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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.  


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