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Slogans and strategic plans do not build a quality culture in a law firm.

Actions do.

Deming's Fourteenth Point, "Take Action to Accomplish the Transformation," is a clarion call to organizations seeking substantial improvement in every aspect of their collective and individual performance. This principle is particularly salient for law firms, where tradition often holds a tight grip on operational and cultural norms. Deming's directive underscores the necessity of proactive measures to embed his quality management principles into the very fabric of an organization. For law firms, this means venturing beyond the comfort zone of established practices to foster a culture of continuous improvement, efficiency, and client-centric service.

understanding the need for transformation

Before diving into specific actions, law firms need to understand why transformation is necessary. The legal industry is not immune to the forces of changeā€”technological advancements, evolving client expectations, and increasing competition demand a strategic response. Adhering to Deming's principles can guide firms toward not only surviving but thriving in this dynamic environment.

How can law firms meet this challenge?

Here are seven suggestions.

1. Engage external xxpertise, but understand its limits.

Hiring a consultant with expertise in quality management and legal operations can provide an outside perspective on inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Consultants can also facilitate the adoption of effective practices from other industries, tailored to the unique context of a legal firm.

But --- and this is critcially important -- no outside consultant in the world csn build a quality culture for your law firm. The best role of consultants -- and I include my own firm, Walker Clark LLC, in this observation -- is to introduce the concepts, tools, and methods by which the people in the law firm caa build a cost-effective successful quality management system and create its own unique quality culture. This is because, as Deming often pointed out, the people who do the work know it best. Remember also that professional cultures and values are defined by actions, not exhortations by the firm's leaders, slogans, or vision statements.

2. Redefine leadership roles.

Leadership must be reoriented toward fostering a culture of quality and continuous improvement. This could involve training for senior partners and managers on leadership practices that encourage feedback, collaboration, and innovation across all levels of the firm. However, the most successful quality cultures are ones in which anyone can be a leader in the appropriate circumstance, challenge, or opportunity. The goal is to build an organization with leaders, but an organization of leaders.

3. Embrace new techology, but don't be ruled by it.

Embracing legal technology can streamline operations, enhance client service, and facilitate better knowledge management. Law firms should assess their current technology stack and identify areas where new tools could improve efficiency or service quality. Remember, however, that technology is a tool. It can quickly produce data and analyses for quality improvement that would have taken days or weeks to generate only twenty years ago. However, like everything else in law firm operations, technology must clearly contribute, directly or indirectly, to a law firm's ability to meet or exceed the clients' needs and expectations. Anything else is probably a waste of money and time.

4. Revise performance metrics to make them more useful.

Moving away from traditional metrics like billable hours to more holistic performance indicators can encourage a focus on quality, client satisfaction, and team collaboration. This shift requires redesigning evaluation systems to recognize contributions to firm-wide goals and client success. Instead of just measuring performance, which is undoubtedly an important exercise, also look for measurements that have strong diagnostic value, such as realization rates, fee write-offs and write-downs, and rework.

5. Foster a learning environment.

Consistent with Deming's emphasis on education, law firms should invest in continuous learning opportunities for all staff members, not just lawyers. This can include for example, legal education, training in management and communication skills, and exposure to business and technology trends affecting the legal industry.

6. Promote interdepartmental collaboration.

Breaking down barriers within the firm encourages a more integrated approach to client service, where diverse expertise and perspectives lead to more comprehensive legal solutions. The key to successful collaboration across legal disciplines and specialties, especially in highly-specialized areas like intellectual property, is to strike a reasonable balance between the need for cross-specialty collaboration and the development of specialty-specific and, sometimes, client-specific needs and expectations. This usually is a highly firm-specific challenge.

6. Introduce Contiuous Process Improvement into every aspect of the firm's operations.

Our experience advising law firms since the 1990s demonstrates that Continuous Process Improvement, or Kaizen, can be one of the most powerful and practical methods to achieve sustainable improvements in efficiency, profitability, and client satisfaction in every aspect of a law firm's operations -- including the work of lawyers! Regularly reviewing and refining legal processes -- from client intake to case management to billing and collections -- will directly contribute to a firm's bottom line, while improving morale and a sense of commitment to the client on the part of everyone in the firm.

7. Embrace innovation.

A culture that rewards calculated risk-taking and innovation can position a law firm as a leader in a competitive market. Encouraging pilot projects, new service models, or alternative billing arrangements can lead to breakthroughs in client service and firm efficiency. So many of the factors that deter law firms from innovation are old paradigms about legal services that are no longer important to clients, if indeed they ever really were. Challenge the paradigms to determine which ones are still important and which ones should be discarded.

Embarking on a transformation journey is not without its challenges. Resistance to change, especially in firms with deeply ingrained traditions, can be a significant hurdle. Continuous communication, involving all stakeholders in the change process -- including clients and staff -- and celebrating even "small" wins, can help in overcoming skepticism and building momentum.

In the long term, law firms that successfully implement Deming's Fourteenth Point can expect not only improved operational efficiency and client satisfaction but also enhanced employee engagement and a stronger competitive position. Ultimately, the transformation journey is about creating a law firm that is resilient, adaptable, and unwavering in its commitment to excellence and quality in every aspect of its operations

Our next post: What does a quality culture look like?

Norman Clark


W. Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points provide a framework for sustained growth, improved quality, and better client service. Their successful implementation will require commitment, leadership, and an ongoing dedication to improvement. The law firms that integrate these principles into their daily operations will be well-positioned for future success in the ever-evolving legal landscape.

To learn more about the Fourteen Points, consult W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, (Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1982). Future posts in the Walker Clark World View blog, will examine the strategic relevance and practical application of each of the Fourteen Points to law firm operations and management.  

The members of Walker Clark have been guiding law firms, corporate law departments, and other legal services organizations to introduce quality management since the 1990s. For more information about how we can help you integrate the Fourteen Points into a strategy for sustainable success in quality management in your organization, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.