LEAN Thinking at the Legal Hotline

By Keith Morris, President, Elder Law of Michigan, and Director, Center for Elder Rights Advocacy

Lightbulbs leading to other light bulbs.A good non-profit manager must utilize all of the tools available to maximize the effect and efficiency of his or her program.  We have already adopted many of the financial management practices of “for-profit” businesses.  It is a necessity to use good data as the basis for making decisions.  Funders expect strong fiscal management, non-duplication of services, and innovative collaborations to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

Because most nonprofits are service organizations, there really hasn’t been much advancement in the area of process improvement and increased efficiencies.  We have exploited the advances in technology to make improvements to our systems, but how many of us have actually employed process  design principles to make sure that we are improving the overall experience for our clients?

While we are very proud of the systems and processes we have developed for the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors, we recognize that there is definitely room for improvement.  With the support of the Michigan State Bar Foundation and Michigan State University’s College of Law’s Legal R&D program, we have started a process to identify improvements that can be made to our process of delivering legal advice.  It is based on the LEAN Thinking model first used by Toyota.

Basically, the process involves identifying small improvements that can be made to improve the overall experience.  We start with documenting our current process and then reviewing how each hotline attorney adheres to that process.  Then, for those that vary from the process, we examine why and determine if perhaps they have a better way of doing it.  We will be looking at each part of the hotline experience and will try to identify unnecessary steps to remove from the process.

Once we were able to see the delivery of legal services as a manufacturing process, the legal hotline staff have been able to start identifying possible improvements to test.  We are currently working on data gathering and analysis to help identify baseline measures that we can use to help us determine success.  These measures will include length of call, number of times we had to contact the client, the client’s measure of satisfaction, and potentially the impact of the service provided.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this analysis with our legal hotline.  After starting the review, I know question why we didn’t think to do something like this years earlier.  I plan to write a series for our blog on the development of this process, the challenges and revelations, and my personal observations on the process.  Stay tuned for more.


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