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Law Practice Management

Seyfarth Shaw Says Six Sigma Method Has Cut Client Fees by Up to 50%

Posted Sep 14, 2009 8:56 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: Seyfarth Shaw has embraced Six Sigma to such an extent that press releases announcing lawyer promotions or additions extol its virtues. The law firm even has a name for its Six Sigma approach: SeyfarthLean.

Six Sigma emphasizes rigorous measuring and perfecting of processes, but also can squelch innovation, according to critics. Many companies that can’t afford to cut any more employees are embracing Six Sigma in an effort to improve the bottom line, Business Week reports.

Seyfarth managing partner Stephen Poor is a believer, as is Robert Reynolds Jr., a lawyer joining the firm from Alston & Bird who labeled the firm’s Six Sigma accomplishments “extraordinary” in a press release. Poor called Six Sigma “a very powerful tool” in a Business Week interview.

Seyfarth says on its website that it is using Six Sigma to eliminate inefficiencies that can push legal bills higher, resulting in cost savings to clients ranging from 13 percent to 50 percent. In an e-mail interview with the ABA Journal, Poor didn’t name a specific client that has saved 50 percent on legal bills. Instead, he mentioned a “summary judgment project” at the law firm that eliminated inefficiencies and bottlenecks, “resulting in a 50 percent savings from the usual costs.”

Poor told the ABA Journal that Seyfarth uses its tailor-made version of Six Sigma to set prices for legal work in a collaborative process with clients. As an example of Six Sigma in action, he points to the law firm’s efforts to work with 7-Eleven in its quest to ramp up store openings. Seyfarth helped by developing processes to “reduce cycle time” for store leases. Using Six Sigma, the law firm introduced “consistency, standardization, quality control [and] efficiency” into the process.

“Lean Six Sigma, as we've adapted it, enables attorneys to focus their time on activities that add value to the client,” Poor said in the e-mail. “The process maximizes the attorney's efficiency by: driving out the inefficient tasks that don't add value to the process, making sure that the right timekeepers perform the appropriate tasks, creating a roadmap for the team to follow so everyone knows what they need to do and when they need to do it, which taken all together helps the attorney go the extra mile for the client.”

Most clients introduced to SeyfarthLean have liked the idea, but some Seyfarth lawyers weren't as enthusiastic at the outset, Poor acknowledges. Once lawyers came to understand the process, however, they became some of its biggest champions, Poor said.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. to include comments from Poor. Story was rewritten on Sept. 15. Story corrected on Sept. 18 to eliminate extraneous word.

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