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About a year and a half ago, Thomas Sager was sent with a group of other DuPont executives to a golf club and conference center in Scottsdale, Ariz., for five days of immersion in the teachings of the Six Sigma Academy. Sager learned new statistical tools for analyzing data and was introduced to the cause-and-effect cycles that create and eliminate “defects.” He was told others would resist the new program; he would need to pick leaders with thick skins. Sager, DuPont vice president and associate general counsel, knows about resistance. For almost eight years, he has tweaked and refined the “DuPont Legal Model” to better exploit the marquee name and sheer size of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company. Having preached the gospel of “metrics management” to his lawyers, Sager was ready to take a leap of faith into the brave new world of Six Sigma. Six Sigma is another “total quality management” methodology. It’s pumped up with acronymic jargon and corporate jingoisms that promise followers increased profitability by reducing costs and eliminating errors. Its statistically driven approach to measuring performance was conceived by a midlevel engineer at Motorola, Inc. in 1985, popularized by General Electric Company chief executive officer Jack Welch a decade later, and adopted by “old economy” war-horses AlliedSignal Inc. and Raytheon Company, among others. Such a program may be entirely irrelevant to “new economy” GCs caught in a race just to hire enough bodies. But there’s no lack of lawyers willing to do most of DuPont’s work, so when CEO Charles Holliday announced a company-wide Six Sigma initiative early last year, Sager heeded the call. Sager was certified as a Six Sigma “champion” in Scottsdale. Like other Six Sigma champions around the world, he oversees not only the identification of areas in which to streamline performance but also the management of the cultural changes that accompany Six Sigma. The application of Six Sigma provokes lawyers to change their comfortable ways. On the one hand, clerical and logistical routines, such as photocopying, filing, and paying bills, are put under the microscope. Sager says such reforms could even focus on how lawyers order lunch. “Lawyers right now are probably at the whim of their secretary,” he says. “So if we could best define the process for doing that, we could find there are one or two vendors out there who will do it according to our needs.” On the other hand, Six Sigma may leech into such sacrosanct areas as drafting memos and writing briefs. Sager suggests it could prevent the various counsel in a mass tort from duplicating their efforts. To accomplish its task, Six Sigma institutes an alternate hierarchy inside legal departments that loosely resembles that of a martial arts school or feudal Japan. “Master black belts” receive 10 days of training over two months, from which they emerge as statistical wizards with a heightened awareness of Six Sigma’s impact and the certification to train “black belts.” Black belts receive 20 days of training, spread over four months; in that time they develop an understanding of Six Sigma’s philosophy and tactics. They come out of it prepared to undertake large projects with savings goals set by the champions. The team is rounded out by “green belts,” who spend ten days in seminars internalizing the Six Sigma mantra — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control — and work on smaller projects. At DuPont, rewards are given to those who perform well. Stock options, for instance, are offered to black belts who complete two projects. The fate of those who fail, or refuse to play, has yet to be spelled out. Of course, some lawyers are not going to like Six Sigma’s structure or rigid measurements. But Sager believes they will be won over. He remembers back to 1995, when he first introduced his lawyers to metrics — a system of creating standards by which legal managers can measure performance in areas such as settlement costs. “You would have laughed to see the reaction in the room. They didn’t want anything to do with metrics. I said, ‘I know you’re not accountants, but it provides credibility.’ I asked if anyone wanted to lead the effort. No one raised their hand.” DuPont went ahead with that plan anyway. “After three or four years of preaching,” Sager says, “I said, ‘Now you understand the value of metrics, because now we have a platform for Six Sigma.’ “ DuPont’s lawyers don’t have much choice. “We’re not going to modify the system,” says vice president and general counsel Stacey Mobley, who repatriated to the legal house of DuPont January 1 after more than 20 years in business affairs. “We’re going to proliferate [it] throughout the company.” Sager confirmed the futility of resistance, saying, “There’s no avoiding this. We’re all going to be cast into it.” That, incidentally, includes the 38 private firms and seven service suppliers in DuPont’s postconvergence “Primary Law Firm” network. DuPont already has trained one outside lawyer — Scott Winkleman of Washington, D.C.’s Crowell & Moring — as a black belt and put him on the leadership team alongside Sager, corporate counsel Julie Mazza and John Griffiths, and Deborah Naylor of Connecticut-based Daticon Systems Inc. “The idea,” explains Sager, “is to work the culture of Six Sigma throughout. We want it to become a state of mind, so when people think of something as basic as travel, collecting information, or file maintenance, they’ll think about savings.” Indeed, Six Sigma transforms lawyers into samurai at the service of the corporate shogun. At the end of the training process for black belts exists a Zen-like zone, where each movement is grounded in an awareness of cost; where each document is copied once, and copied right, and on time; and where the safety of the shogun, and the protection of his bottom-line buddha — profit — is never far from the samurai’s mind. WELCOME THE SAMURAI Technically, “Six Sigma” refers to an operation or service that achieves fewer than four “defects” per million products. Nothing is safe from this statistical deconstruction; nothing is sacred. Inside the DuPont Legal Model, and in other legal departments that have opened their minds to the Six Sigma Way — like those at GE and Raytheon, the craft of lawyering itself is broken down, measured out in metrics, and analyzed in relation to the company’s profit margin. “Everything we do lends itself to understanding the processes that underlie it,” explains Sager. “It could be anything from use of Federal Express to transcript transmittal to how national counsel work with us in-house. We need to find out where there are steps we can take out to eliminate inefficiency.” For example, DuPont corporate counsel and Six Sigma black belt Mazza expects that her electronic imaging of litigation documents will save the company $1.5 million each year in paper and hours spent rifling through files. Black belt Griffiths, a patent attorney, expects standardizing payment of patent annuity fees will save the company more than $200,000 each year. Raytheon’s legal administrator and Six Sigma champion Woods Abbott says that his staff, nearly all of whom have received at least green belt training, are addressing shortcomings and pitfalls in document retention, electronic referencing, and the geography of attorney location. He expects the projects to bring down total spending $20 million this year — a savings of 30 percent. Having attorneys at DuPont and Raytheon adopt Six Sigma makes intuitive sense. But will independent, outside lawyers accustomed to flying first-class submit to its rigorous accountability? “A lot of law firms don’t realize how they can help impact their client’s bottom line,” says Lawrence Abbott, a partner at New Orleans’s Abbott, Simses, Knister & Kuchler, a network firm that has arranged alternative fees with DuPont. “It’s not the historical role of the firm, and they don’t have their mindset focused on that.” Of course, DuPont has a tighter rein on its outside counsel than most companies. The company has whittled down its outside firms from more than 350 to 38. These predominantly small to midsize firms, along with suppliers like legal staffing agency Kelly Law Registry and TranScribe America, receive 90-95 percent of DuPont’s outsourced legal work. In exchange, they offer discounted rates and agree to alternative billing schemes that, according to Sager, save the company $8-12 million — or 10-15 percent of the legal department’s total costs — each year. Sager and James Shomper, manager of law firm partnering, believe it’s a win-win situation, and firm attorneys interviewed for this article agreed. Shomper says the firms provide intangible savings in addition to those that come out of their pockets, including shorter cycle time and lower transaction costs. Moreover, Shomper says, “the quality of lawyering we get is better than what we used to have under the ad hoc system of hiring outside firms.” Sager takes the point one step further: these firms know the company, and they know each other. With increased information-sharing and decreased re-education time, DuPont now has at its disposal a virtual law firm that can handle different aspects of its multi-faceted litigation in all parts of the country. From the firms’ perspective, being in DuPont’s network “is a symbiotic relationship,” explains William King of Richmond, Va.-based McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe. “It’s more than just profitable because of our relationship with a significant national client, the breadth of our practice, [and] the opportunity for young lawyers to become involved in sophisticated matters.” Sandra Clarke at Mehaffy & Weber in Beaumont, Tex., points out that network firms have also been working together on cases not involving DuPont. Clarke says that because of these joint ventures, the network offers “a way for smaller firms to survive as smaller firms.” So, while Six Sigma advises champions to look in-house, it is not surprising that DuPont has put Crowell & Moring’s Winkelman on its leadership team. Like Mazza and Griffiths, Winkelman has been called upon to design and complete five projects that will generate $1 million in savings by the end of the year. His first project, which reduces the paperwork retained by DuPont after litigation ends, is expected to save the company $300,000 annually — so he’s just $700,000 from self-realization. “The theory is that lawyers keep way too much stuff for no good business or legal reasons,” he says. “And that stuff costs the company money, creates legal exposure, and is a defect — to use Six Sigma terminology.” Of course, there is more to the decision to train Winkelman than the good will and trust of a flourishing partnership. Winkelman excitedly admits that “one advantage of having an outside attorney on the team is that I can help ‘indoctrinate’ other [outside] lawyers into Six Sigma. I have already indoctrinated my firm and have tried to indoctrinate others.” Sager says one or two representatives (though not necessarily lawyers) from many of the firms will receive green belt training in the coming months, learn the lingo, and so turn the wheel of DuPont’s ultimate truth. Thomas Clay, a partner at legal consulting firm Altman Weil, Inc., in Newtown Square, Penn., affirms that DuPont has “real economic clout.” Unlike most other companies, “DuPont can encourage if not require that kind of cooperation.” In other words, what DuPont wants, DuPont gets. And DuPont wants accountability. MAINTAINING HONOR There are repetitive processes that will bend to the will of Six Sigma samurai. But lawyers steeped in the high rhetoric of the legal profession are bound to scoff at Six Sigma’s copyrighted terminology and statistical focus. They’ll say that the practice of law is individualized, entirely case-specific, creative. Even Raytheon’s Abbott, a proponent of the system, allows that “Six Sigma is a little hard intellectually. You have to be able to step to the edges where you can see how it applies to intellectual processes.” And in a moment of literary reflection, Hildebrandt International, Inc., senior vice president and general counsel Joel Henning says, “I myself have never been able to find the ‘there’ there.” Obviously, crafting a legal strategy for a major merger or big trial is not going to be subject to Six Sigma scrutiny in the same way as locating an appropriate photocopying vendor. Six Sigma is not going to help lawyers determine who to put on the stand and when. Nor is it going to help them find that transactional trick that seals the deal once and for all. Altman Weil’s Clay notes that “it is difficult to apply Six Sigma where a lawyer actually uses his brain. There’s creativity, retention, all the things I’ve obtained over the course of my professional life.” But International Paper Company general counsel William Lytton maintains that legal reading, writing, and thinking are themselves subject to the rigor of legal arithmetic. “[A lawyer] should be able to tell me how long it takes to draft a complaint, draft interrogatories, all the way through to the trial stage,” says Lytton, who uses metrics but not Six Sigma. “They should be able to see how much it’s going to cost and develop some standards there.” To underscore his point, Lytton adds, “I don’t think you can go credibly to a client and say that handling a legal case is so much more complex than building a billion-dollar plant — that that can be measured and this can’t.” Critics will claim that the system is adequate for manufacturing wingnuts, or for construction, but not the practice of law. Or they will say that Six Sigma is about cost reduction, and good lawyering just cannot be burdened by such considerations. But Clay, who has been involved with total quality management for years, disagrees. “Clearly some of what lawyers do is process,” he says. “Clearly. It doesn’t require $500 an hour. It doesn’t even require $100 an hour. Where you have that kind of process corporations are going to keep putting on pressure to eliminate waste.” Crowell & Moring’s Winkelman chimes in that “inefficient law firms and processes will fail. And that is good for the practice of law, and it’s good for DuPont. There will be some losers in the Six Sigma war.” GCs have the options available to back Winkelman’s prediction. “Lawyers are commodities,” says Lytton. “I can hire really good lawyers from any number of places in the U.S. I don’t need to go to Manhattan. Most of what is done in legal work is fairly routine. It doesn’t mean you don’t put individual thought into it. But, you know, there are a thousand people who can do it.” Still, Clay and Lytton withhold any sort of endorsement of Six Sigma. “It’s not a new concept,” Clay says. “This is all old as wine. I learned it back in MBA school.” Indeed, the critics will also say Six Sigma is just a fad. Maybe it is. But like any fad that takes hold once the cool kids are doing it, Six Sigma’s samurai are going to stalk more than a few legal departments before it’s out of fashion.

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