OM Feature

Legal Cartography

Client journey mapping, which legal managers can help guide, helps ensure a successful process.

Chicago-based Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC has developed a standard series of 15 intake questions about client expectations, hired a firm-wide manager of process improvement who works directly with practice group leaders, and developed a Google Docs-like extranet through which clients and attorneys can communicate and get up to date.

The Boston office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP has streamlined its process for handling real estate finance transactions to cut down on unnecessary steps in the process and duplicate efforts. It also ensures all attorneys and staff are contributing at their highest level of ability — so that paralegals would not do what a secretary could handle just as easily, for example.

In Nashville, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz has developed a tool for a client that frequently needs nondisclosure agreements to standardize and easily generate them, while accounting for the nuances that need to be built in from document to document.

These innovations — which can impact a single client, a practice area or the entire firm — have come about thanks to client journey mapping, a tool borrowed from the corporate world in which attorneys and legal managers work together to track the steps clients take along their legal pathways to ensure they’re providing the best service. And they can rethink and reinvent the client journey as deemed necessary.

“The purpose of it is for the firm to understand, from the client’s perspective, what are the things we are doing that add value to our relationship, what things are required for whatever reason, and to reduce and eliminate the things that are not contributing value,” says Catherine Alman MacDonagh, JD, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute. “We want to focus on those interactions where we could improve, but also on the corollary — where are we good at things? And then say, ‘Let’s do more of that!’”

MacDonagh notes that firms she works with are often surprised by how many people, touch points, rework and waiting are involved in the process. “If we can reduce, if not eliminate, that waste, that’s a pretty substantial payoff. The reason we do a lot of this work is to gain competitive advantage. Ideally, we’re communicating what we’re doing with our clients, asking how we’re doing, and then they can give us feedback on our performance. That then makes its way out into the marketplace as a differentiator,” she says.


“The purpose of it is for the firm to understand, from the client’s perspective, what are the things we are doing that add value to our relationship, what things are required for whatever reason, and to reduce and eliminate the things that are not contributing value.”




Levenfeld Pearlstein defines client journey mapping as knowing the client, identifying touch points and operationalizing a business strategy to meet that client’s needs in terms of delivering value, says Andrea Maciejewski, Director of Client Development. The firm has developed a five-step approach: attract and retain talent, lead by example, cultivate effective practice groups, align systems, and ask for feedback.

“We connect everything we do in our firm to those steps, and how the client engages with us,” Maciejewski says. “We work at the intersection of pricing, process improvement and project management. It’s about shifting the way clients experience a law firm.”

Baker Donelson began its client journey mapping by starting with what happens when a client enters its offices — how they’re greeted, whether coffee or water is offered to them, whether the Wi-Fi guest password is easily accessible, “things that would make you feel at home,” says Adam Severson, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer. With 24 offices across the southeastern United States, Severson says the firm aims to put some core bones and amenities in place across all their offices.

“That was helpful from an operational perspective, to make sure we were able to fine-tune that a little bit,” Severson says. “In some instances, the wait time was longer than what I would like it to be: ‘I called him, and he’s not in his office.’ [But] you can still send an email or track down his assistant.” He says there are still a few steps you can take to make sure a client doesn’t have to wait.

Seyfarth Shaw — known as an innovator with regard to client journey mapping and Lean Six Sigma business process improvement more generally — set up a standalone practice called SeyfarthLean Consulting that undertakes such projects. They start with what problem they are trying to solve, whether it’s a client process that could be more efficient, something is taking too long and costing too much, or the right people aren’t doing the right work.

Then, they work with attorneys and staff in various functional areas to dig into what they’re doing and why, sometimes leveraging the questions of people new to the firm who aren’t yet invested in the old ways of doing business, says Kim Craig, Managing Director, Lean Solutions. “We’ve always tried to include not only legal experts, but also the professionals that support them,” she says. “Any process improvement is change management. That’s where so many of the legal managers are left to try to orchestrate: how do we put these changes into place?”


“We’ve always tried to include not only legal experts, but also the professionals that support them. Any process improvement is change management. That’s where so many of the legal managers are left to try to orchestrate: how do we put these changes into place?”




THE LEGAL MANAGER’S ROLE

To do so, Craig’s team interviews secretaries, administrative assistants, office managers, data gurus and other staff to try to paint the full picture of steps involved in a client process. “The process would never get improved without getting into that layer of detail,” she says. “My assumption the first time I started doing mapping was that the partners were going to run [roughshod] over everybody. And that didn’t happen at all.”

Legal managers at Levenfeld Pearlstein play a huge role in the process, ensuring that systems are aligned to best support lawyers’ work and clients’ needs, Maciejewski says. “A lot of times, lawyers are expected to do everything, which makes no sense from a business perspective — of course, they’re the end deliverers,” she says. “We’re all involved in different steps, down to specific tools and execution. We’ve all been involved in designing the strategy and executing on it.”

MacDonagh says legal managers can be a catalyst in making the firm aware of the concept of client journey mapping and getting lawyers and staff up to speed on how it could work for them. “A lot of administrators work very directly with the management team, and they work with all the practice group leaders,” she says. “The more we can educate legal administrators that this is a really valuable tool available to them and their firms, they can figure out then how best to introduce and position it.”

Legal managers also can use the tool to both help attorneys improve their clients’ journeys as well as to map out attorneys’ own journeys, says Yolanda Cartusciello, Partner at PP&C Consulting. “It would be the job of an administrative group to look at this journey and say, ‘Here are the problem areas. How can we fix it?’” she says. “The reason this technique helps is it becomes granular. Rather than a partner saying, ‘I can never get the documents I need out of the records department,’ client journey mapping would allow you to say, ‘Where does this begin, what are the steps, what is the partner trying to accomplish?’”

Client journey mapping often reveals that the problem begins earlier in the process than at the point of frustration, and often it’s a process that was set up a long time ago and hasn’t been looked at in a long time, Cartusciello says. “It could be that the lawyer can’t get the documents he wants out of records because there was a safeguard set up to not allow lawyers to get the record unless they were approved as part of a team.”


“If you’re trying to resolve processes between administrative functions, you end up with better functioning administrative systems and, therefore, lawyers are less likely to go around the system.”




COSTS AND BENEFITS

Client journey mapping costs time and attention on the part of attorneys and administrators, and those costs should become ongoing if the concept is handled properly, Cartusciello says. “They may bring up issues that they didn’t know existed, that once raised, do need to be addressed,” she says. “Once you start down this road, you can’t just say, ‘done, fixed, we never have to look at this again.’”

But the benefits of a client-centric culture that also better understands what lawyers go through on a daily basis are well worth the trouble, Cartusciello says. “If you’re trying to resolve processes between administrative functions, you end up with better functioning administrative systems and, therefore, lawyers are less likely to go around the system.”

MacDonagh also sees internal benefits in terms of C- and D-level business professionals coming together as a team, gaining an enhanced appreciation for what one another brings to the table and accomplishes on behalf of the firm.

“Lots of times, it’s outside our grasp what somebody else is doing, and the things they have to work around, and the obstacles they face in order to get work done,” she says. “It’s very eye-opening every time. People will say, ‘My gosh, I didn’t know you needed this thing I do at the very front of the process.’ There are always things that come out of mapping that will give you immediate improvement — and others for the medium and long term.”

Levenfeld Pearlstein sees major payoffs in competitive advantage when a firm executes on a client’s service plan and builds healthier relationships — and greater value. “The more value you bring, the more loyal they’re going to be,” Maciejewski says. The top challenge in getting there is resistance to change, which the firm has spent a ton of time managing, she says. “You have to make sure leaders are trained to manage that.”

Severson cites an improved and more consistent client experience as the central benefit for Baker Donelson. The challenge, in a firm of 750 attorneys, has been that many have their own communication styles and even were in different firms at one time before Baker Donelson merged with them. “They’ve come with different experiences and ways they like to handle things,” he says.

As in the real estate finance project, the Boston office of Seyfarth has used client journey mapping to talk about different steps in the process and make sure they’re capturing the highest and best use of everyone’s time, says Joanne McBride, Office Administrator. “We don’t need somebody at my level worrying about somebody’s access card,” she says. “Somebody who is billing their time should not be handling an administrative piece.”

“If you don’t see the full picture, you’re missing things,” adds McBride. “If you can capture it all in one spot with the whole team, you’re starting in a much better place.”

About the Author

Ed Finkel is a full-time freelance writer and editor who covers law, technology, medicine, education and youth, and other issues. His legal writing background includes work for the ABA Journal, Student Lawyer magazine, the Illinois Bar Journal and Chicago Lawyer.

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