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6 posts from May 2013

May 29, 2013

The benefits of delegation

This post was adapted from the new Third Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. It was written by Jim Hassett and Gary Richards.


For senior lawyers, the potential advantages of delegation are obvious, including:

  • Deliver high quality work to clients at the lower cost they demand, without discounting hourly rates or reducing profitability 
  • Train the next generation and develop good lawyers 
  • See if your team members can handle more responsibilities and give them opportunities for promotions 
  • Relieve stress by letting go of doing it all 
  • Focus on the most complex tasks or ones that require your particular skill set 
  • Gain time to focus on marketing and bring more work to the firm, rather than hoarding work 
  • You can take a vacation and be confident that others will pick up the slack

 

Your team members will also benefit: 

  • Morale will be boosted; no one will feel as if the job means nothing 
  • They will feel inspired and confident in their abilities 
  • There will be trust and bonding between you and team members 
  • They will see a future with the firm—a way up
  •  

The whole firm will benefit if those at the top become more effective delegators:

  • Top lawyers can focus on higher level tasks while giving the team a chance to work 
  • No one will feel useless or as if they can slack off 
  • A feeling of unity—we are all working on this matter together 

 

Last, but certainly not least, clients will benefit when you:

  • Address their concerns about high hourly billing rates 
  • Deliver high quality legal work at a lower total cost 
  • Provide backup for key tasks; if one person is out, that doesn’t mean the whole project will screech to a halt.
  •  

However, it is important to emphasize that delegation is not easy, and everyone has had the experience of spending so much time supervising a delegated task that “It would have been faster to do it myself.” Here are some common objections to delegating:

  • If I give away tasks, I won’t have enough to do 
  • It is my job to do it all 
  • I can do it better myself 
  • They will do it all wrong/not the way I want/not on time 
  • It takes too much time to explain 
  • It will cause my team too much stress and they won’t like the extra work 
  • I will lose control over the end result 
  • I will move away from the specialty I was known for and become more of a manager
  •  

But unless you plan to work in a solo practice, the only way to prosper in an increasingly competitive marketplace is to delegate properly.

When the total available work in a firm goes down, partners may be tempted to keep all the billable hours for themselves. Most of the time, what they should be doing is delegating more and using the freed-up time to find new work.

Some ways to overcome these objections to delegating:

  • Start small 
  • Hire the best. If someone isn’t capable of being delegated to, why are they working for you? 
  • Remember that delegating is a learn-as-you-go process. You and your team members will learn and grow through the delegated task itself. 
  • Remember that the senior attorney will still retain ultimate control of the project. She decides whom to delegate to, what to delegate, and the criteria for success.
  •  

If you believe you should delegate more, but could use some advice on exactly how to do that, see the sections “How to delegate” and “The delegation checklist” in Chapter 5 of the new third edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

May 22, 2013

How to track legal work that is out of scope

A few months ago, during a routine review call in our LPM coaching program at Bilzin Sumberg,  Executive Director Michelle Weber mentioned that her firm was beginning to require lawyers to systematically track work that fell outside the scope defined by each engagement letter. 

Steve Barrett was on the call with me, and we both had the same reaction:  Why didn’t we think of that?  It is such a simple idea, and such a valuable one, that neither one of us could believe we’d never suggested it, nor heard of anyone else doing it.

When I later learned that Baker & McKenzie was also tracking work this way, I began asking around looking for more examples.  So far I have heard of only one other that does this: Faegre Baker Daniels.  According to Steve Petrie, the firm’s Chief Strategy Officer, Faegre Baker Daniels uses separate matter numbers to track out of scope work for certain fixed-fee arrangements.  This is done in collaboration with the client and is subject to a clear and mutually-understood, change-order process.  (If your firm requires lawyers to track work that is out of scope, please email me the details, and I’ll write about them in a future post.)

At the beginning of every matter, lawyers should be asking clients about their goals and expectations, so that the legal team delivers what the client needs, and is willing to pay for. A failure to get a clear understanding at the beginning of a matter can lead to unnecessary work, strained client relations, and ultimately to reduced realization and profitability if clients refuse to pay their bills.

Anyone who has ever worked at a law firm knows that a clear definition of scope at the beginning of a matter often simply does not happen.  Many lawyers are impatient problem solvers, and they like to just jump in and start working. In the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (page 15), I quoted the executive director of an AmLaw 100 firm (who preferred to remain anonymous) about the ambiguities in a typical engagement letter: 

The scope of work often contained in our engagement letters is generally no more than one or two lines.  Lawyers are missing an opportunity to clearly specify the scope of what is included in each matter, and what is not.

And even if an engagement letter is well defined, there is the question of who sees it.  A senior executive at different AmLaw 100 firm (who also preferred to remain anonymous) recently did an informal survey of senior associates during a talk he gave on LPM.  He asked very simply:  How many of you have seen the engagement letter on the matters you’ve worked on lately?  Only 1 in 4 raised their hands.  To put it another way, 3 out of 4 of these lawyers had no way of knowing what was in scope, and what was not.  When this executive later shared those results with a group of partners, “they were horrified.”

Any system that requires lawyers to classify some hours as out of scope starts with a huge benefit, simply by requiring lawyers to be clear about the distinction. 

At Bilzin, at the beginning of key matters they now post the statement of scope on their intranet, where every team member can review it.  Then lawyers are required to record each hour worked under two different codes in their accounting system for each matter: one for work within scope, and the other for work that falls outside scope. 

As Bilzin partner Al Dotson summed it up:

Keeping the scope of work top of mind has many benefits.  The tactic of tracking out of scope work requires:

  • An understanding by all billers to the file as to what the scope of work is
  • An ongoing recognition of the status of the matter and when a task is out of scope, and
  • An understanding of the protocols to be followed when out of scope work is requested or done.

This benefits both the client and the law firm and often is the basis for clearer communication before there is a problem.

At Baker & McKenzie the procedures are a bit more complex, as you might expect at a firm with more than 4,000 lawyers in 73 offices around the world.  According to Stuart Dodds, the firm’s  Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, some groups use the same approach as Bilzin, while others have developed task codes that provide additional detail.  For example, in an M&A deal, a particular type of due diligence could be in scope or out of scope, depending on exactly what is involved and what was expected and agreed to.  Some lawyers therefore have two task codes for due diligence, one for in scope, one for out of scope.

Whatever system is used, Dodds said, tracking improves awareness, internal management and external communication.  If the responsible attorney sees the number of hours beyond scope growing, it is a warning sign to report back to the client and ask “how do you want us to proceed?” before the number gets still higher.

“There are many ways to accomplish this coding,” Dodds said in a recent interview.  “We don’t want to be too prescriptive in defining the details.  The battle right now is getting lawyers using a tracking system they are comfortable with. The key to success is to keep it simple.”

 

May 20, 2013

Today’s publication of the third edition of the LPM Quick Reference Guide

The first two editions of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide were purchased by firms with over 85,000 lawyers.  Today we are publishing the third edition, which adds over 100 pages of new tools and templates that law firms are using to increase client satisfaction, new business, and profitability.

Last February, I published Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements to explain WHY firms are focusing on these new areas.  This 226-page Quick Reference Guide is a companion volume and is the only book that explains HOW to implement LPM.

A number of sections were written by 13 contributing authors, including lawyers that have been leading the LPM movement at such firms as Squire Sanders, Morgan Lewis, McDermott Will & Emery, and Valorem. The book also includes a complete list of the readings and assignments from our Certified Legal Project Manager® program.  Readers of this third edition can now complete much of this program on their own, without signing up for certification.

See the book’s description on our web page for reviews by noted experts a description of what’s new in the third edition, and a downloadable free excerpt.

May 15, 2013

Sample assumptions for defining scope (Part 2 of 2)

This post was adapted from the new Third Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. It was written by Steve Barrett, Mike Egnatchik, and Jim Hassett.

 

Scope assumptions

  • Based on the attached breakdown of work, we will analyze the legal and factual issues presented by the complaint (including preliminary witness interviews), prepare a memorandum of law in support of a motion to dismiss, analyze ABC’s opposition brief, and prepare for and argue the motion for a budgeted cost not to exceed $XX in legal fees

  • Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR): If we determine to pursue ADR, the budget includes preparation and participation in mediation. The budgeted number assumes a one- to three-day mediation session, the negotiation of a settlement agreement, and limited discovery.

  • Fact investigation and development: The budget includes preparing for a case management conference, making initial disclosures, propounding and responding to discovery requests, preparing documents for production and reviewing produced documents, negotiating a confidentiality agreement, and preparing for and attending fact depositions

 

Discovery budget assumptions

  • To the extent mediation is unsuccessful, the case will move into the discovery phase. For budget planning purposes, we have further divided this phase into the following three parts: (i) pre-trial planning, (ii) offensive discovery, and (iii) defensive discovery. Our estimated cost for the entire discovery phase is $XX. 

  • A breakdown of this estimate is set forth on the attached spreadsheet. There are several key assumptions in this cost estimate, including: (i) each side will depose no more than five witnesses; (ii) all discovery disputes (if any) will be resolved without court intervention; and (iii) we will not seek third party discovery. These assumptions are reasonable in light of the circumstances of this case; however a change in circumstances may impact the estimated costs.

  • Expert Discovery: The budget includes preparation of expert reports and rebuttal reports (we currently estimate a total of three reports to cover the issues of infringement, patent validity, and damages) and preparing for and attending expert depositions. This budget does not include any fees for experts.

  • Document Review: All required documents are readily accessible and in a machine readable and searchable electronic format. If a significant fraction of the documents are available ONLY in hard copy format, client agrees to reimburse firm for converting the material into readable/searchable electronic form. If such conversion is not possible, or if documents are damaged beyond acceptable scanning standards, the firm and client will negotiate a formula for their manual review.

  • Case preparation includes:
    •  Analysis of complaint and motion to dismiss

    • Factual investigation

    • Preparation of discovery requests and review of discovery responses by opponents

    • Motion to compel discovery (assumes one such motion)

    • Review of documents produced by the other side (assumes opponent’s production is XX pages)

    • Responding to opponent discovery requests

    • Review and production of our documents (assumes production is XX pages)

    • Responding to the opponent’s motion to compel (assumes one such motion)

    • Preparing our witnesses to be deposed (assumes XX witnesses)

    • Preparing for and taking opposition depositions (assumes XX depositions)


Transaction budget assumption

For purposes of the fee proposed, we have made the following assumptions:

  • The target does not have any material or significant legal/regulatory issues that necessitate material or significant changes to the transaction structure or require extensive additional due diligence

  • Opposing counsel is sophisticated and knowledgeable in these matters

  • Negotiations will take place in [insert city]

  • Transaction documents will be executed within XX weeks and the transaction will close within XX weeks from the time of engagement of our firm for the transaction

  • Each transaction document will be “turned” in three passes or less

  • Diligence documents will be provided electronically or delivered to our firm’s XX office 

  • A tax diligence and opinion letter will be delivered by ___ or another leading accounting firm to be mutually agreed upon

May 08, 2013

Sample assumptions for defining scope (Part 1 of 2)

This post was adapted from the new Third Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. It was written by Steve Barrett, Mike Egnatchik, and Jim Hassett.

 

These posts provide sample wording for various assumptions and exclusions that may be used as a reference to define, qualify, or limit the scope of work in an engagement letter or to plan for any legal matter.

Law firms need to protect themselves by being careful about phrasing assumptions. But if the list of carve-outs gets too long or too specific, it can annoy the client and lead to lost business.

Unfortunately, there is no simple general way to create assumptions that balance client needs and firm needs. The details must be worked out case by case. This can be especially difficult in a highly competitive environment, if clients take advantage of the awkwardness of this negotiation to pressure firms to agree to budgets and fixed prices without adequate protections.

These samples may be especially appropriate when providing budget estimates to clients where key details are not known, such as:

  • Number of deponents, expert witnesses, consultants, etc.
  • Number of document turnarounds
  • Volume of document production requests from investigative agencies
  • Quantity and physical condition of discovery materials (electronic, hard-copy, or poorly preserved documents)

For these and similar situations, law firms should develop general standards for use of the sample wording. Firms must constantly balance the level of written detail needed for self-protection vs. the business demands of good client relations.

Lawyers sometimes tend to err on the side of including assumptions and exclusions that protect themselves too well, and could wind up losing the business as a consequence. Excessively protective language in a highly competitive marketplace might result in the client saying, “Never mind. I’ll hire a different lawyer.”

The samples below are designed to give you some ideas about how to word assumptions, exclusions, and carve-outs for your clients.

 

Catch-all statement for material changes

This statement of work, together with the assumptions and tasks provided, is the basis for our budget estimate.  If there are material changes, it may be necessary to negotiate appropriate budget adjustments.

 

General assumptions/carve-outs

  • Matters not covered above in the “Activities” column of the attached spreadsheet are excluded from the budget 
  • Reimbursed costs and expenses are excluded from the fixed fee
  • Local and foreign counsel fees and expenses are excluded from the fixed fee
  • Any material change to the transaction structure will be handled at the firm’s prevailing hourly rates
  • If the closing date of the transaction occurs after [insert date], work conducted past that date will be handled at the firm’s prevailing hourly rates
  • An electronic “deal room/litigation room” will be created for the use of all client personnel and relevant counsel and related entities, in which electronic datasets will house all documents produced, including segregation of privileged materials
  • Documents sought for discovery and/or due diligence purposes will be readily available in electronic format
  • All critical deal/litigation documents will be reviewed and revised in no more than three “turns” of drafts
  • The agreed budget does not include risk factors such as extended negotiations on the bank commitment or requirements to increase the level of due diligence as a result of issues uncovered during the due diligence process
  • The agreed budget does not include due diligence beyond one week, due diligence in specialized areas (such as employment, IP, IT, environmental, insurance, litigation, competition, real estate), a formal written due diligence memorandum or exceptions summary
  • We anticipate that three experts will be needed for researching, vetting and selection, and deposition preparation and/or report analysis

 

Additional examples will appear next week in Part Two of this post.

May 01, 2013

Business development tip of the month: Follow up

There’s no way around it: business development takes time. To build new business, you must follow up, week after week, month after month, and year after year.  As Jeffrey Gitomer sums it up in The Sales Bible: “Most sales are made after the seventh no…It takes 5 to 10 exposures (follow-ups) to a prospect to make the first sale…[so] you’d better have what it takes to persevere through the follow-up process and not quit.”

 

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a very short and simple tip like this to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. This month’s tip was adapted from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.