The Firm: Accountability through quality assurance

By Cheryl J. Leone and David W. Favor
The Daily Record Newswire

We admit that it could be that a law firm is somehow the only unique business out there where standard industry business standards do not apply, but we doubt that.

A law firm may have different terminology but it is not unique. The purpose of quality assurance is to provide early warning of potential missed quality goals with enough warning to allow the process to be fixed in time to prevent any impact.

Today, due to a very competitive environment, quality assurance is just another way to distinguish your services from those of your competitor and increase profitability. The problem is how do you measure the quality of a service?

One way would be to define the quality characteristic you want in your service. For example, if you wanted your discovery to be delivered on a due date with no extensions and on time, you would define the quality-assurance metrics for this process.

You would measure the date the discovery was received, the due date and the date it was served on opposing counsel. These checkpoints tell you whether you met the goals. This goal may be crucial to your firm’s reputation of being a strong litigation firm that fast-tracks its work.

The definition of quality is “meets requirements.” You need to define the requirements for the firm based on your quality plan (a chapter of the strategic plan that defines your deliverables).

Generally, requirements are driven by client requirements; however, you may have other requirements to meet. A law firm would probably have several requirements based on bar requirements, client-service requirements and financials.

The next step would be to determine what process steps can be measured to give early warning with enough time to effect a process change. Again, this can be a detailed step of statistical analysis.

You can say that all this is overkill and not needed in your world but that is what every business that we know does, from the large company like IBM to the small dress shop that measures cost per square foot of floor space. And that is to what law firms and other service professionals are adapting.

Some quality benefits are tangible, such as an increase in financial earnings or a decrease in process-related waste. Others are less tangible, such as a loyal customer base or an alignment between business activities and business results. All of the benefits, however, are real.

Quality assurance applies to lawyers who work within teams. Accountability for the team’s action to deliver legal work product is nothing more than setting QA metrics. In a high-performance organization the individual teams are required to meet QA metrics as a part of their goals established by either the team leader or the firm owner.

The firms that are establishing QA as a standard best business practice are seeing a good, solid improvement in the ability to deliver quality work in a very efficient, cost-effective manner.

Once the goals to be measured are set, then audits are conducted to show the results. A good firm or a good team within the firm will have routine audits that will show the results.

The team leader or firm owner will then make decisions on what corrective measures need to be in place to make sure the goals can be met and will hold accountable the team or people that are responsible for delivery of performance.

While this sounds over-the-top, you have to realize how very competitive law firms are today and how important it is to create an efficient, best-business-practice law firm.

Lawyers who supervise teams within law firms need to have controls on the work so they are operating at peak efficiency. And, finally, QA takes away the sleepless nights when you aren’t sure it all got done on time.

Today’s law firm has to be able to operate in tomorrow’s world. If it doesn’t, it will get left behind.

Law firm attorneys have to recognize that they are going to have to be able to perform within the guidelines of progressive law firms that know that there is the art of law and the art of the business of law and that QA is one of the keys to making it work.

Cheryl Leone and David Favor are principals of Catalyst Group, Inc., a national professional development company in Raleigh, N.C., with emphasis on law firms through values-based management and high-performance training. More practice tips can be found by going to www.lawfirmcoachblog.com or www.catalystgroupinc.com.

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