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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.”

 

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