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The Power of Aggregation: How Law Firms Can Leverage Marginal Gains to Boost Productivity in 2023

Jack NewtonIn the cycling world, the margin of victory is often mere seconds—which means small factors, from aerodynamics to the temperature of an athlete’s sleeping quarters, can impact performance. While these details may seem infinitesimal, they compound into more meaningful and large-scale performance gains in aggregate. 

British Cycling team coach Sir Dave Brailsford famously applied this theory of aggregating marginal gains in 2002 to snap the country's Olympic gold medal-less streak. Just 13 years later, the team made marginal improvements that resulted in three Tour de France titles and 14 Olympic gold medals, a remarkable turnaround in performance. 

This theory of aggregating marginal improvements extends beyond cycling—and in the corporate world, enthusiasts like myself have found ways to apply it successfully. In particular, law firms can use the theory to improve their businesses and operations in a manageable, incremental way. Identifying minor improvements can make a significant impact in the form of reduced costs, higher productivity, and improved client satisfaction. 


As planning for 2023 continues, is your strategy focused on sweeping, high-level strategy shifts? Or is there room for more marginal improvements? 

Incremental change, incredible impact in 2023

Small changes didn’t earn the British cycling team success and gold medals overnight. A significant amount of fact-finding and measurement went into establishing a baseline for improvement. 

Taking an approach like this inside a law firm can seem daunting—if you don’t know where to start. As you prepare your 2023 strategy, consider several areas where there may be opportunities to make marginal improvements that add to significant impacts in your firm. 

  • Put clients in the center. When was the last time you considered the complete client experience? Client outcomes and day-to-day interactions are one way to make an impression, but what about everything in between? For example, is it easy for clients to pay you, or are payment systems lacking? Do customer relationship management (CRM) tools allow clients to arrange meetings seamlessly, ask questions and find out information about their case, or do they need to jump through hoops or go to multiple sources to gather all of these details from you? Making even small improvements to these experiences can greatly improve client satisfaction. 
  • Keep iterating on remote and hybrid operations. Change seemed overwhelming and absolute when the shift to remote work occurred for law firms. Thankfully, the work that’s left should be more about refinement. Legal professionals are split about their preference to work remotely, but clients expect more options. Seventy-nine percent of legal clients say they look for the opportunity to connect remotely when hiring a lawyer. With tech-enabled experiences expected by most consumers, lawyers should look at how each stage of the client relationship can improve with technology. 

    But changes should focus on internal satisfaction. Nearly 1 in 5 legal professionals who left their jobs in the last year did so to achieve a better work-life balance. To prevent turnover and improve engagement, look for incremental ways to improve it. Legal professionals report higher rates of mental and emotional wellness. If you can uncover small ways to improve work-life balance over time, you’re investing long-term in retention and employee well-being. 
  • Find new areas of expertise. Establishing new practice areas or specializations isn’t a small, marginal improvement—but testing the viability of adding those capabilities can be an easy exercise that helps you uncover missed opportunities in 2023. Using proven frameworks, modeling and testing innovative new service models or practice areas can occur relatively quickly. By setting aside time and resources to research new capabilities, you might uncover an underserved need in your client base that can be a growth opportunity for years to come. 


A mindset for continuous improvement 

Like Brailsford and his steady gains in British cycling, law firms aiming to improve their performance should always look for new ways to improve their operations. Firms that fail to put the customer at the center and ignore the impact of technology on the organization risk falling out of touch with client expectations. 

On the other hand, with a marginal gains mindset, law firms can identify strategies, changes, and tools that revamp their operations without overhauling the entire business. While individually, these solutions might seem marginal, they deliver a compounded, outsized impact on the firm’s operations and the business's bottom line. 

Jack Newton is the founder of Clio and a pioneer in cloud-based legal technology. Jack has spearheaded efforts to educate the legal community on the security, ethics, and privacy issues surrounding cloud computing, and has become a nationally recognized writer and speaker on these topics. Jack also co-founded and is acting President of the Legal Cloud Computing Association (LCCA), a consortium of leading cloud computing providers with a mandate to help accelerate the adoption of cloud computing in the legal industry. He is also a 2019 fellow-elect to the College of Law Practice Management and sits on the board of ROSS Intelligence, an AI-powered legal research provider.

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