November 17, 2017 Dialogue

From Current State to Future State: Business Process Analysis as a Tool for Funders

By Bridget Gernander, John Tull, and Ginny Agresti

IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts) funders are in a unique position to see the statewide civil legal aid delivery across programs. It can be daunting to know how to best use that information and influence to improve the access to justice system. This article provides one example of how business process analysis can be a tool for the big picture changes IOLTA program directors may be part of leading through their funding priorities and other initiatives.

Background

The Legal Services Advisory Committee (LSAC) of the Minnesota Supreme Court administers the Minnesota IOLTA Program, as well as a state legislative appropriation and attorney registration funding designated for civil legal aid. LSAC makes grants to nineteen different civil legal aid direct service programs across the state. Many of these civil legal aid programs have overlapping service areas and similar case priorities. In 2016, the Minnesota Supreme Court directed LSAC to use its role as a funder to convene the civil legal aid programs and develop "a coordinated infrastructure that efficiently matches low income and indigent clients with agencies that can address their legal needs." With the Minnesota Supreme Court taking a strong stance on the need for change, LSAC was in the position of determining how to move forward. As is often the case with systems change projects, the committee started by reaching out to experts in the field.

Pairing Civil Legal Aid Expertise with Business Process Analysis Expertise

LSAC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) and received several proposals from consultants with strong backgrounds in civil legal aid programs and technology. But as LSAC members reviewed the proposals, they looked back at the Supreme Court's charge and focused in on the words "efficiently matches." Several committee members come from corporate, in-house counsel backgrounds where business process analysis is regularly used. They believed that it was important that any project with efficiency as one of the goals include a business process analysis component. Therefore, in addition to contracting with national civil legal aid consultant John Tull to lead this work, LSAC also surveyed the corporate community in Minnesota to see if there was any willingness to offer business process analysis expertise on a pro bono basis. LSAC was very lucky to receive a response from 3M Company and Ginny Agresti, a Lean Six Sigma expert, joined the team.

Fine-Tuning the Objective

Ginny's business process analysis perspective brought value to the project right from the start. At the first meeting, Ginny challenged the team to focus on the objective and scope of the project. Rather than just looking at the charge from the court, LSAC members used a fifteen-word exercise to try to summarize what they understood to be the goal for the project. Those fifteen words from each member of the team turned into this statement of objectives: "To deliver recommendations for a collaborative system among LSAC funded programs that increases client access to civil legal aid by improving the efficiency of intake and advice processes statewide." This exercise both brought focus to the project and gave the consultants and LSAC members a way to stay focused on their objective and to describe the work consistently at focus groups, in stakeholder meetings, and in other communications.

Gathering Data

The bulk of the work done by John and Ginny was gathering data about the current state of legal aid client screening, intake, and referrals in Minnesota. This collection of data included in-person interviews of a cross section of staff and managers of LSAC-funded programs over a nine-day period, during which five client focus groups were also held. In addition, three online surveys were conducted. The first survey detailed the intake process for every program, the second tracked every prospective client screening and intake statewide for a ten-day period (3692 responses) and the third surveyed all staff across all LSAC grantees (195 responses). While the focus of this article is on the value that was added by including business process analysis in the project rather than the specific findings and recommendations, those who are interested can view the full study here.

Employee engagement in problem identification and problem solving is a fundamental aspect of business process analysis, so LSAC's information gathering included people working directly with persons seeking assistance: intake workers, staff attorneys, paralegals, and others. Business process analysis often finds differences in perception between the staff doing the work in an organization and the management overseeing it. In this process, there was a notable difference between the director level and staff level responses to the surveys. For instance, 70 percent of the senior managers strongly agreed with the statement: "Our screening and intake system is readily accessible for persons seeking legal help," while only 35 percent of staff attorneys and 22 percent of the intake workers strongly agreed with it. Similarly, 70 percent of the senior managers strongly agreed with the statement: "We make a timely determination if an applicant will be served and of the level of service that will be offered." In contrast, less than one half of the lawyers (46 percent) and only slightly more than one quarter (28 percent) of the intake workers strongly agreed with the same statement. Such differences are a strong indicator of areas where change may be needed.

Identifying System Strengths and Disconnects

After the data was collected, the business process analysis approach brought a new language to the project and a different lens through which to examine the issues. For example, rather than talking about strengths and weaknesses, the analysis focused on strengths and disconnects. Disconnects are factors that keep the system from accomplishing its intended objective, in this case, efficiently matching potential clients with the legal aid organization that could best address their needs. This language put the focus on the system and overcoming disconnects rather than on the people who work in the system and can be defensive when "weaknesses" are raised. Overall, the language of business process analysis allowed the Minnesota stakeholders to have a new conversation about a long-standing issue regarding intake among all the legal aid organizations that had been the subject of a repetitive, years-long debate.[1]

Employing Process Mapping Tools

To help visualize the disconnects in the statewide legal aid system, the study team used process mapping. This gave all stakeholders an easy way to understand how persons seeking legal aid move through the current system—or get stuck in it. The intake survey data demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of the applicants referred from one LSAC grantee to another were rejected because the issue fell outside the second program's priorities. The team documented this disconnect in a "Current State—Process Map." After examining this map, the team discussed its recommendations, and a "Future State—Process Map" was then developed to show how the team's recommendations would improve client experience. These maps supported the recommendations and are being used in implementation.

 

 

Results Achieved

Thanks to the process described in this article, there is a commitment in Minnesota to a coordinated statewide infrastructure project that responds efficiently and effectively to persons seeking help, reduces bounce between programs, and gets people to the best available service as quickly as possible or makes it clear when no free legal representation is available. The new coordinated infrastructure will include ongoing data collection on the success of referrals and about the client experience to keep the system improving. Without the business process analysis addition, there would have been an increased risk of getting bogged down in old debates and resistance. Working with the business process analyst reinforced the value of getting facts on the ground as close as possible to the persons being served and the persons serving them. Our data gathering showed the difference between the high-level perceptions and the clients' actual experience and pointed in the direction of needed change. The report and recommendations that were submitted to LSAC and ultimately approved by the Minnesota Supreme Court were supported by strong substantive knowledge of civil legal aid delivery, data, and process mapping tools.

Minnesota is now in the implementation phase of this work and the civil legal aid programs are working together through the client-focused blueprint that the report provided. There will be centralized online intake for all nineteen LSAC grantees and the technology used to support the online intake system will be used for coordinated phone intake as well. As one leader in the legal aid community put it, "we are experiencing a 'once in a generation change' in how low-income persons are served by the legal aid system in Minnesota. That change would not have been possible without the leadership of the supreme court, the close attention to fact gathering and data collection, and the fresh look that business process analysis brought to the inquiry."


[1] LSAC has also required all its grantees to attend a business process analysis training provided by SeyfarthLean Consulting in September 2015. This has also increased the acceptance and use of business process analysis by civil legal aid programs across Minnesota.

Bridget Gernander

Director, Minnesota IOLTA Program

Bridget Gernander is the director of the Minnesota IOLTA Program.

John Tull

Lawyer

John Tull has worked in the access to justice community nationally for forty-seven years, as a lawyer, manager, and consultant.

Ginny Agresti

Lean Six Sigma Coach and Statistician, 3M Company

Ginny Agresti is a Lean Six Sigma coach and statistician at 3M Company.