In Part 1 of this post, we discussed how Gray Plant Mooty has trained 18 of its attorneys and senior staff in legal project management (LPM) and followed it up with an LPM Sustainability Initiative to embed the concepts of project management deeply into the firm’s culture.
Of the practice groups that have made the most progress, the labor and employment group is near the top of the chart. In all honesty, this has been surprising to firm insiders, including Judy Langevin the senior partner who has led the labor and employment effort.
When Steve Barrett interviewed Judy before the first workshop, she discussed her skepticism about the program and about LPM. Due to a last minute work conflict, she was forced to drop out of the first program the day before the video workshop. (As noted in Part 1, Judy’s place was taken by Finance Director Shelbie O’Brien, which turned out to enable some serendipitous success in improving how Aderant was used to plan and track budgets.)
But Judy signed up for the second workshop, and ended up becoming one of LPM’s strongest supporters. Her action items involved developing documents based on project management principles that can be used in their daily client work. Specifically, she created templates to streamline wage and hour compliance audits. She developed a prototype statement of work, a work breakdown structure and sample budgets for use in planning, staffing and pricing the audits. This ultimately led to a document that outlines the procedures for conducting an audit of an employer’s classification of employees and compliance with federal wage-hour laws. It lists the types of information that the lawyers normally collect from the client and the factors affecting the fees to be charged.
After our just-in-time program was complete, Judy and her partners continued to create other templates, including one for estimating the costs of a litigation matter from the initial response to a lawsuit through the end of trial, with provisions for high and low estimates depending on the nature of the litigation, and several independent contractor audits and I-9 compliance audits (both ready to use) and labor, social media, and internship audits (all nearly complete and ready to use within the next few weeks).
As a result of this experience, Judy came to believe that the process of LPM is not some deep dark secret to be mastered by a select few, but rather a systematic and disciplined application of best practices from law firm and business management.
“What LPM is really all about is to have the right people doing the right work at the right time, to increase client value,” said Langevin. “It includes clear communication with clients about what makes up the tasks that a lawyer does. This became an excellent vehicle to get us to talk with our clients about our work, which is something we should be doing anyway. It’s a great way to tell clients, ‘Here’s what we can predict and control in your matters, and here’s what it will cost.’”
Langevin is now an active participant in the firm’s monthly LPM Sustainability Initiative meetings. In addition, she has asked each of the 12 members of her practice group to come to this month’s retreat with at least one concrete idea on how to use legal project management in their practice.
“We are introducing these concepts into the fabric of what we do,” Langevin said. “Perhaps this is somewhat slower than what some aficionados would prefer, but we want all the attorneys to feel good about it. If we try to shove it down people’s throats, it’s not going to work.”
She does not tell other attorneys at the firm: “Go find a project, then manage it.” Rather, she asks them, “What do you do on a regular basis that can help you be more efficient for a client?” This way, she says, project management “sounds less like a buzzword, and more a matter of simply doing a better job of what we’re already doing.”
None of the activities are rocket science. The hardest part of LPM is getting lawyers started.
Langevin has changed from a skeptic to a believer, and says that as a result of this experience: “Legal project management has fundamentally changed the way I practice law.”