Bloomberg Law Reports recently published this article which I wrote with Jonathan Groner entitled “How legal project management is changing the way services are marketed.” To download a pdf of the complete article, click here.
At Jackson Kelly, a 225-attorney firm with a major presence in regions with significant energy assets, Marketing Director Mary Hendrix organized the firm’s first LPM training and coaching program early this year, and she says the effects became obvious almost immediately.
Many of the firm’s clients are energy companies whose business is extracting oil and gas in a highly competitive industry where cost efficiencies are crucial and where an important measurement is cost per acre. “It has been a great thing for us to be able to tell our clients that we have lowered development and other costs from X per acre to Y per acre,” Hendrix says. “From a marketing perspective, this has been terrific.”
Hendrix says the most important issues for her and the firm have been identifying which services can be precisely measured and managed, and which law firm best practices are most adaptable to the clients’ needs. For example, Hendrix says, title opinions on the ownership of mineral rights are crucial – yet each state has unique property laws upon which the key question of ownership will depend.
“By applying LPM techniques, we have been able to create databases, organized by state, that summarize the state of the law without each lawyer having to individually research that information on his or her own,” Hendrix says.
Hendrix says that the LPM message has become an increasingly important part of her pitches. “Our ability to be efficient and reduce costs is a key competitive advantage in today’s legal industry,” Hendrix says.
At Nixon Peabody, a 600-lawyer national firm, Litigation Partner Samuel Goldblatt says, “We have seen for several years that inside counsel are referring to a firm’s LPM capability in their RFPs. But lately, the difference is that companies are probing very specifically into what systems are in place. They are going beneath the surface and asking questions that not a lot of law firms can answer satisfactorily.”
Says Goldblatt: “We can deliver what the client wants because we have integrated LPM into our service delivery model. Clients continue to be under significant pressure to cut costs, so they are asking the real question: has a law firm actually done the hard work to integrate LPM into the way in which they provide legal services?”
Philip Austin, the chief client relationship officer at Nixon Peabody, says his department has been “counseling our relationship leaders throughout the firm to proactively reach out and ask their clients what their level of interest in LPM is. You don’t want to be the last firm to bring up the topic,” says Austin. “Be first.”
This fall, the firm is kicking off a training program to teach the basics to its associates and paralegals. “We are integrating this into our culture,” says Goldblatt. “We know that this is a significant differentiator in the marketplace.
“There is a Fortune 100 company for whom we did a project in this way, applying LPM principles,” Goldblatt specifies. “We are now on the sixth or seventh corporate transaction for this client. It makes a difference to this client. This client itself is full of people who have organizational skills, top to bottom. Why wouldn’t they want a law firm that practices project management?”
Of all the firms that have made a commitment to LPM, Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami law firm with about 100 lawyers, has taken one of the most ambitious approaches and seen the greatest results. To date, more than half of their partners have completed an intensive three-month one-to-one coaching program aimed to change the way their lawyers manage every matter. Once the number of people who had completed coaching reached a critical mass, the partners demanded improved tools to track progress and spending, and ultimately selected Thomson Reuters’ ENGAGE software. The firm also established a committee to monitor the use of LPM and assure that its initial momentum continues to grow.
One of the first to complete the coaching was Al Dotson, the practice group leader of its Government Relations and Land Development Practice Group. Dotson represents real estate developers and contractors in highly complex matters that involve a series of government regulatory agency approvals. His clients loved the LPM approach because they use project management to run their own businesses. Within a few weeks of starting the coaching, one of his clients was so impressed by a legal project plan Dotson had produced that he asked Bilzin to take on a significant amount of new work.
“That’s when we recognized that our focus on efficiency translated very well from a way of working with clients to a way of getting new business,” says Dotson. “We’ve since found that that our ability to demonstrate our skills in planning and budgeting matters continues to lead to new work. It’s one thing for us to tell a client that we know how to help them acquire land. It’s something else entirely for us to be able to say, here is the process that we will use to do that. You are really allowing all the business people to play it all out in advance.”
It is interesting to note that the LPM movement at Bilzin, and at most of the other firms described here, did not originate in the marketing department as a way to develop new business. It started in the executive committee as a way to provide more value and improve client service and satisfaction. But in the current competitive environment, there is no better way to protect longstanding relationships and to develop new ones.
There is still considerable debate about exactly how LPM should be implemented to maximize its return on investment. What’s the best way for a firm to get started? How can they sustain momentum? What role should lawyers play versus professional project managers? How much new technology do firms need, and when? The answers will vary from firm to firm depending on their clients, their culture.
But there can be little doubt that the role of LPM in marketing will continue to grow for as long as clients care about value. As David Schaefer, deputy chair of Loeb & Loeb, summed it up, “LPM is a critical strategic initiative at our firm because being efficient, transparent, and accountable builds a reputation for delivering the value that is essential to building and expanding long-term relationships.”
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