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4 posts from May 2011

May 25, 2011

New legal project management book published today

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The material below is an excerpt from the second edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  Copies have already been shipped to purchasers from firms with a total of over 16,000 lawyers, who pre-ordered the book after the initial announcement in this blog.  

If you’d like to know more about the book, download sample chapters, or read about the book on our web page, or see the sample material below from Chapter 1.

Divider 

Please do not read this book.

This Reference Guide was written for lawyers who don’t have time to read books but do need to find ways to quickly apply proven project management principles in order to:

  • Deliver greater value to clients
  • Increase profitability
  • Reduce risk
  • Increase the predictability of fees and costs
  • Reduce or eliminate surprises
  • Reduce write-offs and write-downs
  • Improve process control
  • Improve communication with clients
  • Focus on clients’ true needs
  • Increase new business

This book was not designed to be read cover to cover.  It was designed to help lawyers identify personal action items during LegalBizDev project management workshops, training, and coaching programs.  These programs quickly change behavior by helping each lawyer focus on the action items that are most likely to produce immediate and practical results.  This book enables lawyers to find exactly the information they need, just when they need it.  Clients have told us that they continue to refer to the book long after the training is done, whenever a new challenge arises.

When we published the first edition in July 2010, we made it available not just to lawyers who had already signed up for our programs, but also to those who were considering them.  Because it summarizes our proprietary approach, we limited distribution to potential clients, and turned down many orders from others.  We sold it only through our web page, rather than through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or bookstores.  Despite these limits on distribution, the first edition was purchased by firms with a total of over 65,000 lawyers.  Many bought between 3 and 100 copies for key partners and decision makers. 

My interest in legal project management grew out of an alternative fees survey I conducted with AmLaw 100 chairmen, senior partners, and executives.  Many of these senior decision makers emphasized the need to adopt project management techniques from other professions.  As the CFO of a firm with more than 1,000 lawyers succinctly put it, “If we teach our people to manage, we can make more money.”

Several survey participants said that project management could be especially helpful to lawyers who must suddenly learn how to deliver quality solutions within limited budgets.  For example, the chairman of a firm with more than 800 lawyers noted that:

In the world of construction, architects, engineers and contractors have been working on a fixed price basis for a long time. There is a body of learning about how to estimate, contract, define scope, manage changes, allocate risk, and how to manage fee disputes, delays, [and] changes in scope [that could] be adapted to the legal profession.

Some firms have already started adapting this knowledge.  According to Joe Morford, managing partner at Tucker Ellis & West (which derives 60% of its revenue from non-hourly fees):

Project management is the key to success, and it is very hard to roll out to attorneys.  People think if they get a computer program they will be doing project management, but in fact it is much harder than that...We discuss project management at every partner meeting. But aligning interests and working smarter have benefits both to our clients, and to us.  It is simply a better way to practice law.

So exactly what should you do to adapt this deep and rich body of knowledge?  The answer depends on your practice and your personality. 

If you had enough time to get a master’s degree in project management, you could consider all the possibilities at length.  But the truth is that most lawyers can barely find time to read this chapter.

The billable hour has created an enormous amount of inefficiency and “low hanging fruit” – areas where lawyers can instantly reduce cost simply by focusing on proven best practices.  This book will show you how.  It provides easy access to hundreds of ideas that other lawyers have found useful, so you can decide for yourself what will best fit your practice, and where to begin.

If you obtained this book in one of our workshops, training or coaching programs, we hope that you will continue to use it long after the program ends.  And if you have not yet signed up for one of our programs, we hope that this book will encourage you to do so, or at least to review what we offer. 

In either case, the innovative tools in this guide can help you gain an advantage in today’s highly competitive marketplace.  All you have to do is use them.

  • Deliver greater value to clients
  • Increase profitability
  • Reduce risk
  • Increase the predictability of fees and costs
  • Reduce or eliminate surprises
  • Reduce write-offs and write-downs
  • Improve process control
  • Improve communication with clients
  • Focus on clients’ true needs
  • Increase new business

This book was not designed to be read cover to cover.  It was designed to help lawyers identify personal action items during LegalBizDev project management workshops, training, and coaching programs.  These programs quickly change behavior by helping each lawyer focus on the action items that are most likely to produce immediate and practical results.  This book enables lawyers to find exactly the information they need, just when they need it.  Clients have told us that they continue to refer to the book long after the training is done, whenever a new challenge arises.

When we published the first edition in July 2010, we made it available not just to lawyers who had already signed up for our programs, but also to those who were considering them.  Because it summarizes our proprietary approach, we limited distribution to potential clients, and turned down many orders from others.  We sold it only through our web page, rather than through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or bookstores.  Despite these limits on distribution, the first edition was purchased by firms with a total of over 65,000 lawyers.  Many bought between 3 and 100 copies for key partners and decision makers. 

My interest in legal project management grew out of an alternative fees survey I conducted with AmLaw 100 chairmen, senior partners, and executives.  Many of these senior decision makers emphasized the need to adopt project management techniques from other professions.  As the CFO of a firm with more than 1,000 lawyers succinctly put it, “If we teach our people to manage, we can make more money.”

Several survey participants said that project management could be especially helpful to lawyers who must suddenly learn how to deliver quality solutions within limited budgets.  For example, the chairman of a firm with more than 800 lawyers noted that:

In the world of construction, architects, engineers and contractors have been working on a fixed price basis for a long time. There is a body of learning about how to estimate, contract, define scope, manage changes, allocate risk, and how to manage fee disputes, delays, [and] changes in scope [that could] be adapted to the legal profession.

Some firms have already started adapting this knowledge.  According to Joe Morford, managing partner at Tucker Ellis & West (which derives 60% of its revenue from non-hourly fees):

Project management is the key to success, and it is very hard to roll out to attorneys.  People think if they get a computer program they will be doing project management, but in fact it is much harder than that...We discuss project management at every partner meeting. But aligning interests and working smarter have benefits both to our clients, and to us.  It is simply a better way to practice law.

So exactly what should you do to adapt this deep and rich body of knowledge?  The answer depends on your practice and your personality. 

If you had enough time to get a master’s degree in project management, you could consider all the possibilities at length.  But the truth is that most lawyers can barely find time to read this chapter.

The billable hour has created an enormous amount of inefficiency and “low hanging fruit” – areas where lawyers can instantly reduce cost simply by focusing on proven best practices.  This book will show you how.  It provides easy access to hundreds of ideas that other lawyers have found useful, so you can decide for yourself what will best fit your practice, and where to begin.

If you obtained this book in one of our workshops, training or coaching programs, we hope that you will continue to use it long after the program ends.  And if you have not yet signed up for one of our programs, we hope that this book will encourage you to do so, or at least to review what we offer. 

In either case, the innovative tools in this guide can help you gain an advantage in today’s highly competitive marketplace.  All you have to do is use them.

Click here to download sample chapters from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18, 2011

Announcing the first Certified Legal Project Managers™

Last December, we announced that Squire Sanders, Stewart McKelvey, and Harris Cost Lawyers were the first three firms to sign up for our new Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program.  

Lawyers from all three firms have now completed their final case studies and been awarded certification.  We have also begun certifying additional lawyers in the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Germany.  The smallest firm to sign up has eight lawyers, the largest has over 3,000. 

The first certification group has provided an important proof of concept that busy senior partners can indeed complete this program within a few months, build a solid foundation of project management knowledge, and apply this knowledge to develop and implement new procedures that improve client service and increase profitability.

Over the course of the program, each participant studied over 300 pages of assigned readings from six textbooks and answered 17 essay questions about how the concepts applied to their practice.  Then, in three phone conversations and numerous emails, we discussed their “low hanging fruit”: which of the concepts could be most efficiently applied to achieve immediate and practical results?

The first to finish was Fraser MacFadyen, a partner at Stewart McKelvey, a 220-lawyer firm in Atlantic Canada.  Fraser decided to focus on improving practice-wide procedures for handling certain types of secured financings, starting with representing borrowers on a loan secured by real property and related personal property. 

For his final project, Fraser developed several templates to increase efficiency:

  • Standardized spreadsheets for estimating the cost of easy, moderate, and difficult transactions
  • A standardized cost estimate letter to clients that explains what is included in the price and what is not
  • A working agenda summarizing key tasks, who is responsible for each, and deadlines
  • A closing agenda and checklist

We also discussed sustainable tactics to use these templates to maximize benefits to clients, and then to implement them throughout the firm.  We agreed on minimum success criteria for the next 90 days, including using the forms in at least two of Fraser’s matters, getting in-depth feedback from at least two partners on how to improve the forms for their practices, and holding at least one client meeting to discuss how to work together to increase efficiency.  Again, these are the minimum goals.  We both hope he can achieve much more in 90 days, including having other partners actually use the templates. 

Although the program has technically ended, I will be calling Fraser after 30 days and after 90 days to check on his progress.  I want to know what works and what doesn’t.

The second to complete the program was Liz Harris, the founder of Harris Cost Lawyers, an eight-lawyer firm in Melbourne, Australia.  Timing is everything in life, and Liz read about our program on the internet at exactly the right moment.  She had just completed the first module in a program to become certified through the Project Management Institute (PMI) and concluded that while “the PMI program was extremely interesting, much of the content was not relevant to my practice.” So when she saw an announcement that explained how our certification program was specifically designed for lawyers, she signed up right away. 

For Liz’s final project, she created over 25 pages of checklists and templates to enable her firm to better define scope for four types of fixed price matters, and to complete them within budget.  For example, one of Liz’s templates will help her firm to complete particular stages of litigation under Australian law.  One of her checklists lists 12 issues to take into account when estimating the extent of work a matter will require, built around practical details and hard-won wisdom, including “Who is instructing us…a client with little litigation experience will need a more detailed explanation of concepts like instructions for experience offers of compromise" and, “Which court are we in – federal court objections need to be much more detailed and reference case law.” 

Harris Cost Lawyers has been using the templates for the last month, and has already started seeing results.  The templates have “resulted in a clear change in focus on the part of the lawyers in planning matters upfront.”  The firm is planning to increase its percentage of fixed price work, measure the results, and continue to improve their processes.  According to Liz, “the materials developed in this program give us a clear competitive advantage.”

The third to finish was Stacy Ballin, a partner at Squire Sanders, which has over 1,200 lawyers.  Stacy is co-chair of Squire Sanders’ Project Management Committee, so she came to the program with a very strong interest and background in this area.  She is also one of the people who convinced me to start the program, along with her partners Mitch Thompson and Howard Nicols.  We met last fall after I gave a speech at the Squire Sanders Partners meeting, and we talked about the lack of standards in this rapidly growing field.  After they convinced me that the profession needed to establish standards as quickly as possible, I went back to the office and started designing our Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program.

Stacy’s final project is likely to produce immediate results that go straight to the bottom line.  As the Litigation Group Business Partner, she is responsible for approving discretionary write-downs, where a relationship partner decides not to bill a client for some of the time charged to a case and writes down a portion of the bill before it is sent to the client.  According to data reported in the 2011 Hildebrandt Client Advisory, the average large law firm write-down rate – also called billing realization - has been increasing for the last few years, and currently exceeds 11% (p. 13).  (Firms also write off an additional 13% of the bills they send as uncollectible, but that is another story.)

Squire Sanders has not revealed its billing realization rate, but with annual revenues over $500 million, a reduction of 1% would mean an immediate increase in profits of $5 million.

When Stacy reviewed all 2010 litigation write-downs over $10K as part of this program, she saw that a few young partners had unusually high write-down rates, which they explained as simply costs beyond budget or caused by a pattern of inefficiency.  Inefficiency reduces the value clients receive and discretionary write-downs have an immediate negative impact on the bottom line.   So Stacy decided to interview six of these young partners and explore with them how the firm could help them reduce inefficiency and write-downs in the future. 

For her certification case study, Stacy developed a phone interview survey questionnaire based in part on the 17 questions she answered in the first part of our certification program.  In the next few weeks she will conduct these interviews and “develop a plan as to how to use the results to reduce write-downs in the future, and to measure the financial impact of my recommendations.”  Depending on what Stacy finds, her initiative may include future project management training to help key partners manage their teams more efficiently.

All three of these lawyers have been awarded certification and their programs are now officially over.  However, I have planned additional follow-up with all three over the next few months.  I want to hear exactly what happens next.  And when I do, I will let you know.

May 11, 2011

Who was the first to certify legal project managers?

There’s been some controversy lately about who was the first to offer certification in legal project management.

There does not seem to be any dispute about the facts.  Last November, when we announced the start of our demanding Certified Legal Project Manager™ program, we called it “the first to award certification in this new discipline.”

Since that announcement, we have begun certifying lawyers in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China, and Germany.  The smallest firm to sign up has eight lawyers; the largest has over 3,500.  But were we the first?  At least one major consulting firm is claiming they were first because they offered certificates to workshop participants before our announcement.

There is no czar of the English language who will rule whether attending a workshop is enough to say you have earned a certification.  There is, however, a National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) which has been doing just that for several decades.  In their Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) Handbook they define certification as:

A process… by which individuals who have demonstrated the level of knowledge and skill required in the profession… are identified to the public and other stakeholders (p. 408). 

NCCA draws an explicit distinction between certification and what they call a “certificate of attendance:” a piece of paper you get for going to a workshop. 

To become a Certified Legal Project Manager™, a lawyer must study over 300 pages of assigned readings, answer 17 essay questions about how these concepts apply to their situation, demonstrate their skills and knowledge with real-world applications in their practice, and pass a written essay test.

The readings come from seven of the most influential texts in the field, including my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency.  (Our original announcement said there were six textbooks, but we have since added one more.)  For lawyers who want to dig deeper, we also provide a guide to over 400 pages of supplementary readings in our seven book reference library.

After the 17 essay questions have been completed, each participant has three in-depth conversations with a legal project management expert about how to apply these concepts to a case study that will enable the lawyer to achieve immediate and practical real-world results.  The program concludes with a personalized “final exam essay question” to sum up the implications for each practice, including a sustainable action plan for the future.

Our program requires a commitment of 40 hours over one to six months, so it is not for everyone.  The vast majority of lawyers we work with enroll in our workshop and coaching programs instead of certification, because they offer results more quickly.  The Certified Legal Project Manager™ program was designed for the small number of  lawyers who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others. 

Lawyers sign up for this program because they strongly believe that legal project management will provide greater value to clients and increase firm profitability.  They know that a short class will not be enough to work through the details of exactly how to best apply these concepts in their unique practices. 

The lawyers who have signed up so far are all very busy people, many with leadership roles in their firms.  They are willing to make the 40-hour commitment because they see the value it can provide.  In fact, some have chosen to devote more than 40 hours so they can also complete the supplementary readings. 

When the first group of lawyers completes certification in the next few weeks, I will write in this blog about what they have learned and exactly what they are doing to increase efficiency and client satisfaction.  I will include specific examples of the value they have created through templates, forms and budget spreadsheets, which they and their partners are using to improve client service. 

As demanding as our program is, we would never claim that it meets all of NCCA’s certification criteria. Some of the NCCA requirements, such as formal job/practice analysis (Standard 11) and documented psychometric procedures (Standard 13), could take years to fully comply with.  We felt that law firms could not afford to wait for several years.
 
The NCCA’s certification process is frankly not geared for an emerging subject matter like legal project management.  As their own ICE Handbook notes,

[There is] a rapid change in the knowledge and skills required for competent performance in virtually all workplaces… Certifiers must find ways to become more nimble… to keep pace with the changes (p. 352).

So we have taken this call for nimbleness to heart, and jumped right in to develop a program for lawyers who need to become more efficient now.

When we first announced the program, Paul Easton, author of the Legal Project Management blog asked a series of questions which I answered in this blog.  His last question was, “Where do you see demand for your certificate program in ten years?”  My answer began, “I have trouble predicting ten months from now, so I am reluctant to try to predict ten years.”  I still feel that way.

Maybe we will expand our program to include paralegals and non-lawyers, as some clients have requested.  Maybe we will form a strategic relationship with a professional organization or a university.  Maybe we will decide to concentrate on the training and coaching part of our program, and let others focus on the testing component.

But, to return to the question posed in the headline: Who was the first to certify legal project managers?

When Law360 wrote an article about our “new program billed as the first to certify lawyers as project managers”, they quoted a number of experts about developments in the field.  At that time, none of the experts argued with our claim that we had been first, although surely all were aware that many consulting organizations (including our company) had been offering workshops for a while.  When two participants published an article about our program in the National Law Review, they called it the “first formal program to certify lawyers as legal project managers.”

Lately, others have made competing claims.

As we see it, the question comes down to exactly how you think the word certification should be defined.  If someone attends a workshop and receives a certificate, is that enough to say they are certified legal project managers?  How did these people demonstrate their knowledge and skill?  Shouldn’t certification mean something more? 

You decide.
 



May 04, 2011

Legal project management tip of the month: Improve communication within your team

In large projects, schedule regular team meetings to review progress and remind members of the overall goals of the project and of upcoming tasks. Create status reports that are easy to review. Watch for obstacles that interfere with team progress and remove them. 

This series of tips appears on the first Wednesday of every month. Each tip will summarize a very simple tactic to improve project management.