What is Lean Lawyering?

Utilizing his experience in business, Jack Walsh has adopted a “Lean Lawyering” philosophy to the practice of law to ensure that he resolves his business client’s legal disputes in the most cost efficient manner possible.  Under this philosophy, Mr. Walsh aims to minimize the “waste” normally associated with litigation by focusing his work on items that add value to the client’s litigation objectives and by minimizing his actions on things that don’t. 

This “Lean Layering” approach derives from the lean manufacturing system created by Toyota in the 1950s and adopted by every major manufacturer, as well as some service industries, by the turn of the century.  As with all “lean” approaches, the concept of “waste” refers to any action in a process that does not add value to the goods or services sought by the client.  For legal services, this means eliminating the actions in providing legal services that do not add value to the client’s litigation objectives.  In Mr. Walsh’s experience, he has identified litigation waste in the following general categories:

  • Unnecessary Actions: By failing to adequately map out a litigation strategy at the outset of a lawsuit, an attorney will often perform tasks that are unnecessary to achieve the client’s litigation goals. 
  • Repeated Steps: By failing to properly block off time to focus exclusively on a client’s case, an attorney will often repeat steps in a process by continually starting and stopping work on the case. 
  • Undisciplined Work: By failing to accumulate each work task (e.g. legal research, factual research, etc.) into a larger, cumulative work project, an attorney will often repeat steps at different phases of the lawsuit.  
  • Unconstructive Actions: By refusing to cooperate with opposing counsel and other persons involved in the litigation process, an attorney will inevitably waste time and energy that could have been used on items that add value to the client’s objectives.   

The last item is a sure sign about whether an attorney is committed to a Lean-Lawyering philosophy.  To be sure, an attorney’s “letter wars” with an opposing counsel has rarely added anything of value to a client’s litigation objectives.  But it has added to the legal bill.  Given that attorneys have traditionally been paid on an hourly basis, there has been little incentive to minimize the waste associated with litigation.  By adopting his Lean Lawyering philosophy, Mr. Walsh aims to change this misalignment of financial incentives by agreeing to work with each client to establish a payment scheme that rewards efficiency; that is, a payment scheme that adequately aligns his financial incentive of Mr. Walsh with his client’s litigation goals.