Legal Management and Problem Solving

Problem solving is one of the most essential skills of a manager of a legal department. Both the service of legal firefighting and preventing this fire are of high value to the internal clients.

Regardless of what your problem is, you will face obstacles. How you deal with such challenges will often be a determining factor in how successful you are in solving the problem. While problems come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, it is very import to use simple legal process management tools to find the solutions.

With systematic approach you will bring logic to arrive at a solution. To solve virtually any problem, you can use a process of elimination – dividing the problem down until all you have left is the cause of the problem.

The objective in this “root cause problem solving” is to discover the points of leverage where patterns of behavior originate and can be changed. The challenge lies in being able to distinguish between problem symptoms and problem causes.

Legal problem symptoms
What people traditionally call problems are frequently only symptoms of problems. For example, the problem of a claim is really a symptom of whatever caused the damage, which is the real dilemma. Defining a problem in terms of its symptoms obscures the real cause and leads to symptomatic solutions that fail to correct the basic condition.

Legal problem causes
Problems are undesired results caused by structural relationships among system components. When these relationships are complex and hidden, traditional problem solving is not effective and another technique is needed. Root cause problem solving consists of discovering and correcting these structural relationships. This process is called leverage and requires a legal process management approach to identify the system dynamics creating these outcomes.

Differentiating between problem symptoms and problem causes
Problem symptoms and problem causes can look very much alike. For example the cause of a dispute with a supplier over a service could be identified as a quality problem, or a material procurement problem, yet all of these could be symptoms of a communication problem. The following process will help identify fundamental problem causes.

You can use the “multiple why” process to identify the causes underlying the problem. This process is an adaptation of a Japanese quality technique. It consists of continually asking “why is this occurring?” to each explanation and subsequent explanations until a common cause is identified. You need to continue this “multiple why” process until a fundamental or root cause is apparent. Structural relationships are identified when the explanation changes from one system component to another.

A simplified root cause problem solving process

Select the most significant problem symptom and ask, “Why is this occurring?” Describe the symptom using all the specific facts and data available. This will enable a more focused examination of the conditions needing correction and a more precise definition of the problem. Record all of the explanations.

  • Repeat this questioning for each explanation.
  • Record and compile all additional explanations.
  • Identify any emerging patterns.

Continue this process until these explanations converge into some fundamental causes.

  • Avoid fixation on events or on blaming individuals.
  • Focus on systemic explanations.

Define the problem or problems by describing the root causes creating them.

  • Accurate problem definition is critical for the development of meaningful solutions
  • Identify the system structural relationships that are creating the conditions that need correcting.

Determine the action or actions needed to change the system relationships creating the problem or problems.