November 15, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

 

2.    Aim for Quick Wins to Create Internal Champions

The successes listed in Part 1 of this series, and many others, have begun to create a cadre of internal champions who are continuing to spread LPM within Lathrop Gage.

One broad example emerged from coaching several members of the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights Practice Team.  Several leading members of the team saw the benefits of using task codes to organize their work, convey the details of the work effectively to clients, and improve budgets.

Following Clark’s recommendation, the group implemented a task code pilot project in June 2017, requiring the use of firm task codes on all new litigation matters opened by that group. Clark worked with the firm’s accounting department to design and implement the task code project, created training materials on the proper use of the task codes by all attorneys and paralegals in the group, gave presentations on the pilot project at team meetings, and had a special training session for secretaries on the correct use of these task codes. In conjunction with this pilot project, Clark’s LPM team created an in-house spreadsheet tool to assist lawyers with creating and monitoring budgets utilizing litigation task codes.  In addition, Clark and his team are working closely with a global business intelligence company specializing in legal and professional services firms to help it develop a robust matter planning and budgeting software program that will serve the firm’s long-term needs.

Throughout this coaching program, each lawyer focused on their “low hanging fruit,” the changes that would have the most immediate benefit to their practice.   For example, Rick Bien, Co-chair of the Business Litigation Team and leader of the firm’s ERISA, Life, Health, and Disability Insurance Group, created a personal docket for keeping track of all matters – a single document to see the interrelationships between matters.  For one large matter, he also created a RACI matrix, a simple chart that will increase efficiency and communications by clarifying the roles of team members in completing tasks and deliverables. It establishes the level of communications each team member should receive. RACI is an acronym for who’s Responsible, who’s Accountable, who should be Consulted, and who should simply be Informed. (For details, see page 217 in the Fourth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.) The result of thinking through that matrix was that it helped Bien decide when and how to communicate with the client’s GC and its business executive as the matter progressed.  

Banking & Creditors’ Rights Litigation Co-Chair Wendi Alper-Pressman focused on delegating work more effectively so that each team member understands exactly what she expects, when it is due, and the estimated hours in the budget. Employment partner Bridget Romero focused on tactics to better use Statements of Work and Matter Planning Templates to clarify understanding of the client’s objectives at the start of a matter.  Jill Waldman, another Employment attorney, is standardizing her procedures to set baseline budgets upfront for all significant matters, and tracking and monitoring costs as the matter proceeds.

Wealth Strategies partner Gretchen Gold drafted new procedures for vault usage, and had them reviewed and edited by a team of Lathrop paralegals.  Then she met with Lathrop’s Records Department personnel and coached them on the scanning and indexing of documents in the vault, including naming conventions and sequencing. She also has begun drafting instructions to non-timekeepers who will be responsible for a quality checking process for scanning and bar coding documents in the vault.

In another example of her work as an internal champion, Gold successfully coached another partner how a task done at her higher rates could generate a client cost that was lower than the combination of that partner’s time/rates plus inexperienced associates/rates doing the same work.

 

3.    Publicize Successes Within the Firm

Even in a firm that is as well attuned to LPM as Lathrop Gage, there will be some resistance by attorneys to the adoption of any new practice concept, including LPM. Internal publicity is one way of countering that resistance.

“There are always obstacles,” Clark says. “There are lawyers who say that they don’t need it or that clients don’t want it or that there’s not enough time to do it. There’s always going to be some resistance, and part of my job is to understand, for each lawyer and practice group, what problems they have in their practice, and what LPM tools or templates will help them. Lawyers have started to notice that LPM is being mentioned more and more by clients, and that has helped to encourage them to start adopting LPM principles and practices.”

To date, internal publicity has largely been informal, as lawyers have shared tactics that have worked. 

For example, when Douglas Link completed coaching he began developing a standard checklist for each patent-application project that can be accessed by all members of the team and by in-house counsel for the client.

“The checklist is simply a list of all possible tasks for the project. It’s basically a shared Word document. We start with a basic checklist and then we develop an individualized checklist for each client,” Link says. “It happens that this is a very repetitive practice area, without a lot of unexpected events, so checklists work very well. You can use checklists and task codes to estimate costs and make the cost estimates more accurate. This is especially advantageous when the firm is working on a flat-rate basis.”  As a result of Link and others acting as internal champions, the entire Boulder office, which is devoted to IP matters, is now using this checklist.

Similarly, Travis McCallon reports that “Anyone on my team and anyone on the client’s team can find out where any matter stands and can generate a monthly report.  Because we share this with the client, the spreadsheet is straightforward, professional and comprehensive.”

Over the next few months, one of Clark’s key goals is to help build further momentum for LPM by setting up formal mechanisms and a regular schedule to publicize LPM successes, focusing on the benefits both to clients and to the firm. This can be accomplished particularly well at partners’ meetings or through individual face-to-face or telephone conversations with partners.

November 01, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

A few weeks ago, Lathrop Gage CEO Mark Bluhm emailed everyone in the firm to announce the release of an online library of LPM tools as part of its multi-year initiative “to enhance LPM capabilities within the firm… to deliver greater value to clients, increase new business, and improve efficiencies and therefore profitability.” 

Many law firms are earning an “A for effort” in LPM these days, so initiatives in this area are no longer a cause for headlines. But a much smaller number of firms would get an “A for results,” because it is so difficult to get lawyers to change their behavior. Lathrop Gage is emerging as a national LPM leader by being among the very few that are taking the right steps to meet client needs as efficiently as possible.

The firm has nearly 280 attorneys in 10 offices nationwide, from Los Angeles to Boston. Lathrop Gage was founded in 1873 in Kansas City and, according to its web page, provides “strategic guidance in litigation, business and intellectual property law, with deep knowledge and experience in the industries” it serves.

Its first major LPM initiative began in November 2015 when LegalBizDev began enrolling key lawyers in our two-month coaching program to identify and implement the most effective actions with active clients and matters.  Based on the results with six pilot group participants, they have since expanded the program to a total of 25 lawyers, with more planned for the future. 

One of the lawyers who participated in the first coaching group – IP litigator Dave Clark – became so convinced of the value of these techniques that he took on the newly created role of LPM Partner. 

Clark first deepened his LPM knowledge by completing LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program with Gary Richards.  As part of that program, he developed a firm-wide LPM implementation plan.  To support him as his role evolves, Clark has a telecon every other week with Richards, LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf, and founder Jim Hassett.

His responsibilities and progress to date are described below, including participating in a supplemental “LPM Coaching Certification” process so that Clark can personally continue to expand the coaching program without using LegalBizDev consultants.  He has been coaching individual lawyers on an ad hoc basis for months, and has begun a two-month formal coaching program for his first group of eight lawyers.

The LPM program was initiated by Jennifer Hannah, the Chair of the Litigation Division and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.  She is also a member of a new Client Value Task Force headed by COO Court Landon.  That group was started this year to periodically review LPM past accomplishments, future plans and related initiatives. LPM efficiencies are becoming a key part of the firm’s culture.

The approach Lathrop Gage is using is consistent with the concepts outlined in our white paper “The Top Five Ways to Increase Legal Project Management Results”

  1. Focus on changing behavior and solving problems;
  2. Aim for quick wins to create internal champions;
  3. Publicize successes within the firm;
  4. Use just-in time training materials;
  5. Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly.

This case study describes how Lathrop Gage is applying each of these principles.   

  1. Focus on Changing Behavior and Solving Problems

This is the most important of the five principles because, as noted in our white paper:

The key to getting started in changing behavior throughout an organization is to help lawyers solve the problems they face, such as living within a fixed fee budget or increasing realization.  And the best way to do that is to first identify lawyers who are motivated to change, and then to coach them one-on-one to create quick wins.

The first steps that lawyers should take are often easy to identify.  The hard part is getting them to do it.

Since completing his coaching, Tedrick Housh III, Chair of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice group, has begun to use LPM in both client projects and litigation.  The LPM format is a natural fit for corporate clients who engage Lathrop Gage to assess their data security and privacy policies, regimens and incident response plans.  “We have spent a lot of time looking at all of our repetitive tasks,” he says, “to handle them more efficiently and make sure they are assigned to the right people.” 

For each new litigation matter, his team uses an electronic timeline with all deadlines and events coming up, along with a detailed list of tasks for each pleading, discovery item or witness. This format, says Housh, “prompts regular meetings of our trial team and forces us to continually evaluate whether certain tasks have been done, and sometimes whether they are still worth doing.” As trial approaches, the form suggests more frequent points at which to engage the client in the case.  “It’s certainly true that litigation is unpredictable,” Housh says, “but these tools have helped us even though we know that there will always be surprises.”

In another example, Douglas Link, an IP associate in the firm’s Boulder, Colorado, office worked with his coach to identify immediate ways in to improve his communication with clients. They developed a new engagement letter that spells out all possible steps that the firm might need to take in connection with a patent application. The new engagement letter defines the scope of representation by using task codes and provides future cost projections for the various tasks.

A third example comes from Courtney Conrad, a Kansas City-based partner in Lathrop Gage’s Wealth Strategies group.  She and her group have been informally using LPM for years by creating standard forms that help it serve its estate-planning clients, saving time and money. 

“We have a checklist, basically an electronic binder, that is accessible to everyone in our group,” Conrad says. “It has all the elements that you need for most estate-planning matters. It’s now a Word document, but we will soon transition to a document assembly system that will be even better. Once an attorney enters the necessary names, amounts, addresses and so on, that system will produce the document. This approach can be used not just in estate planning, but in many other groups firm-wide.”

The final example in this section comes not from a program that was started by a LegalBizDev coach, but rather from coaching Dave Clark conducted with LegalBizDev’s support.  Clark’s assumption of his new role as LPM partner coincided neatly with the firm’s being retained by a major auto manufacturer to handle a large series of trademark matters.  Travis McCallon, an IP team leader in the firm’s Kansas City, Missouri office, consulted with Clark during the early stages of this work, and together they worked on efficiency techniques to keep this new client happy and in the fold.

“This kind of trademark work has a lot of volume. Most individual cases are not too sophisticated, but there’s a lot to keep track of,” McCallon says. “We created an in-house matrix that gives us all the information in a spreadsheet – what has happened so far in the case and what will happen next. The spreadsheet includes the name of the alleged infringer, and it even includes a link to the content that constitutes the possible online infringement itself.”

McCallon says the Excel spreadsheet also spells out what the firm’s proposed next steps are in each case and contains a requirement for client approval before each step can take place. The client has full access to the spreadsheet and can “populate” the box for client approval, thus triggering correspondence from McCallon to the alleged infringer.

In addition, McCallon, with Clark’s input, has devised an internal checklist that his team uses to ensure that all key steps are being taken in any of these trademark infringement cases so the data is “right at our fingertips.”

As Clark summed it up, “Through the use of LPM principles, we developed a way to keep the client informed on a regular basis of what’s going on in the large number of trademark cases that we are handling at any one time.  This permits the client to see the status of all the matters practically at a glance. It has made it easy for the client to understand what’s going on in each case and what the recommended courses of action are.  The client has been extremely happy with this approach.” 

October 18, 2017

A checklist to assess your legal project management needs

By Tim Batdorf

The LPM Self-Assessment Checklist below was designed to help lawyers decide whether they should find time to focus on LPM, and if so, in what areas.

As quickly as possible, check off your general level of concern with each topic.  Use the results to determine which areas to focus on first.  If you rate several items as high, prioritize them by looking for “low hanging fruit:"  areas which could have the greatest immediate impact on your practice while requiring the least time and effort to implement.

The checklist could also be useful to law firm leaders who want to determine which lawyers are interested in LPM assistance, and could benefit the most from our one to one LPM coaching or other programs.

LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

Your Level of Concern

Part 1: Set objectives and define scope

None

Low

Med

High

Your clients and/or your team do not fully understand exactly what is and is not included in a particular engagement

€

€

€

€

Engagement letters fail to specify assumptions in hourly cost estimates or AFAs

€

€

€

€

Your clients are unclear about exactly what they want and need

€

€

€

€

Clients sometimes question the work that was done and what they are willing to pay for

€

€

€

€

Client decision makers disagree on the goals of a matter

€

€

€

€

Part 2: Identify and schedule activities

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team overlook tasks

€

€

€

€

Your process for routine matters could be more efficient or simplified

€

€

€

€

You do not use checklists regularly, effectively, or at all

€

€

€

€

Last minute time crunches or missed deadlines sometimes occur

€

€

€

€

 

Part 3: Assign tasks and manage the team

None

Low

Med

High

You are overwhelmed with too much work

€

€

€

€

Team meetings are inefficient or ineffective

€

€

€

€

Client demands for lower cost often lead to reduced profitability, which might be avoided with more effective delegation

€

€

€

€

Delegated tasks come back late or the work comes back differently than you expected

€

€

€

€

You lose too much time to e-mails, phone calls, or other interruptions

€

€

€

€

Part 4: Plan and manage the budget

None

Low

Med

High

You often begin matters without having a clear idea of the likely total cost

€

€

€

€

Legal fees frequently exceed your budget estimates at the start of a matter

€

€

€

€

Your realization rate is too low and/or you have too many write-offs

€

€

€

€

You have a difficult time meeting AFA requirements and capped fees while remaining profitable

€

€

€

€

Part 5: Assess risks to budget and schedule

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team are unaware of the risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

€

€

€

€

You and/or your team could improve the way you minimize risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

€

€

€

€

Part 6: Manage quality

None

Low

Med

High

Perfectionism drives up fees with minimal quality improvement and/or little to no significant benefit as perceived by the client

€

€

€

€

You and/or your team do not have quality control measures in  place to maintain the same level of quality while becoming more efficient

€

€

€

€

Part 7: Manage client communications and expectations

None

Low

Med

High

You fail to keep your clients regularly informed about progress

€

€

€

€

You do not know what type of updates (e.g., phone or email, weekly or monthly) each client prefers

Your team lacks a clear understanding of responsibilities and a clear plan for communicating within the team

Your team lacks a clear understanding of who should communicate directly with clients, and who should not

You and/or your team sometimes engage in miscommunication with each other and/or with the client

You do not routinely hold “lessons learned” reviews with your team and with clients

You could improve the way you handle difficult clients and situations

Part 8: Negotiate changes of scope

None

Low

Med

High

You do not effectively negotiate changes in scope with clients

You do not spot “red flags” immediately and make needed adjustments

You do not communicate changes in scope to clients

You do not have systems in place to track work that is beyond scope

You do not have a formal process for dealing with changes in scope

Your team does not know when there is a change in scope

Your team does not immediately inform you about changes in scope

€

€

€

€


Download a pdf of this LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

This post was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

October 04, 2017

24 Benefits of Matter Planning

By Gary Richards

 

Our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes a number of sections on different approaches to matter planning that will be useful in almost every legal matter.  For large and predictable matters, your matter plan may be quite detailed.  In most litigation and other unpredictable matters, detailed planning should be limited to the first few weeks or months.  (For background on an alternative approach to traditional project management which better fits unpredictable matters, see our article “Why the Agile Approach Is So Important to Law Firms” in the October 2017 issue of Of Counsel.)

But if you are one of the many lawyers who feels too busy for this, before you give up on the idea, consider these 24 benefits of matter planning:

  1. Helps set clear and reasonable client expectations
  2. Improves client understanding of the time and tasks required
  3. Helps prevent cost and delivery problems
  4. Improves estimates of time required
  5. Allows more accurate fee estimates
  6. Forces you to think through the entire matter
  7. Allows you to establish a logical sequence for the steps
  8. Identifies steps that can be in progress concurrently
  9. Allows insights as to which steps can be consolidated to gain efficiency
  10. Establishes a clear beginning and ending point
  11. Pinpoints missing steps
  12. Can discourage procrastination by identifying easily accomplished first steps
  13. Identifies the people, material, and other resources that are needed and when
  14. Identifies the commitment needed from you and from others
  15. Identifies tasks and general areas of responsibility that can be delegated
  16. Identifies the potential obstacles or problems that may need to be solved (risk planning)
  17. Shows where expert input/client help could add value
  18. Identifies the elapsed time required, i.e., total number of days from the beginning to the end of a matter as influenced by the need to wait or process certain interim steps
  19. Becomes a checklist to track progress and budget
  20. Provides insights into possible conflicts with your work on other matters
  21. Identifies staff assignments that could be changed in order to gain efficiency
  22. Stimulates seeking simpler ways
  23. Identifies areas where unknowns exist and contingency plans can be developed
  24. Increases client understanding as to what is required to meet their desired goals

 

This post was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

September 20, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

Based on our LPM work with over 100 law firms, LegalBizDev recommends that candidates should be evaluated based on the five criteria below, which are listed in order of importance: 

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

In a 2006 American Lawyer article, David Maister published a classic article entitled “Are Law Firms Manageable?”  Maister’s article opened with these words: “After spending 25 years saying that all professions are similar and can learn from each other, I’m now ready to make a concession: Law firms are different.” He went on to describe four major differences at length: “problems with trust; difficulties with ideology, values, and principles; professional detachment; and unusual approaches to decision making.”

The most fundamental challenge in hiring legal project managers comes from this fact: they must learn how to work effectively with lawyers. More than a few law firms have made the mistake of hiring somebody with a traditional approach to project management and no experience with law firms.  The results include lots of wasted time developing plans, frustrated attorneys, LPM staff who move from firm to firm, and firms that think LPM doesn’t work. 

The best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant, who is interested in being trained in LPM.  We believe that it takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM.  Internal candidates already know how things really work behind the scenes at your firm and who the key players are. In addition, the people making the hiring decision also know the candidate well.

2.  A flexible approach to project management that fits the needs of law firms.

Traditional “waterfall” project management works best in an environment where requirements can be well defined at the start of a project and are relatively stable.  However, in the legal environment, that is rarely the case.  The result is that Agile project management techniques designed for rapidly changing environments are most valuable to lawyers, and in many cases the traditional approach may actually be counter-productive. According to the article quoted in Part 1 from two Seyfarth Shaw project managers (“Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services,” in The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), one of the qualities that Seyfarth looks for when it hires new project managers is:

Are [they] flexible in their approach to projects?  How well do they respond to fluid situations?  If they have only practiced the traditional waterfall project management methodology… we would have to consider whether they have the ability to adapt to our environment. (p. 91)

We have seen many cases in which law firms first tried to find people with legal experience and failed.  Then they decided to focus on credentials designed for other businesses, such as people who have been certified as Project Management Professionals (PMPs).  This can be exactly the wrong way to go, if the certification came in one of the many professions in which project managers devote an enormous amount of time and energy to defining requirements and making a complete plan at the start of a project.

In the legal environment, needs can change suddenly, and all of those expensive plans may have to get tossed out the window the instant an adversary changes its tactics.

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

When Seyfarth hires LPM staff, another requirement is that candidates:

Possess a mature sense of confidence and ability to influence a team of high-performing individuals to achieve success.  Could we see them sitting alongside attorneys or across the table from our clients?  (p. 91)

Successful legal project managers are both diplomatic and credible, with the gravitas to be accepted by senior partners.  Many firms have hired individuals with great technical facility, but none of these personal qualities.  They tend to sit in their offices developing elaborate plans for a small number of like-minded partners, while everyone else ignores them.  They also tend to last only a year or two in the position, before moving to a different law firm, or out of the legal field.

Obviously, personal qualities such as flexibility and gravitas will be much easier to observe and assess if one hires internal candidates rather than relying on impressions from interviews.

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

By its very nature, LPM requires a high degree of organization, discipline and tracking details.  This is another factor that will be easier to assess for internal candidates than for external ones.

5.  Project management knowledge

Note that this is last in our list, because in our experience, it is the easiest to train.  A number of our clients who have promoted from within have used our LegalBizDev Certified Legal Project Manager® program to develop the appropriate knowledge base.

In our opinion, it is unfortunate that many firms put project management knowledge first on their list of requirements, instead of last. We have seen many cases in which firms have hired LPM Directors based on their project management experience in construction, government contracting, or other areas where traditional techniques are used and agile techniques are not.  This has led to many stories of LPM Directors who could not or would not adapt to a legal environment, and ended up working with the very small group of partners who were interested in project charters, Gantt charts, and tools like Microsoft Project software.

Seyfarth faced these exact problems with their own first LPM hires:

The rigors of traditional project management, with its detailed documentation, waterfall-based phases, change control, and paperwork, were interfering with delivery in the fast-paced and often unpredictable world of legal service delivery. (p. 87)

Once Seyfarth switched to an Agile-based approach, legal project managers gained widespread acceptance among lawyers and “three day planning meetings were replaced with one hour kickoff meetings.” (p. 87)

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

 

 

 

September 06, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

When firms decide to make a serious commitment to LPM by hiring internal LPM staff, they must answer two questions:

  1. How should we define the job of the LPM Manager?
  2. Who is the best person to fill the job?

The position of LPM Manager is so new that both questions are much more difficult to answer than you might expect.

Some LPM Managers have been much more successful than others, due to a combination of management support, firm culture, and the background and personal characteristics of the individual who fills the position.  For an overview of how some of the most widely known LPM directors have defined the job, see the results of our research on the evolving role of LPM directors in this blog.

Quite frankly, in our survey of LPM directors at 15 large firms, it appeared that even within this group there are wide differences of opinion on how to define the job.  For example, some LPM Directors spent an enormous amount of time on evaluating and implementing new software, while others focused on more effectively using the software the firm already owned.  (We recommend the second approach.) 

Perhaps these differences of opinion are related to the high turnover rate for LPM Directors.  A year and a half after we published our research, we went back to LinkedIn to see how many had moved into different jobs.  33% of the people we had interviewed – 5 out of 15 – had changed employers in this 18 month period. (Three of the five had moved to different law firms, and two had gone to in-house law departments.)

In any case, the titles of two thirds of the people we interviewed included both pricing and LPM, but the vast majority of these 15 people spent most or all of their time on pricing.  One reason for this emphasis is that most groups were understaffed, and senior management often mandated an emphasis on pricing first.  It is much easier to get lawyers to agree to bid a particular fee than it is to convince them to change the way they practice law so that they actually deliver services within that amount.

In our view, both pricing and LPM are extremely important for long-term financial success.  To remain profitable, firms must both charge the right price and get lawyers to deliver services within that price. 

However, we also believe that if limited resources force one to choose between the two, LPM is ultimately more important than pricing.  These days, the fees that firms are able to charge are often determined more by competitive bidding than by thoughtful analysis.  And the best pricing function in the world does little good if lawyers consistently exceed the amounts they bid.

Once the job description is defined, the next question is how to identify the best candidate. 

Seyfarth Shaw has probably been hiring project managers for longer than any other law firm.  In the article “Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services” (which appears in Ark’s recently published book  The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), Seyfarth senior managers Karen Dalton and John Duggan have noted that “One of the biggest challenges can be finding people with the right skill set to perform the role of Legal Project Manager.”

The fundamental problem in finding qualified candidates is that as the demand for LPM has increased in the last few years, so has the demand for LPM staff.  Almost every firm starts their search by looking for people with prior LPM success at other law firms, which makes perfect sense.  The difficulty here is that the LPM Director position is so new that only a very small number of candidates meet this criterion.  And people in this group also tend to be highly compensated due to high demand and low supply.

In Part 2 of this series, we will recommend five criteria for evaluating potential LPM staff.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 23, 2017

How to increase new business through active listening (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 of this series included about a dozen questions to get clients talking.  This post contains over 50 additional questions which could help you probe into the details of client needs.  We start with the following:

  • What do you like about working with our firm?
  • What could we do better?
  • What could we do to make your life easier?
  • Can you think of any other ways we could help clients like you, or any new services we could offer?
  • Could we better use technology to be of service to you?
  • What type of status reporting do you like? Weekly? Monthly? Email or phone?
  • Would you recommend our firm to others? Why or why not?
  • If you managed a firm like ours, what would you do differently?
  • How would you rate the quality of our legal product?
  • How well do we listen to your concerns?
  • How well do we understand your goals?
  • How well do we understand your industry?
  • Do we do a good job keeping you informed?
  • Do we explain legal issues in terms that are easy for decision makers to understand?
  • Do you perceive us as genuinely committed to your business success?
  • Do you perceive our lawyers as prompt, responsive, and accessible on short notice?
  • Are our billing statements accurate and complete?
  • Do our invoices include an appropriate level of detail?
  • Do you think our fees are fair and reasonable?
  • In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with other law firms, and with ours?
  • What have you liked least about working with law firms?
  • When you select outside counsel, what factors are most important to you?
  • When you rate lawyers’ performance, what factors are most important to you?
  • How do you decide when to do work in-house, and when to use outside counsel?
  • What future trends in your business or industry will affect your need for legal services?
  • What are your biggest legal concerns?
  • How would you describe your overall impression of our firm?
  • What mistakes can be made when lawyers don’t understand your business and/or industry?

Note: While most of these questions address your service, they could easily be reworded to ask how clients perceive other law firms they work with. That can be an excellent way to get insights into where competitors are vulnerable.

With some clients, it may be better to start with big picture business questions, such as:

  • What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Where do you see your industry going in the next few years?
  • What does your ideal customer look like?
  • What works best in finding new customers?
  • Who are your biggest customers?
  • What is it like to work for your company?
  • Who are the key people you work with?

Whatever specific topics you choose to explore, it is important to “master the art of the easily answered question,” as explained in Kevin Daley’s Socratic Selling.The book describes how to become an active listener by using simple prompts like these:

  • Tell me more about ____.
  • Would you elaborate on ____?
  • Give me an example of ____.
  • What else should I know about ____?
  • How does ____ fit the picture?
  • Talk to me about your experience with _____.
  • How do you handle _____?
  • What makes this urgent?
  • Why is this important right now?
  • What bothers you most?
  • How tough a position does this put you in?
  • How does this affect you?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • How does that sound?
  • Do I have it right?
  • If you were to go ahead with ____, when would you ____?
  • What else should I ask about?

To be honest, the first time I saw this list I thought it looked a little dumb.  By nature, I did not want to ask clients “tell me more,” or “do I have it right?”  I usually quickly thought I had heard enough, and of course I thought I had it right.  So I wanted to get right to the point and tell clients what I thought they should do. 

Many lawyers seem to feel the same way.  They’d like to get to the point faster by dominating the conversation. Probes like the ones above do not come naturally to many lawyers because they like to control the conversation. But guess what.  Clients do too.

Simple questions like the ones above can help clients think through a situation while assuring that they talk 80% or more of the time. 

Professional salespeople have an old saying that “Whoever talks the most will enjoy the meeting the most.” That’s one reason lawyers so often leave business development meetings thinking the meeting was very successful; they did most of the talking.   But then they don’t get the business.

If you want to improve relationships and increase new business, you want the client to be the one who enjoys the meeting more.

If you would like to create more specific questions to fit your client’s precise interests, one place to start is with Paul Lippe’s influential article, “Welcome to the Future: Embracing the New Normal.” Then use your background knowledge of the client to create specific questions about some of the trends Lippe lists: alternate staffing, predictable pricing, defined quality, client intimacy, technology, and process innovation. 

And if you want general tips on becoming a better listener, there are countless websites and books that can help.  You could even join the International Listening Association, which has members in 19 countries who “promote the study of listening… and pursue research into the ways in which listening can develop understanding in our personal, political, social and working lives.”

Or you could just start with these five steps:

  1. Establish genuine interest by asking questions that you care about.
  2. Take notes. Writing down what people say shows that what they say is important, and that you are paying attention. Just put the pen down if the talk turns confidential.
  3. Respond to the speaker’s nonverbal cues and monitor your own, including eye contact, smiling, and frowning.
  4. Keep people talking. Paraphrase, summarize, and restate what you hear. When you agree with people, they will think that you are smart. Especially if you don’t interrupt them or argue.
  5. Come prepared with good questions.

If listening does not come naturally to you, practice.  Make a commitment for your next meeting to talk no more than 20% of the time, or some other percentage. (The actual percentage will depend on the client’s needs.  There are meetings when you should talk 50% or more of the time, if the client wants to interview you about your knowledge.  The client is always right.)  Then, after the meeting, compare the percent of time you planned to listen with what actually occurred. Track the results over time, using a simple format like this:

TrackingListening_Template

Obviously, the “actual” percent will be a very rough approximation. But the National Science Foundation is not going to review these results, so an estimate is fine. The important things are to track your behavior and to improve over time.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 09, 2017

How to increase new business through active listening (Part 1 of 2)

Over the years, I’ve written quite a few times in this blog about the importance of listening. But in my opinion, this topic cannot be emphasized enough, whether you are focused on legal project management, business development, or just relating to your own family.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “If I were to summarize the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relationships, listening is the key.”

In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman explains that effective leaders must be good listeners so that they can sense how employees feel, and then channel that energy into the most productive directions.

In the book Advanced Selling Strategies, sales guru Brian Tracy explains four reasons why “Active sincere listening leads to easier sales”:

  1. Listening builds trust. In a survey of professional purchasers, the single biggest complaint was that salespeople talk too much. If you show that you are interested in understanding what people really need, they are more likely to believe that you will provide it.
  2. Listening lowers resistance. It helps to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable instead of tense and defensive.
  3. Listening builds self-esteem. Everyone wants his or her views to be heard. So when you listen to a client, it shows that you respect their opinions.
  4. Listening builds character and self-discipline. Hopefully, this fourth point won’t come up very often. But from time to time, you may sell to a client who is, shall we say, not overly dynamic. As they keep talking, it’s easy to start daydreaming about which type of salad you should order for lunch. But the more boring your client is, the more character you will build by listening. And the better you understand what the client wants, the more likely you are to get a new engagement.

Why is listening hard for so many lawyers? Because you have to talk less. (One of the reasons I am a bit of a fanatic on this topic is that, like many lawyers, I would rather talk than listen.)

Many experts say that when you are building business relationships, you should spend 80% or more of your time listening. But when lawyers meet potential clients, many think that they should spend all of their time listing the wonderful things they can do. This is a mistake.

The client is a lot more interested in her own problems than in your capabilities. If she did not think you were good, you wouldn’t be meeting. So you need to devote most of your time to focusing on what she wants, needs, and feels. As the old saying goes, that’s why you have two ears and one mouth.

Great listeners don’t argue. That’s another reason many lawyers find it difficult. To listen effectively, you must give up the need to be right.

Improved listening is not only helpful in finding new clients, it will also strengthen relationships with existing clients. From a project management perspective, this may include not just communicating about the details of a particular matter, but also asking general questions about a client’s perception of value.

This brief series lists over 60 questions that will be helpful in preparing for client discussions. Just pick a few key questions that fit your  situation, schedule a meeting, and let the client talk 80% of the time. Do not argue or object to criticism, just listen.

You could start with these very direct questions:

  • How could we increase the value of the services we provide?
  • How satisfied are you with our services, on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • What could we do to increase our rating?
  • What do other law firms do that you really like?

For many additional questions, you could review the online resources published by the Association of Corporate Counsel.  For example, see their one page introduction to getting started with the ACC Value Challenge entitled “Meet.  Talk.  Act.”   It recommends that law firms begin by arranging “a two-hour bag lunch” with top clients “with a single question for discussion:  Working together, how do we improve the value of legal services?”

They then list seven issues that may be particularly relevant in the discussion:

  • How can we reestablish trust and improve our relationship, on both sides?
  • How can we assure an adequate flow of work so that outside lawyers understand the client better and can be more efficient in what they do?
  • How can we get junior lawyers better trained, priced at more reasonable levels, practicing law more on the front line, and less likely to leave?
  • How can we better budget and manage costs and staffing?
  • How can we better institutionalize the relationship?
  • How can we evaluate progress and performance?
  • How can we create a culture of continuous improvement, on both sides?

Part 2 of this series will list over 50 additional questions lawyers could use to improve active listening.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

July 26, 2017

Seyfarth’s recent layoffs:  Much ado about nothing

Many people have been asking us lately whether Seyfarth’s layoffs of about 40 lawyers (out of over 900) a few months ago represent the beginning of the end for legal project management (LPM).  Our answer is very simple:  absolutely not. In fact, the entire LPM movement is still at the beginning of the beginning.

When the layoffs were announced, Law 360 published an article entitled:  “Seyfarth Shaw Layoffs Could Be New Normal For BigLaw.”  It quoted several leading experts about the challenges of a marketplace in which “demand for law firms remains sluggish.”  As Tom Clay, a principal at our strategic partner Altman Weil, put it: 

“This has nothing to do with Seyfarth and everything to do with what’s going on with the profession.  The reality is there isn’t enough work to keep everyone busy… Many law firms are going to have to … [resort to layoffs], and some have been quicker to act than others.”

Yet, given Seyfarth’s fame as the first large law firm to embrace LPM, the questions about implications have continued to linger.  The American Lawyer published a followup piece several months after the layoffs were announced, which asked again: “What [do the layoffs] say about Seyfarth’s lean strategy a dozen years in?  And what [do they] say about the broader LPM movement?”

Like the earlier analyses, this article argued that the layoffs resulted from changes in the profession rather than from LPM:

“Seyfarth’s financial results over the past five years have mostly outperformed the AmLaw 100’s…That occurred even as Seyfarth’s five year headcount outpaced the industry, 15.6 percent to 10.7 percent.  But that head count caught up to the firm last year.”  

In other words, Seyfarth has been doing quite well compared to other firms, but simply grew too fast.

The article also noted that: "Demand for the firm's SeyfarthLean Consulting arm, which helps clients make their legal departments more efficient, has never been stronger.”

Despite the fact that the experts agree LPM did not cause the layoffs, we predict that this is a situation where many lawyers will remain blissfully unaware of the facts, and will continue to use the layoffs as a reason to argue against LPM.   Many lawyers are unenthusiastic about the kind of attention to finance and management that LPM requires.  They would love to hear that they could forget about LPM, because it was just another fad that had run its course. 

Firms are embracing LPM not because their partners want it, but because their clients want it.  In its most recent Chief Legal Officers Survey, Altman Weil asked clients “What would you most like to see from outside counsel?”  The top three answers were greater cost reduction (53%), improved budget forecasting (43%), and non-hourly based pricing structures (36%).  All three are related to LPM, so, as we’ve often repeated, you could say that the top three things legal clients want these days are LPM, LPM, and more LPM. 

To sum it up, the fact that Seyfarth laid off about 40 lawyers means only two things:  they grew too fast, and they were wise enough to correct the mistake. 

The LPM sky is not falling. In fact, we predict that a few years from now almost no one will remember the Seyfarth hiccup.  The firms that will be healthiest will be the ones that have given clients what they are asking for: LPM, LPM, and more LPM.

July 12, 2017

Legal project management and business development (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

Stuart J.T. Dodds is director of global pricing and LPM at Baker McKenzie, one of the largest law firms in the world, with over 4,500 lawyers and 77 offices in 47 countries.  Dodds is widely recognized as a leader in linking LPM to business development, and he is the author of two related books published by the American Bar Association:  Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit, and Pricing on the Front Line.

In a recent interview, Dodds noted that

In RFPs lately, we have seen very specific questions such as, ‘Do you have project managers who have certification? How and where have they supported client matters? Can you give us case studies for how you would deliver LPM concepts in a specific commercial situation?’ This gives the client a good basis to compare one firm with another. It’s more than the words on the page. It’s what the firm actually does. I think this is a very healthy development.

In fact, Dodds says, members of the senior project manager team that he heads (including over 40 project managers) typically become directly involved in the pitching process and interact with prospective clients as part of the business development team. 

This is how we tell the client that we will engage with them, if we are selected. We will take these nonlegal professionals into the client discussions in order to achieve the best result for the client.

When the firm begins work on a large client matter, a project manager is assigned to work alongside the attorneys. For smaller matters, the firm relies on a training program that it developed and executed in-house, in which all of its attorneys have been trained in project management to a high enough level that they can handle the basics of budgeting and planning, with occasional assistance from a project manager. As Dodds says, in those instances the use of LPM is “attorney-driven but expert-supported.”

Interestingly, as director of global pricing and LPM, Dodds reports to the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer. His 40 project managers are an integral part of the global firm’s nearly 400-person-strong marketing staff.

We see ourselves as part of the value proposition for our clients. We are not a cost to the firm. Rather, we contribute to the profitability of the firm.

This type of integration with the marketing department is currently unusual, but may reflect a growing trend.  In 2015, we published an article related to this topic in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly™ entitled “Why Law Firms Must Change Their Marketing Priorities.”

The article started with an account of how Kramer Levin, a firm with over 350 lawyers in New York, Silicon Valley, and Paris, hired Jennifer Manton as its Chief Marketing Officer in 2014 in part because of her experience in using LPM to meet client demands for improved communication and efficiency.  One of the first things she did after starting at the firm was to arrange for seven lawyers to complete LegalBizDev’s one-to-one LPM coaching.  This pilot program led to increased confidence and ability to provide better price estimates, client communications and more.  Since then, Kramer Levin has gradually expanded this program with more coaching and other LPM initiatives.

However, our Bloomberg article also noted that

One of the many interesting things about this story is that Manton is a former president of the international Legal Marketing Association (LMA), which in the past reflected the nature of the profession by being associated with a more traditional approach to marketing. Marketing is often defined by the ‘Four Ps’: price, product, promotion, and place. Historically, law firm marketing departments have been involved almost exclusively in promotion. In today’s economic environment, that is a recipe for disaster.

It would be nice to report that since that article was published the approach of legal marketers has changed rapidly, but the phrase “rapid change” is rarely found in articles about law firms.

In fairness, LMA has recognized the importance of these issues by organizing an annual “P3 conference” (focusing on the “three Ps” of pricing, project management and process improvement, all of which are included in our definition of LPM).  However, to see how little integration has occurred to date between marketing and LPM, one need look no further than the titles of the speakers at this conference.  Of the 69 speakers at the most recent P3 conference, only 10% had titles that included words like marketing, business development or sales.

Nobody has ever said that implementing LPM will be fast or easy.  But the firms that are effective today in changing lawyers’ behavior, delivering more value, and meeting client needs will be tomorrow’s leaders in business development.