Lean lawyering: A Florida legal aid office test drives the Toyota Way

Toyota adviser, Lance A. Lewis, scrutinized the workflow of the Florida Rural Legal Services legal-aid clinic with the same intensity that he applies to the Toyota factory supply chain. This time, the goal was to improve efficiency and productivity in the service of people in need of legal assistance. Effective customer service is a critical element of both legal aid and the Toyota Way.

“I observed how much time was spent on actual value-added activity,” Lewis explained, “and how much was not value-added.” - Lance A. Lewis

As the receptionist worked, he tracked walk-in visits and hotline calls. He counted steps from the desk to the door, and watched case and file transfers take place. He jotted all his notes down in his notebook. The Toyota Way method is looking for ways to make problems visible. 

Managers wanted to explore whether they could shorten lag time between a potential client’s first contact and their first conversation with a legal expert. It would take five days from a client’s first contact with the receptionist to screener, and from screener to legal advocate, maybe another 48 hours. This wasn’t satisfactory, and simply hiring more people wasn’t the answer. Solving this problem would require more thought. Lance A. Lewis began deploying the tools of Toyota process improvement.

As the legal-aid clinic workers drew lines and arrows illustrating the work-flow of the clinic on any particular case-file, they realized that some of their steps might be adding busywork, but not really serving the clients’ needs. A standardized, efficient process would serve everyone better.

“Instead of coming in like robots and doing things the same way they have always been done, you start asking, ‘Why am I doing this? Is this helping?'” 

By employing process improvement methods recommended by the Toyota Way consultant, Lance A. Lewis, “We have already increased our intakes and the amount of people we are closing by 30 percent just in the first quarter this year, and that is going to improve even more,” Burns said. Also, the lag time from a client’s first contact to an attorney chat has shrunk to under 48 hours, Burns said.

Interested in the rest of the story? Read more from the article here.