Doctors share many traits with lawyers. Yet health care, prompted by public policy and challenging economics, has changed much more than law practice. Lawyers and law firms can learn from doctors, as a Wall Street Journal article last week illustrates. 

ERs Move to Speed Care; Not Everyone Needs a Bed (“ERs Move to Speeed Care; Not Everyone Needs a Bed” in the print edition on 2 Aug 2011) reports that “emergency rooms are adopting so-called lean-management principles pioneered by such companies as Toyota Motor Corp. to increase efficiency, cut costs and provide better service.”

The key to reducing the rate of those who leave without being seen (LWBS), a key performance metric, is “abandoning the longstanding rule that every patient gets a bed.” Also, ERs employ more nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, which frees doctors to focus on care instead of paperwork.

What are the similar opportunities in law practice? A good starting place would be to define key metrics, which is more than just outcome and cost. Then firms need to examine how they practice to improve those metrics: Which tasks are truly necessary, which are not? Can firms perform these tasks more efficiently? Who is the right person to do the work? What technology would speed the work or improve outcomes?

General counsels who want lower cost BigLaw would be wise to encourage their outside counsel to develop metrics, ask these questions, and apply Lean techniques. Come to think of it, GCs would be wise to do the same for their own law departments.

What will it take to get more lawyers to adopt real metrics and analyze the process of law practice?