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4 posts from August 2013

August 28, 2013

Key questions lawyers should ask to improve management

Effective legal project management starts by asking the right questions. While there are hundreds of questions lawyers can ask to improve the way they manage matters, this list summarizes some of the most critical ones.  It is organized in terms of the eight key issues in LPM discussed in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

Set objectives and define scope

  • What business problem does the client want to solve?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • What deadlines matter to the client?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker?
  • How does the client define success?
  • How will you know when you are done?

Identify and schedule activities

  • How can large matters be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?
  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?

Assign tasks and manage the team

  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • How long do they think the tasks will take?
  • What help or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?

Plan and manage the budget

  • How much should be budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
  • How much was actually spent?
  • If at any point actual spending exceeds the planned budget, what can be done to get back on track?
  • Can savings on one activity be applied to compensate for overspending on another, within the overall budget total?

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the project, or decrease client satisfaction?
  • How likely is this to happen?
  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?
  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

Manage quality

  • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
  • How should I monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?

Manage client communication and expectations

  • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
  • What does the decision maker care most about?
  • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
  • Should brief standard reports be submitted every week or month?

Negotiate changes of scope

  • How should I track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
  • What criteria should I use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?


This post was adapted from the third edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

August 21, 2013

New research on client value and law firm profitability

A few weeks ago, I began interviewing AmLaw 100 chairmen, managing partners, and senior partners and staff for a study entitled:  “Client value and law firm profitability:  Insights from AmLaw 100 leaders.”  This new research is exploring what works best in today’s legal marketplace to protect profitability, and what does not.  Our goal is to provide clients and others with advice on how to achieve greater value in a sustainable way that makes business sense for both sides. 

Research on topics like this is usually conducted with questionnaires distributed over the web.  In contrast, this study is based on confidential in-depth interviews with law firm leaders. It is a follow-up to our widely quoted LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees, which used a similar approach a few years ago.

I am conducting every interview myself, in an open-ended discussion of what works and what does not, focusing on the areas of greatest interest to each firm.   The interview questions are sent in advance, and telecons are strictly limited to 30 minutes, unless a participant wants to talk for longer.

The name of every individual who participates in the research will be confidential, and all quotes will be anonymous. In addition, participants will have complete editorial control over what appears in print. Each will be sent a transcript or summary of their interview before anything is published, and will have the option to change any details or wording before publication, or to withdraw from the study.

When this confidential approach was used in the LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees, it enabled senior decision makers to speak frankly and openly. That research provided a platform that made it easy for firm leaders to tell clients and others what they really think, without being quoted by name.

This study was designed with the help of the LegalBizDev Research Advisory Board, eleven thought leaders in the field:

Toby Brown, Director of Strategic Pricing and Analytics, Akin Gump

Tom Clay, Principal, Altman Weil

Vince Cordo, Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith

Lisa Damon, Managing Partner, Seyfarth Shaw

Stuart Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie

Sam Goldblatt, Partner, Nixon Peabody

Jim Kalyvas, Partner, Foley & Lardner

Kelly Milius, AFA Professional Support Lawyer, Perkins Coie

Richard Rosenblatt, Operations Partner – Labor & Employment Practice Group, Morgan Lewis

Michael Roster, Co-Chair of ACC Value Challenge Steering Committee and former Managing Partner LA office, Morrison & Foerster

Amar Sarwal, Vice President and Chief Legal Strategist, Association of Corporate Counsel                  

The final report of the study’s findings will be published next year. It will include a list of the AmLaw 100 firms that chose to participate in the research, but it will not name the individuals who were interviewed.  After an initial analysis of results, a decision will be made about whether to extend this study to include the AmLaw 200, or to complete a separate study of the AmLaw second hundred at a different time. Previews of the report will also appear from time to time in this blog.

I’ve only completed a few interviews so far, so it’s much too early to be talking about trends.  But when I asked people about the relative importance of our eight key issues in legal project management, I’ve already been surprised by the emphasis on the need for better communication.  Yes lawyers need better budgets and better risk assessment and better engagement letters, but most of all they need to talk to their clients. 

As one senior partner put it:

Client communication is the area that requires the most improvement and the one that has the potentially greatest impact for us, even though obviously, good budgeting and good project management are crucial.  [Lawyers must say to clients:] ‘Here’s what this should cost. Here’s how you can help us keep it within this cost. Here are the things that could really knock it off the rails. Let’s be sure we are in accord on some of the assumptions that are built into this budget or fix the arrangement. And then we’re going to talk to you along the way and tell you if we’re maybe getting off track.’

The Chairman of another AmLaw 100 firm made a similar point in different words:

The thing that provides the greatest value to the client is constant communication and responsiveness. And I’m not talking about emails…. It is so much better to be in constant telephone communication or breakfast meetings or lunch meetings, or just visiting. What we’re trying to do is not just deal with litigation. We’re trying to prevent litigation... If we succeed in that, we’re going to have even more clients.

August 14, 2013

Scope changes in litigation

Stacy_BallinBy Stacy D. Ballin, Squire Sanders 


This post was adapted from a brief essay the author wrote when she completed our Certified Legal Project Manager® program. It was previously reproduced in the third edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

Too often in litigation, the “scope” of the project is generally understood between client and attorney as being the representation of the client in a litigation matter from beginning to end until either the case is won or a business solution is reached.

But within that scope there will be a variety of steps/tasks needed to achieve the end. If the client is not aware of all of the steps that will be necessary, issues will inevitably arise. It may not be scope creep because the initial scope was so broad, but it may be something that the client thinks it should not have to pay for or should not be performed.

Therefore, it is probably a good business practice to set forth a more detailed analysis of what is included as part of that scope, such as dispositive motions, depositions, experts, etc. This could be in the engagement letter or in the case management plan or in some other document that sets out the strategy of the case and how we are going to manage the litigation.

A simple scope management process could be that at the end of each quarter we send the client a detailed update of where we have been and where we need to go. This would explain how the steps/tasks are within the original scope of winning the case/achieving a business solution. As a practical matter, the type of extremely detailed work descriptions which project managers use in other professions will simply not work in a litigation matter where the scope is defined as “winning” or “reaching a business solution.”

Genuine scope creep is often occasioned by the judge or opposing counsel going off the reservation. There, the solution is early and effective communications with the client so that the client has “buy-in” that the scope creep is due to circumstances beyond our control.

August 07, 2013

LPM tip of the month: Increase efficiency by adapting tools from other professions

Learn from other industries and professions by adapting tactics they have developed in decades of experience bidding, planning and managing work to maximize efficiency and quality.


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.