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December 11, 2013

How to sustain LPM progress: The case of Bilzin Sumberg (Part 1 of 2)

When I researched a series of case studies for my book Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I wrote that “Bilzin Sumberg has made more LPM progress more quickly than any other law firm” (p. 89).  Now, one year later, this Miami based commercial law firm remains in the lead due to its management commitment to sustaining progress, and its unrelenting emphasis on increasing efficiency.

As explained in both the book and in this blog, Bilzin started by offering our 3 month individual coaching program to the majority of its partners (26 out of 51).

It would be nice to be able to report that once they completed the coaching, their LPM work was done, but in fact it was just beginning.  It is true that the firm’s clients have already seen significant benefits in reduced costs and greater responsiveness, and this in turn has led to new business.  But when we interviewed firm leaders for this follow-up report, they used phrases like “baby steps,” “infancy stage,” and “aspirational rather than obligatory” to describe the firm’s current use of LPM. 

They should see the other guys.  We spend our lives looking behind the curtain at a wide variety of law firms, as we work with them to increase efficiency. Many firms have individual lawyers or practice groups that are quite advanced in LPM, but none can say that it has taken hold across the entire firm.

There are certainly dozens of firms that have put out more press releases than Bilzin announcing their LPM success.  Many firms also started working on LPM years before Bilzin did, and many others have spent far more per lawyer. 

But no law firm on the planet has achieved more behavior change, more quickly or more efficiently.  LPM aims to change habits that have been reinforced over decades, and that kind of change will always occur one small step at a time. 

But according to Paul Vandermeer, the firm’s director of knowledge management, “The more successes we have gotten, the more converts we obtained, and the more that LPM has permanently changed the way we do business.”

One of the most important steps that Bilzin took in the last year was the formation of an LPM committee to monitor and sustain progress, chaired by Michelle Weber, the firm’s executive director for the last 19 years.  Michelle has the kind of personality that takes naturally to the organized and disciplined aspects of LPM, and once told us “if ever I get tired of my job, I’m going to become a Certified Legal Project Manager®, because I love this stuff.”

Practice group leaders are required to report regularly to the committee and to the managing partner about how they are applying LPM and what works best.  “We’re following this so tightly because it’s an enormous priority,” said Weber.  The result is that best practices are spreading. 

Many changes were quite simple but extremely effective.  For example, she noted that:  “As matters come in, we routinely have a discussion at the outset with all team members, including paralegals, so that everybody understands what the scope is. At the same time, we discuss the task codes that everyone’s going to use, so we don’t have major problems with consistency later.”

Knowledge management (KM) is also a key part of this initiative, and each practice group is identifying “information that should be highlighted and easily accessible, ranging from legal forms to white papers, so people can stop reinventing the wheel.”  As with so many things in life, success is often based on the details.

As one example, Weber reported something she “tripped over in a discussion with an associate… that rocked my world.”  The problem was that associates were writing up their legal research – including ideas that could be made part of the firm’s permanent knowledge base – in emails. However, the firm’s KM software collected information by crawling only through PDF files and Word files, not through emails. As a result, many possible efficiencies were being missed. Needless to say, the process has been changed so that those results are now captured into the KM system.

 

This post was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

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