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October 24, 2012

Maximizing legal project management results: The case of Bilzin Sumberg (Part 3 of 3)

According to Jim Shindell, the Real Estate Practice Group Leader at Bilzin Sumberg: 

We have always thought that we need to be efficient, but LPM coaching has given us a much better understanding of how to get there and what interferes with efficiency in a transaction.  We were reactive in the past.  Now we are becoming more proactive.

In his weekly 30-minute coaching calls with Steve Barrett, Jim said, “We worked on ways to help us manage transactions to be efficient, to price matters more effectively, and to think a project out well ahead of time in order to staff it properly.”  

Many of the calls involved looking back at historical transactions (with some of the facts changed to ensure client confidentiality), and re-engineering the transactions to see how they might be done differently if they were new projects.

“We are looking to develop templates to help us identify all the tasks required in advance for any project, so that we are not reinventing the wheel every time that we put out a price estimate,” Jim said.

The idea is “to break each transaction into the smallest possible parts, and then to re-imagine the transaction and all that it requires.”

The resulting templates and checklists offer many benefits to clients, including an early identification of key steps in a transaction. 

They also offer the best way to predict what transactions will cost, Jim said, so that no one is making things up by extrapolation or merely using wishful thinking.  In time, Bilzin plans to refine the task codes it uses to track costs and analyze the historical record of how long things take under a variety of conditions.  But clients can’t wait, and templates and checklists provide a great way of offering more accurate estimates today.

“The idea is to be able to establish meaningful cost estimates, in advance, for our clients in the transactional matters that we handle,” Jim explained. The process of making a time investment up front through better planning and analysis actually saves time in the long run by permitting the firm to respond quickly and accurately to client requests for quotations.

Things move fast in the world of real estate. When a project is ready, the developer wants it to start immediately, and time is money. If we can move quickly with a cost estimate, Jim said, that is a service both for our clients and for ourselves.  And “that is why we are working so hard to develop the firm’s institutional knowledge and collective data base.”

In the current highly competitive environment, Jim said, “if you’re not able to properly and quickly determine your prospective costs in a matter, you will find yourself losing certain business, or perhaps not even being able to compete for business. And that includes a lot of good, highly sought real estate development business, not just business where the key determinant is price.”

In general, when it comes to LPM, “As a firm we have made significant progress, but we still have a long way to go. The firm’s leaders are squarely behind LPM, and just about everyone thinks it’s a good idea.  But it’s a lot easier to say it than to do it.” 

That’s why LegalBizDev is now working with a few key practice group leaders on the best ways to sustain and expand the use of LPM.  The thing that impresses me most in the sustainability interviews so far is the level of commitment and LPM sophistication.  The partners at Bilzin know how much they still don’t know, and they see the benefits of expanding their efforts.  

But that’s another story.  Stay tuned in coming months for more details.

This series was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner.

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