The ElevateNext 2020 Vision Blog roars fast and furiously towards 2020, this time featuring the amazing Catherine MacDonagh, founder and CEO of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute. Like our other visionaries, Catherine brings so much insight (pun intended) to our four questions. Let us know if you agree!

Nicole Auerbach & Patrick Lamb

Founders, ElevateNext


Interview with Catherine MacDonagh


Q: What do you predict will be the two biggest changes in the legal profession as of 2025 and why?

First, in 2025, anyone can be a law firm owner. Why? Because we all recognize that lawyers are not necessarily the most qualified people to run a business. It amazes me that the profession has done so well when we consider that, while most leaders are very smart, most non-business people (see what I did there) are neither very experienced nor well trained in the business and management aspects of the law. I’m closely following the work of the California State Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services. This should bring long overdue modifications to the restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law and ethics rules that ban fee sharing with so-called “nonlawyers.” It will also pave the way for the profession to allow entities that provide legal or law-related services to be owned and run by a much more qualified, cross-functional team. The bar associations are lagging behind reality instead of staying a step ahead and leading. In our profession, teams are now comprised of legal, operations, procurement and pricing, project management, process improvement, marketing, business development, IT, HR and other business professionals. Moreover, they are increasingly part of the selling, delivery, and management of services to clients.

Next, as more people learn business thinking and applications, such as Legal Lean Sigma® process improvement, project management, and design thinking, we will see continuous improvement as way of working and a standing, stated objective in more strategic plans and activities. These will also be used as frameworks for true collaboration. That is increasingly common in law departments and now law firms are focusing on doing the more challenging work to develop competitive advantages. With every collaboration, example, and success story that gets shared, the case for PI/PM (and why we need to employ them together) grows stronger. We realize that the “stick” and “adapt or die,” approaches must be well balanced with incentives and “adapt and thrive” messaging that inspire change. We have an abundance of examples that don’t just tell, but show, the many paths to success in the profession.


Q: What should be the biggest change as of 2025 but won’t be?

There are so many changes that should take place but won’t, at least not by 2025. One is that value–as defined by clients–should be the key driver of satisfaction and compensation. Performance should also be driven by and rated on efficiency (which considers the full effort and costs to do and deliver work), we should use client value and efficiency metrics. But we’ll keep using grossly flawed time keeping data and reported hours worked/billed. Why don’t this be changed by 2025? Look what we measure! People only engage in behaviors that demonstrate their commitment to the values they espouse when the performance metrics, review, and compensation systems incentivize them. They should also be aligned with clients. Plus, firm rankings based on unreliable, defective, self-reported metrics such as PPP only contribute to and encourage this nonsense.

A close second is that the term “nonlawyer” should have been eradicated from our lexicon ay 2025. However, I predict that offensive term will linger for some time. And a close third is that we’ll have learned to work on processes first, then look at technology!


Q: If you could design something that does not exist right now that you think would be of help to you or the industry in 2025, what would it be?

I’m thinking about redefining, deconstructing, and redesigning “client teams.” Most often, the term is used to describe a group of lawyers that a law firm assembles. I’m interested in harnessing the power of diversity to improve our processes, develop high-functioning and high performing cross-organizational teams, and fuel innovation. We have already successfully designed and implemented the Legal WorkOut®, our award-winning framework for a  collaborative approach to process improvement; the next level/future iteration vision is to build on this. We’ll continue combining PI/PM/DT thinking, methodologies, and tools to the teams that deliver legal work.

Here’s the vision: cross-organizational teams of specific individuals with particular talents, skills, and experience are selected, assembled, and trained to perform client work. This is more than just a panel or collaboration pool of vetted resources. Think of it as the equivalent of getting all-star players from different teams to work together to handle particular kinds of matters, such as global IP portfolios or complex litigation, with a deep understanding of every step in a carefully mapped process. Client teams will be comprised of the best and lowest cost resources capable of doing each task. They will do and deliver work in ways that satisfy the client’s quality, speed, and cost requirements in every matter. Everyone will monitor as the matter progresses and will ask what’s going well and what can be improved during each phase. Key learnings will be captured and utilized for continuous improvement for the team and every organization, which will accelerate learning and support change management.

In this model, a diverse team of clients, legal and business professionals in legal departments, law firms, law offices, and so called “alternative” service provider team members will work in true collaboration. This will produce efficiencies, excellent quality of work and service, high probability of successful outcomes, and greater predictability. Thus, everyone derives greater value, without any tradeoffs. I believe this approach will facilitate each individual’s ability to come significantly closer to delivering on every firm’s brand promise and legal departments’ goals of responsiveness and being “client focused” or “client centered.” Also, the people working on these teams will experience less frustration and enjoy greater personal happiness and professional opportunities and satisfaction.


Q: If the current you could give advice to the future you about anything (doesn’t have to be law-related), what would it be? 

It’s a little trite but true: what you’re doing now is what you used to dream about. Remember those times you wondered whether anyone would be interested in any of your first-to-market ideas? Keep creating new things, even when there are only a few others that “get it.” See how far you’ve come while seeing how much still needs to be done. Keep forging ahead. You’re making a difference. Look at where your children and all your students are and marvel at what they are doing and all the changes they’ve made because you taught them. They are your legacies. Be as proud of yourself as you are of them. Keep exploring that blue, blue sky.

About ElevateNext

ElevateNext is a majority woman-owned, new model law firm formed by Nicole Auerbach and Patrick Lamb that sits alongside the global law company, Elevate Services. Using ElevateNext’s ability to practice law and Elevate’s technology, global staff, project management, ​managed services, consulting and legal operations expertise, ElevateNext and Elevate bring cost and operational efficiency and better outcomes to in-house law departments and law firms by rethinking the traditional delivery of legal services.

Patrick Lamb & Nicole Auerbach

Patrick Lamb & Nicole Auerbach

Founders, ElevateNext Law

Catherine MacDonagh

Catherine MacDonagh

About Catherine MacDonagh

Catherine is a former corporate counsel and law firm executive. She now teaches and provides training and consulting services with a focus on process improvement, project management, operational and process excellence, organizational development and strategy.

A Legal Lean Sigma® Black Belt and a certified Six Sigma Green Belt, Catherine is the CEO and a Founder of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute, which offers consulting and the first and only process improvement and project management certifications, courses, and workshops designed specifically for the legal profession. Catherine created Legal Lean Sigma® and invented the Legal WorkOut®, a collaborative method of engaging in process improvement together that has won multiple awards, including the 2018 Process Excellence Award for Best Business Transformation Project at the OPEX Week: Business Transformation World Summit and a 2018 Your Honor Award from the Legal Marketing Association.

Catherine offers coaching, training, and strategic planning consulting services through her practice, FIRM Guidance and is the Chief Enthusiasm Officer of Mocktails LLC, which offers experiential networking training programs for lawyers and everyone else. She is also an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law School and George Washington University (Master’s in Law Firm Management) and a frequent guest lecturer at other academic institutions. She is the author of Lean Six Sigma for Law Firms and the co-author of The Woman Lawyer’s Rainmaking Game and The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills. She is a contributing author to six books: Redefining Matter Management: A Best Practice Guide to Improving Processes and Profitability; The Lawyer’s Guide to Strategic Practice Management; The Lawyer’s Guide to Project Management; The Bigger Picture: Driving Client Value Through Collaboration; The Lawyer’s Guide to Process Improvement; and The Procurement Handbook.

Honors and awards include: Fellow, College of Law Practice Management; Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame (the association’s highest honor); Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40; two years on the prestigious MLF 50 (Marketing the Law Firm Top 50) List; and several Legal Marketing Association Your Honor Awards.

Catherine is a founder of both the Coalition of Professional Services Providers and the Legal Sales and Service Organization, which presents the annual RainDance Conference. She served on the Legal Marketing Association International Board, as LMA New England Chapter President for two terms, and on many LMA committee and task forces. She is a member of the Association of Legal Administrators, where she is contributing to the development of the Uniform Process Based Management System’s standard code set.

Catherine lives in Boston, MA, USA with her family, which includes three Havanese dogs. She is a sports fan and enjoys cooking and volunteer work.


“I’m interested in harnessing the power of diversity to improve our processes, develop high-functioning and high performing cross-organizational teams, and fuel innovation.”

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