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Trend Watch: Turning Lawyers Into Project Managers and Six SIgma Black Belts

My "trend watch" antennae are going up as I see at least two Big Law firm are now trying to formally train their lawyers to be better project and quality managers. I noticed one example of this back in April, when a post on the Legal Profession Blog alerted me to an interview with Seyfarth Shaw Managing Partner J. Stephen Poor regarding his firm's adoption of "Six Sigma" methodology.

For those of you who remain blissfully ignorant of Six Sigma, it is a popular business management strategy that "seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes." It also features a special infrastructure of people within the organization (known as "Black Belts," "Green Belts", etc.) who are experts in various quality-management methods.

Sixsig According to Poor, his firm has been working on Six Sigma for several years, and has embraced a customized version of Lean Six Sigma that it calls SeyfarthLean. It's tailored to meet the needs of a professional services environment as opposed to a manufacturing or transaction-based environment. The attorney profiles on the Seyfarth Shaw Web site include Six Sigma certifications. Employee benefits lawyer David M. Weiner? He's a black belt. Labor and employment lawyer Lisa J. Damon? She's a green belt. The firm states that it has 75 certified green belts.

Dechert does not appear to have gotten on board the Six Sigma movement, but The Legal Intelligencer reported last month that the firm has begun training every partner and associate firmwide on "project management." The firm's trainer, Altman Weil's Pamela Woldow, says that she doesn't know of any other firm that has done something similar across all offices and attorney levels. She adds that the in-house counsel she works with clearly "want their law firms to operate more like businesses and deliver their services more efficiently and cost effectively."

PM training breaks down a matter from beginning to end, with an emphasis on early communication with the client about expectations and defining the scope of the project. "I think lawyers like to believe that everything they do is unique and complex and the truth is there are some parts of representation that are complex, but there is an awful lot that is rather easily mapped," Woldow said.

Posted by Bruce Carton on May 11, 2010 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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