Clifford Chance rolls out 'black belt' efficiency coaches to global network after £15m savings last year


Clifford Chance (CC) is expanding its team of ‘black belt’ coaches – who are tasked with helping the firm’s lawyers to work more efficiently – to its network of offices around the world.

The team is part of CC’s ‘continuous improvement’ initiative, which was launched in London in 2013, when three external coaches – known as ‘black belts’ – were deployed to train the firm’s lawyers to identify inefficiencies in the way they work.

CC now has about 10 black belt coaches and four legal project managers based in London, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, after merging the continuous improvement team with its City project management team. According to the firm, the team contributed to £15m in savings during the last financial year, having saved in excess of £7m the year before.

Global client solutions head Oliver Campbell says the firm is now building up what it calls ‘best delivery hubs’ in five regions – the Americas, London, continental Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East – which will eventually be staffed by at least three people.

So far, the firm has recruited one black belt coach in New York after temporarily seconding one of the London coaches to the office, and is planning to expand the US team in the first half of 2018. “Clients are facing similar pressures in the US, and we see ourselves as early adopters of this sort of approach among our peer firms,” says Campbell.

The black belt coaches focus their efforts on the early stages of deals, as Campbell explains:  “They step in at any point, but most commonly at the beginning to help with the design phase – looking at how we will work with low cost providers and uses of technology.”

The projects managers, meanwhile, are described by Campbell as “the interface between low cost providers and our lawyers” – a role previous handled by partners or senior associates.

CC is also considering hiring legal technology delivery advisers to work with both fee earners and IT teams. “Many matters will see a range of other skill sets deployed, from technology advisers to alternative resourcing. There will be more teams involved and more coordination,” says Campbell.

Campbell adds that so far, lawyers themselves have taken the initiative in requesting support from project managers and coaches. “We are not looking for the use of these skillsets to be made mandatory. We’ve seen partners and lawyers experience the benefits and come back to ask for more.”

Campbell also works closely with CC’s global head of innovation and business change, Bas Boris Visser, who is based in Amsterdam. Campbell describes the process: “He works on new ideas and tests them. When they are ‘business as usual’, then it moves into my area, although that line is not necessarily precise. We also work out how to integrate those tools into the matters we are working on for our clients.”

The latest expansion plans come after the continuous improvement team was last year handed a wider remit to oversee the adoption of new developments in technology and innovation at the firm, packaged together into what was dubbed a ‘best delivery toolkit’. The team also includes the firm’s Delhi-based knowledge centre.

One example of recent innovation by the team is the Clifford Chance Dawn Raid app, developed by the firm’s Paris office this summer, which aims to help clients if they are subject to surprise onsite inspections. This followed the Clifford Chance Dr@ft app, which was designed by lawyers in the firm’s Amsterdam office in 2015, and which allows clients to generate tailor-made and house-styled documents by responding to bespoke questionnaires.