We know it sounds like an oxymoron, but a “Red-Tape Reduction Committee” might actually be the thing your practice needs. Today, Vivian Manning describes how forming just such a committee is helping her newly merged firm dispense with frustration and “silent suffering” among lawyers and staff, tighten up processes and, yes, get rid of some red tape!
In “Troubleshooting: It’s Not Always the Technology,” Andy Adkins discussed the concept of “the three-legged stool,” one of the legs being “modifying the steps in the process.” His post (which I hope you’ve read) reminded me of two things. The first is a quote from Bill Gates:
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
The second is how this issue has affected my own law firm this year.
No More Red Tape! (Or At Least Less of It)
The merger of my former firm with another last year resulted in myriad changes at both offices. One major challenge has been reconciling the differing procedures between the two firms. Different software, along with different personalities, always results in differing processes. Like a newly-blended family, we have had to learn to adapt to the differences, adopting the best while discarding the worst.
The merged firm continues to reside in two buildings because neither office building is large enough. A few braves souls have swapped locations, but we mostly continue to work in our original spots. Working across multiple locations has proved to be challenge. Procedures that worked well within the confines of one office haven’t always translated well across the miles to the other. Staff is great, as always, seeking and employing workarounds to help make it through the day. All too often, though, they suffer in silence, thinking “this is the way it has to be until our new “big enough” building is constructed.
This suffering in silence captured my attention when a staff member asked a simple tech question. Listening to her lament about an inefficient process made me realize that what had worked before the merger hasn’t worked quite so well since. Silent suffering was not an acceptable option—and throwing more tech at the problem wasn’t going to fix it either.
What to do? What we always do, of course: Form a new committee!
A Committee Is Born (And That’s a Good Thing)
Everyone hates committees—they seem the least efficient approach to problem-solving. But in this case, it was not such a bad idea. Our new “Red-Tape Reduction Committee” is comprised of a full cross-section of the firm: a partner, two associates (one from each office), four assistants (two from each office), Tech, HR and Finance. Our mandate? Canvass our cohorts and bring processes to the table that are not working efficiently. Then come up with some solutions.
At our first meeting a last month, almost everyone brought examples of processes that could use improvement. We identified each issue, then brainstormed possible solutions. Because many processes cross departments, everyone was involved in the discussion, providing helpful comments and checks on advice that wouldn’t work (for whatever reason). We resolved about half of the issues on the spot and are experimenting with resolutions for the remainder. All of our solutions were “free” to institute—and time spent in the meeting will be more than made up for by time saved with more efficient processes and reduced daily irritation.
But it’s not just the time-saving and irritation reduction that made the meeting a success. Everyone there was heard. Everyone brought helpful suggestions, and everyone had a hand in the solutions.
What’s more, some of us responsible for instituting processes began to understand that processes that had worked within our departments did not translate quite so efficiently outside our department. In fact, they were causing daily irritation, no matter how minimal, to those we thought we were helping.
It was good to listen to unhindered input from those on the receiving end of policies and procedures. Good to know they recognized that a process could be carried out more efficiently, and had also given serious thought to how it could be done to meet both their needs and others’. Some seemingly inefficient processes are, unfortunately, required due to Law Society regulations, or good security practices (no, you cannot use your name as a network logon password), but many are not.
I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m actually looking forward to the next meeting.
Do you have processes in your office that could use some tweaking? Maybe a Red-Tape Reduction Committee would work for you, too.
Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”
More Tech Tips from Vivian Manning
Illustration © istockphoto.