Many businesses borrow best practices from other industries. Do law firms do so? 

Rarely in my experience, and that’s too bad. That point was hammered home reading A Hospital Races To Learn Lessons Of Ferrari Pit Stop (Wall Street Journal, 11/14/06, p. A1), which explains why surgeons adopted Ferrari race-car-team pit-stop techniques.

“Devastating mistakes” can occur in the thousands of daily handoffs from surgery to recovery. “The challenge of moving a patient to another unit, or to a new team during a shift change, is an old one.” One study found that 70% of preventable hospital mishaps stem from communication glitches during hand-offs.

Two British doctors “noticed striking similarities between patient handovers at their hospital and the interchange of tasks at a racing pit stop.” This insight led to working with Ferrari’s racing team to learn about pit-stop techniques such as a clear leader and contingency planning. After adopting such techniques, hospital hand-off mistakes dropped dramatically.

Law firms face their own “hand-offs.” For example, paralegals who keep working on a matter days after it settled because no one told them it settled, team members coming and going, or clients switching counsel.

Health care and law have similarities but two big differences separate them: (1) medical mistakes are more deadly; and (2) insurers and employers, as third-party payers, pressure providers to improve efficiency and outcomes.

BigLaw can learn from other businesses. But they won’t until the bill-payers – inhouse counsel – exercise their market power more effectively. It will take external pressure to drive BigLaw to seek inspiration outside of legal. And that would be good for BigLaw CIOs, who likely would find their know-how in higher demand.

Updated: For another comparison of law and medicine, see Does Your Firm Resemble a Hospital? (12/2/06) by Adam Smith, Esq. This post examines the relatively slow transition from coronary-artery bypass grafting (CABG) to angioplasty and the dynamics of doctors adopting new techniques.