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5 posts from July 2013

July 31, 2013

Legal Project Management Case Study: Foley & Lardner (Part 2 of 2)

This post was written by Jonathan Groner and Jim Hassett.

Before intellectual property partner John Lanza signed up for LPM coaching with Mike Egnatchik

I had a very specific project in mind.  For a high-tech company that requires a lot of patent prosecution, I put together a workload breakdown that specified, in each instance where a patent was needed, what are all the steps required to put a patent application together. I was able to identify 12 steps that were true of every patent application, and for each step, I provided a suggested range of hours. People on my team were thus able to measure their effort on each phase against expectations.

Lanza said his clients have always been receptive to his LPM efforts and that they feel that they are, ideally, on the same team as their outside attorneys.

“The clients want their lawyers to make a fair living, and for my part, I want to be as transparent as possible to my client companies,” Lanza says. “I am pleased that the clients trust us and that they are confident that we won’t hide anything from them. To the client, the key is predictability, peace of mind, and confidence.”

Lanza says the training that he received from LegalBizDev will have a permanent impact on the way that he practices law and relates to his clients.  “The billable hour has seen its best days, and for me, this new approach, which requires project management, is the only way to manage a practice as busy as mine.”

Lanza says he has hundreds of pending patent prosecution matters at any given time, and that the only way to “keep them all moving” is to bill them on the basis of the effort that should be expended at each step of the process, not on the basis of billable hours.

In another case, Egnatchik coached labor and employment lawyer Jack Lord on his work with a large national health system. “The assignments were real-world situations that related to this client and its real concerns, as well as ways to work around the problems of that client to prevent issues from arising,” said Lord.

“One important aspect of legal project management is to reduce everything to fairly simple components,” he explained.  “You must remember to do all the steps in the right order and also have the necessary tools available to help you do them… Another good thing about the coaching sessions is that they effectively forced me to set time aside to do what I needed to do anyway with my clients, for example to circle back with my client after a project to discuss lessons learned on both sides.”

On some calls, Lord was joined by Larry Vernaglia since they often work together on legal assignments for this particular client.  Vernaglia pointed out that project management techniques are well accepted in the business world and that law firms need to adopt them as well.

“Our clients, after all, are running businesses, and they use project management to get their work done. Since we wish to partner with the client, we can’t help them without applying the same techniques. Although not all lawyers do this, the training that I’ve received leads me to the conclusion that the lawyers who don’t do this are dinosaurs,” said Vernaglia.

“You want to deliver value to the client,” Vernaglia concluded. “Outstanding quality is assumed at the high end of the legal market.  We need to provide more than that.  We need to deliver legal services in a way that fits within the organizational needs of these sophisticated clients.  Predictable budgets, professionally executed work plans, meeting timetables, coordinating internal and external resources, and avoiding surprises are all critical to an effective relationship.  Getting there is all a function of LPM.”

As Lord puts it: “The key is to make sure that everyone’s on the same page from the get-go. There can be times when there are different interests – when the interests of the law firm and the client diverge. Our plan is to align everyone on the same side from the beginning to the end.”

 

July 24, 2013

Legal Project Management Case Study: Foley & Lardner (Part 1 of 2)

This post was written by Jonathan Groner and Jim Hassett.

Foley & Lardner, a firm with over 900 lawyers in 21 offices, began working on increasing efficiency long before most of its rivals.  When the Wall Street Journal published one of its first articles on the law firm efficiency movement (“Using Web Tools to Control Legal Bills,” January 5, 2010) they highlighted Foley’s custom developed “Web-based system designed to provide its attorneys and clients with a real-time and comprehensive picture of legal costs… From their desktops, lawyers at the firm enter and continuously track the amount of attorney time and costs that have been incurred on a particular matter. Foley clients have direct access to the data through a secure Web site, which also provides access to court filings and correspondence.”

In a recent interview, Larry Vernaglia, chair of the firm’s Health Care Industry team, explained: “We have long taken to heart the requests of in-house counsel, including the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge, and we have developed unique technology to permit us to do legal project management.”  He pointed out that that the firm recently rolled out a new version of FOLEY ClientSuite, a proprietary extranet software package, along with updates to its Budget Management Tool which is used to plan matters and track budgets. 

“The technology vendors were just not providing these tools, so we felt we had to build them ourselves,” said Vernaglia. “The savings from this product are landing right on the client’s bottom line.”

Given that history, you might think that formal training on LPM would be old news at Foley & Lardner and the firm would be an unlikely candidate for pilot testing LPM coaching in 2013.  But you would be quite wrong.  While Larry Vernaglia, Jack Lord and others undertook formal LPM training in the past, Foley & Lardner wanted to roll-out even more personalized education for practice group leaders engaged in LPM.  A few months ago, LegalBizDev principal Mike Egnatchik began a pilot test that included individual coaching programs with three senior partners at Foley:  Mike Tuteur, chair of the firm’s Litigation Department and Business Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice, John Lanza, a member of the firm’s Electronics Practice and the Emerging Technologies Industry Team and Jack Lord from the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice.

 “This specialized training was very valuable to us,” Vernaglia said. “Although we come to LPM at a fairly high level of knowledge, we are now able to refine some of the things we do and do them better, and stay at the cutting edge. Law school just doesn’t teach you jack about how to run a law firm.”

All three lawyers signed up for our LPM coaching program, and the approach was heavily customized to meet each individual’s needs.  Each lawyer began by selecting a key client or matter, and then used the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide to identify which of eight key issues in legal project management was most critical to meet their near-term goals. Each participant was then directed to relevant tools, templates, and descriptions of best practices in the book, selected possible action items, discussed them with their coach, and made a commitment to act. The coach then followed up to support and monitor progress and adjust tactics based on results.

In his coaching, Mike Tuteur decided to focus on a flat-fee litigation arrangement with a major client, which has a portfolio of cases pending. “We need to look at each case and decide which are the best ones to focus energy on. If we don’t do that, if we don’t prioritize by using internal discipline, we will use up the fee very quickly and we will all get hurt. We need to learn not to do everything possible just because it can be done. The flat fee compels us to work efficiently. And if we try to be efficient, that benefits the client as well.”

As part of the program, Tuteur designed a single comprehensive spreadsheet showing current budget figures for this client’s flat-fee cases, with estimates for the rest of the year, as well as a second spreadsheet with invoice information for that client. This made it easier to quickly spot where there were significant overages in attorney time spent, above the flat fee for a given month. They then discussed why the cost overruns may have occurred in a particular case and ways to control overruns in the future.

As Tuteur summed it up: 

This training forced me to think about administrative matters for my clients on a regular basis – things I have to do anyway – and focused my attention in a way that improved client service and financial results.  



July 17, 2013

Book review: Time Management Handbook for Lawyers

In the good old days of few fixed fees and many billable hours, firms had little reason to care if lawyers were inefficient, as long as they billed their 1800 or 2000 or 2200 hours per year.  If they might have found a way of doing something faster… well, why would they even try if they were being paid by the hour?

But all that has changed in the “new normal.”  When clients demand efficiency, all of a sudden personal time management matters. 

When we first designed our project management coaching, and the Certified Legal Project Manager® program, we felt that this would be a very important topic for some lawyers.  So we not only included a section on this topic in my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, we also identified supplementary readings for lawyers who were interested. 

Several years ago, when we searched Amazon for “time management books,” we came up with hundreds of options.  We did not read them all, but we did buy quite a few of the top ones to see which we thought would be most useful to lawyers.  A separate Amazon search on “time management books for lawyers” came up with a much smaller number.  But when we looked at the top sellers, we were not impressed.  We ended up picking a book written for a general audience for our coaching and certification:  The 25 best time management tools and techniques by Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim. 

The book is very easy to use quickly, because each of the 25 techniques is described in a separate chapter such as “minimize interruptions,” “delegate more/better,” and “hold better meetings.”  When lawyers in our coaching program express a special interest in improving personal time management, we buy them a copy of this book, tell them to scan the chapter titles for topics that could help them personally, and then come up with practical and immediate steps to improve one thing at a time.

But many lawyers prefer books written specifically for lawyers, so we’ve been keeping our eyes open for new books.  When I heard a few months ago that Gary Richards, one of our principals, was writing a new book called the Time Management Handbook for Lawyers, I couldn’t wait to see it.

Well, Gary’s book just came out, and since I work with him every day, of course I will understand if you think my review may be a bit biased.  But I can say in all honesty that Gary’s book is the best legal time management book that I’ve seen.  His subtitle says it all:  “How-to tactics that really work.” 

I especially liked the practical tools in the appendices, including “how to take and analyze a time log,” “the top 40 most common time barriers,” “typical complaints of associates and staff about how partners delegate,” and examples of a new client information letter and requirements for engagement letters.

Some of the material overlaps with concepts covered in my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide including chapters on meetings, delegation, and client communication.  (To see Of Counsel’s review of the Guide, published yesterday, click here.)  Gary and I took slightly different approaches in some cases, and have different writing styles.  But who knows, maybe you’ll like his more than mine.

If you need to improve your personal time management, would you benefit more from a book specifically written for lawyers or from one of the many written for a more general audience?  The answer depends on you. 

In the future, when we offer selected lawyers in our coaching program a free book on time management, we will give them two choices:  the Dodd book if they want a quick high level overview of common techniques or Gary’s book if they want a more detailed discussion of time management techniques specifically for lawyers.  If they want both, we will send both.

If you need help on time management, and are not sure which book sounds better, you might as well buy both.  The total cost of the two books on Amazon is just $24.40, so it’s hard to go wrong.  The first time you are able to bill just one more hour based on your reading, you will already be way ahead of the game.

July 10, 2013

The top ten best practices in legal project management

 This post was adapted from the new Third Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

When you begin to think about your first LPM action items, you may find it useful to begin by reviewing this list of the top ten best practices to determine what matters most in your situation:

  1. Make sure you understand client needs early on. What would the client consider to be a successful outcome? What are their priorities, both overall and for this particular matter? Also determine who the primary decision makers are on the client side, especially about cost issues.

  2. Divide a large complex matter into a number of smaller tasks. Then schedule a meeting of key team members to define the schedule and budget the tasks. Bottom-up planning (which is interactive and iterative) is more effective than top-down planning (which is linear and one-way). Remember that it is human nature to be optimistic; don’t underestimate how long tasks will take.

  3. Aim for a cohesive team approach, with one lawyer managing all assignments and monitoring the time of all lawyers assigned to the matter. Also assign primary responsibility for each task to a single individual. When specific people are assigned to tasks, each person will have a sense of ownership and you will have a clear view of who is responsible for what.

  4. Individual tasks should be easy to track. Each activity should be budgeted for a manageable chunk of time (typically 8 to 80 hours) to give team members freedom to perform the task as they think best while still assuring accountability.

  5. Communicate the budget and hourly expectations for each task to the team. Then ask the person who is responsible for each task to estimate how long they think it will take. If there is a large gap between their estimate and yours, discuss why and consider revising the estimate.

  6. Always know what you have spent so far, and what you expect to spend in the future. Check at regular intervals to make sure the work is being done within the projected budget. Compare the percentage of the budget you have spent with the percentage of work you have completed. Focus attention on the largest tasks that will require a high percentage of the budget.

  7. 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 roadblocks that interfere with team progress and remove them.

  8. If cost reduction is required, look for procedures that can be simplified or standardized. Also consider delegating some tasks down if they can be performed efficiently at lower hourly rates. But note that the cost will often be lower if you “delegate up” to more senior lawyers who need less guidance and feedback.

  9. Keep clients informed as the matter progresses. Consider whether it would be useful to send monthly one-page status reports which summarize what was accomplished last month, what is planned for next month, and any issues or challenges.

  10. Effective managers spend twice as much time planning as ineffective ones. Find the balance between planning too little and planning too much. (For the data behind this claim, see the book Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know that Everyone Else Does Not.)  

July 03, 2013

LPM tip of the month: Develop internal champions

Some lawyers will be more enthusiastic than others about legal project management, and some will be better than others at planning bids and managing projects. The lawyers who care about LPM should be given all the support they need, and when they succeed in increasing efficiency, client satisfaction and profitability, their success should be publicized.

 

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip 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 Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements.