‘Waste not, want not’ – the modern lawyer: a garbage collector?

Date: March 14, 2017


In the second part of HBA Legal’s three-part series, we take a look at the management philosophy Lean Six Sigma and how it can operate in law firms.

Henry Ford believed that “it is not the employer who pays the wages. He only handles the money. It is the product that pays the wages”[1]. Ford, who eponymously formed a manufacturing company in 1901, pioneered integrating an entire mass production process. After the Second World War, we saw a small auto manufacturer in Japan named Toyota transform its company into the largest car company in the world. ‘Lean manufacturing’, a management philosophy, is much of what was behind this change. In essence, Toyota separated every component of the manufacturing process to discover what could be streamlined or removed without diminishing its quality[2].

This methodology is not alone. Six Sigma, the well known management strategy, also emphasises process quality and the removal of discrepancies and flaws from products and services[3]. Developed by Motorola in the mid 1980s, it was initially used in manufacturing before being tailored for use in many other industries over time. ‘Lean Six Sigma’ (or simply ‘Lean’) is the child of both Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma methodologies.[4]. It is both data and focus-driven and is well suited for the professional services industry such as law.

Eight Deadly Sins – A Legal Counterpart

Lean aims at enhancing process speed and quality by cutting back on process wastes. There are eight types of waste that can be cut-off from business processes to reduce costs and time: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilised talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra-processing. These wastes are collectively known as DOWNTIME[5]. Examples of some of these wastes as applied to a legal context are below:

So Why Do Lawyers Need It?

The intention of Lean is to remove the waste to focus on the processes that add value[7]. This ideology is the basis as to why Lean methodologies have been so successful in advancing business performance in a number of industries. Service providers that employ Lean see noticeable improvement throughout their business, including improved speed, quality and cost, improved client satisfaction and greater profit[8]. Law is a service and like all services, opportunities for waste flourish. Lean provides lawyers with an alternative for examining legal and business processes. Specifically, Lean affords lawyers a route to navigate the shifting legal market we face today.

Why Should Law Firms Care About Waste? We Are Not Garbage Collectors!

The legal industry faces an interesting predicament. We now live in an era where clients expect more for less from their lawyers, measuring performance based on value, rather than time [9]. Lean may help align both client and lawyer interests. While the challenge for many firms is making the transition away from a traditional law firm culture (‘OldLaw’) the advantages of adopting new methodologies (‘NewLaw’) are clear and measurable. By applying Lean within the law firm, it can translate into more business, improved efficiency and productivity, lower costs and more profit. In turn, clients will see a better, faster, value-adding service, with reduced costs and more transparent billing, a greater predictability for their legal spend and improved communication and responsiveness[10]. It is more…for less.

This is part two of a three part series on innovation in the legal industry. Read parts one and three.


Dean Cupac
Direct:  +61 (2) 9376 1148

Download PDF:  ‘Waste not, want not’ – the modern lawyer: a garbage collector?



[1] Steven Hoeft, “Stories from My Sensei – Learned Implementing Toyota Style Systems”, page 97, 2009.

2 “A Brief History of Lean”, http://www.lean.org/WhatsLean/History.cfm.

3 Freddie Pierce, “Motorola’s Six Sigma Journey: In pursuit of perfection”, 2011. http://www.supplychaindigital.com/procurement/2068/Motorolas-Six-Sigma-Journey:-In-pursuit-of-perfection

4 “What is Lean Six Sigma”, https://goleansixsigma.com/what-is-lean-six-sigma/.

5 Ilina Rejeva, “Insiders’ Views: How Lawyers Can Benefit from Lean Six Sigma”, 2015. https://legaltrek.com/blog/2015/04/insiders-views-how-lawyers-can-benefit-from-lean-six-sigma/.

6 Right number, right experience and right advice.

7 Above n 4.

8 Kenneth Grady, “Lean Is The Path To The Perfect Legal Practice”, 2016. http://www.legalbusinessworld.com/single-post/2016/10/30/Lean-Is-The-Path-To-The-Perfect-Legal-Practice-Part-2.

9 “Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession”, 2014. https://www.roberthalf.com/sites/default/files/Media_Root/Images/RHL-PDFs/RHL_FLO_2014_0.pdf

10Above n 7

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