Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Six Sigma at Seyfarth Shaw

[posted by Bill Henderson]

Here is a link to a very interesting American Lawyer video interview of Seyfarth Shaw Managing Partner J. Stephen Poor on his firm's adoption of Six Sigma methodology,  Many things in the interview are noteworthy:

  • Seyfarth is making a significant long-term investment in time and money -- the subtext is that it is reducing short term profits.  Most large law firms don't make such long-term investments in human capital and business processes.  Moreover, the initiative is not new; it began five years ago.
  • The eventual payoff is designed to be a second order effect of serving clients.  As Stephen Poor notes, the Six Sigma approach benefits clients by making them more competitive.  "And what is good for our clients is what is good for Seyfarth."  Seyfarth claims that Six Sigma has enabled it to grow client relationships.  Many of Seyfarth's competitors focus primarily on profits -- to keep partners from leaving -- rather than clients.
  • This business process approach has the potential of institutionalizing clients because lateral partners cannot replicate Seyfarth's efficiencies at their next firm. Moreover, Six Sigma in law firms is probably scalable.  So if its price/quality combination takes off, Seyfarth can take market share from competitors.
  • As Poor notes, Six Sigma is not limited to certain practice areas -- it applies to certain portions of all practice areas.  This observation suggests that Seyfarth has carefully examined its work flows in a way that enables the firm to speak to clients at a very sophisticated level.  Most GCs these days are talking about disaggregation of their legal matters, which is the first step in optimizing (i.e., stretching) their legal budget.
  • Seyfarth appears to be behaving like a business rather than a law firm.  It has a long term market differentiation strategy that is not based on specializing in "high-end", "bet-the-company", "non-commodity" work.  In other words, it is heading in the opposite direction of most Am Law 100 firms.  If law firms could sell stock, I would be interested in taking a long position on Seyfarth. 

One final note:  much of the what Stephen Poor has to say is understated.  Seyfarth Shaw's managing partner is branding his firm without bragging, which is a subtle but valuable skill.

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The Am Law interview with Steve Poor offers further insights to a companion piece in the April issue of The American Lawyer, which features Seyfarth Shaw's Lean Six Sigma program: SeyfarthLean. Steve's interview with Am Law is an excellent overview of the 5 W's of the implementation of SeyfarthLean, and the article explores some of the How. That article, along with the video, can be found on Seyfarth's Web site at

Posted by: Mark Roy | Apr 14, 2010 7:03:58 AM

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