanban methodology, and (3) establishing a cadence for iterative improvement and holding the team accountable to progress on the board.

Improvements

The creation of the board resulted in an easy-to-absorb visual that allowed the entire staff to see exactly what tasks each person was assigned and where each case was within the workflow.

Each individual was given a work-in-progress (WIP) limit that was depicted on the board. This improvement stopped any one person from having too much assigned to them and becoming overburdened, which, in turn, led to better load-balancing among the team members. It also made it possible to more effectively prioritize new tasks within the context of existing work (i.e. would the new work require the completion, reassignment or postponement of another task).

The board contributed to increased productivity as each person could see exactly what tasks needed to be completed in order to free up space for incoming cases.

Additionally, the firm was able to embrace their case flow and develop an entirely new legal product product to offer their clients. This product allowed the firm to sell certain unbundled services to an appropriate audience without disrupting their full representation workflow. Not only did that create a new revenue stream, it enabled the firm to plan billable hours and caseload more accurately.

Result

Within one month the firm increased productivity as the support staff became invested in the process and outcome of each case and were able to see the gains and strides they were making for their clients.

The firm reports increased work satisfaction as the process eliminates the need to carry any burden of work home at the end of the day, empowers every individual at the firm, and highlights successes.  

The visual management system has decreased the length of time each case is in process and allowed the staff to prioritize needs more effectively, reducing stress and clarifying needs.

More accountability and task balancing has increased efficiency overall allowing for more accurate workflow planning and less overwork.

New product offerings have allowed the firm to capitalize on client needs, and increase income by offering new clients an option to engage services under their own terms.

Interested in learning more about how Lean and Agile methods can help your legal team? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me to start a conversation!

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