Dec. 14, 2018

Law students bring efficiencies to Public Interest Law Clinic's work

Leadership for Lawyers course offers experience reducing defects and waste using Lean Six Sigma practices
Students in the Faculty of Law's Leadership for Lawyers course used Lean Six Sigma techniques to help find efficiencies for the Public Interest Law Clinic. Photo courtesy Kyla Sandwith

Law students bring efficiencies to Public Interest Law by using Lean Six Sigma techniques.

Kyla Sandwith

Kyla Sandwith was just a young associate at a big national firm in Calgary when she first started to realize that law firms could benefit from better management, as they often failed to utilize common business concepts.

Eventually, Sandwith left private practice to work on knowledge management and efficiency, earning her master's degree in law firm management at George Washington University. Sandwith believes that failing to effectively manage law firms can have big consequences, affecting the people who work there, their job satisfaction and loyalty, eventually trickling down to the client and their outcomes.

As founder of De Novo Inc., Sandwith now works with lawyers, law firms, and corporate counsel to build a new generation of lawyers and firms that are more agile, responsive, relevant, accessible, and valuable to their clients and the community at large. Through her work, she realized that the leadership and management challenges faced in law firms would continue unless law students learned these skills.

“As lawyers we are given immense responsibility and credibility in a variety of situations that require leadership skills like how to motivate people, how to work with people, and how to effectively work within a team,” says Sandwith. “But we are never taught those skills.”

This is where the idea for her course Legal Practice: Leadership for Lawyers was born.

New course teaches Six Sigma techniques

Employing the Lean Six Sigma, a framework that aims to reduce defects and waste while creating organizational culture change, the course tackles a hands-on real-world case study, while requiring the students to examine their own leadership skills.

This year, Sandwith and her students have volunteered to apply their skills to the law school’s Public Interest Law Clinic (PILC), led by Christine Laing, which was created to advocate for systemic change that values and advances the well-being of the public and the environment. The students were told to employ the Lean Six Sigma framework to assist the PILC in streamlining their training and onboarding processes. This required working with Laing to identify the clinic’s challenges and goals, and to provide a step-by-step analysis for automations.

The results are significant: “The students dug in and generated insightful and materially valuable solutions for the clinic. Their work ensures our clinic will be functioning far more efficiently and effectively by the time we intake new students this fall,” says Laing.

By embracing the mission of the Calgary Curriculum, students in this course have used their newly developed skills to benefit the clients of the PILC, and will soon be ready to effect change within their organizations when they enter the legal marketplace.