On the morning of July 25, Parker Poe Managing Partner Tom Griffin welcomed a large group of clients and other legal services professionals to the firm’s Charlotte headquarters. Some had traveled from as far as southern Florida and eastern Pennsylvania.
“I know how important this is to this audience: the efficiency of how we run our businesses, how we practice law and how we do those two things together,” Griffin said. “I love the fact that we’re hosting this program here because something we focus on heavily at Parker Poe is our relationships, and we pride ourselves on partnership.”
Over the next two days, Parker Poe teamed up with clients to learn process improvement and project management skills geared specifically for the legal profession. The course was called a Yellow Belt Certification in Legal Lean Sigma® and Project Management. The Legal Lean Sigma Institute provided the training and certification, and enrollment was open to the public.
Parker Poe was the first law firm to host this kind of course in the Carolinas. Clients in attendance included one of the largest U.S. banks, a leading wireless infrastructure provider, a national retailer, and a regional shipping company.
“I think the fact that Parker Poe was willing to do this says a lot about the firm’s willingness to be innovative and to look for solutions that are win-win for both the client and the firm,” said Peter Barr, general counsel of Rack Room Shoes.
The idea of hosting the course grew out of client feedback, said Kristen Leis, Parker Poe’s chief marketing and business development officer.
“Clients have made it clear that they want law firms to collaborate with them, working together to gain efficiency and predictability,” Kristen said. “This course is a chance to spend two days together focused on exactly those things.”
The Legal Lean Sigma Institute developed the training by taking proven concepts from the manufacturing industry and adapting them for the legal field. Former corporate counsel Catherine MacDonagh founded the institute and helped lead the session at Parker Poe.
“How many people have heard: It’s about doing more with less?” Catherine MacDonagh asked the group. “Pithy, cute, but totally inaccurate. It’s not about doing more with less. It’s about figuring out what the right things are and then doing those things right.”
She taught the concepts of “lean” and “six sigma.” Lean came out of Toyota’s manufacturing approach and is the idea of creating simpler, faster processes, in part by closely linking together all activities and rooting out waste. Waste in the legal industry can include not using talented paralegals, partners doing associate-level work, unnecessary waiting, and excessive travel.
Six sigma was developed by Motorola engineers. In a nutshell, six sigma is a methodology that helps identify the exact steps that must be followed to get consistent results. Catherine described how one firm used six sigma to perfect its document review process.
After learning how lean and six sigma can improve specific processes, the focus of the course zoomed out to project management – how all the processes should fit together from beginning to end. A former senior executive of several multinational businesses, Tim Corcoran, led that part of the training. He detailed how participants can use project management to define objectives, measure improvement, and achieve consistency across an organization.
One of the world’s premier international legal networks, TerraLex, has project management guidelines for its member firms. (Parker Poe is the only member firm in North Carolina.) TerraLex Executive Director Terri Gavulic traveled to Charlotte for this course and called it “invaluable.”
“It will help us refine what we’re doing so it’s easier for our members to use,” Terri said. “Increasingly, our members are not just referring business to each other, but they’re collaborating on client matters and also on business development. When you’re collaborating and you have virtual teams from around the world, you really have to use project management.”
Parker Poe’s clients said what they learned will immediately help them when they return to their businesses. Cliff Bourke is the vice president of legal services for Southeastern Freight Lines, a leading regional provider of less-than-truckload transportation services.
“It will help me in my daily operation so that we can take a keen eye and fresh approach to some of our key processes and how we manage them,” Cliff said, “whether it’s our partnership with outside counsel or even our internal claims management.”
Several in-house attorneys also emphasized the value of applying these methods in tandem with Parker Poe. That was a big takeaway for Peter Barr, Rack Room Shoes’ general counsel.
“If we’re doing project management as part of the legal process, it’s important that within my department we are able to work with Parker Poe as they use the project management tools as well,” Peter said. “There is a structure and a discipline to it, and if you don’t come to the table with some understanding of that, then it’s not as likely to be successful.”
Parker Poe’s executive team and several of its attorneys spent the full two days learning side-by-side with other participants.
“A process like Legal Lean Sigma where we can step back, invest some time up front, get to the root causes of inefficiency, and really in a systematic way rethink how we’re delivering services is the best way for us to improve,” said Jim King, Parker Poe’s chief operating officer. “It really has to be a conscious, intentional effort that gets at the whole process from beginning to end.”
Part of what made the course so practical is that participants worked through one of their actual business processes over the two days. The Parker Poe group included a cross-functional management team focused on integrating new attorneys and staff.
“That sounds like an internal process, but in reality it’s about the clients too,” Jim said. “The better we do integrating new attorneys into our firm, the better they can serve clients. We tried to approach it from not just our internal perspective but from a client perspective.”
Jim said as Parker Poe uses what it learned to improve processes, the firm will continue asking clients for feedback to make sure the changes benefit them. This type of collaborative approach has been strengthened over the past three years through “The Path,” the firm’s annual initiative that deepens relationships integral to client development. The path this year had a focus called “TeamUP,” and the Legal Lean Sigma course was a signature part of it.
“From an in-house counsel perspective, the fact that Parker Poe offered and provided this opportunity is immensely valuable to us as an organization,” said Cliff Bourke of Southeastern Freight Lines. “What Parker Poe is doing is taking that customer service and that client service to another level.”