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March 23, 2016

Legal project management: What works best? (Part 3 of 3)

An edited version of this series appeared in the February 2016 issue of Managing Partner magazine with the title  “LPM: An evolving process” and can be downloaded from our web page.

4. Invest in technology at the right moment

As firms gradually implement LPM to increase efficiency and avoid surprises, a time is likely to come when firms will need to invest in software to improve tracking of budgets, assignments, and more. However, many firms have wasted time and money by focusing on technology before lawyers had clearly defined their needs or were ready to change their behavior.

In his book Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit (p. 215), Stuart J.T. Dodds, director of global pricing and LPM at Baker & McKenzie, noted that:

Many of the initial LPM efforts failed… due [in part] to an initial focus on technology… [LPM software] was frequently difficult to learn and then apply to matters at hand, leading to lawyer frustration and limited adoption.

To cite just one cautionary tale, consider this report from a senior executive at an AmLaw 200 firm in our survey (p. 126):

We spent an incredible amount of time and resources coming up with a very sophisticated reporting system that would allow people, with a couple of clicks through our intranet, to go into any particular matter that had a budget and see, down to the timekeeper and task level, exactly how they were doing. Nobody uses them, as far as we can tell. Literally nobody.

In an interview for this blog, Paula Uscian, director of quality assurance at Project Leadership Associates, noted that:

There are very useful LPM software programs available, but we advise clients to first look at the tools that they already have and to leverage the investments that they have already made in software, without buying anything new.

5. Don’t stop

As one AmLaw 200 senior executive in our survey (p. 192) summed it up:

I think that [LPM] will require a lot of work, and daily support from the top, not just lip service from the partner team twice a year.

The Bilzin Sumberg case study cited above provides an excellent example. It would be nice to be able to report that once Bilzin Sumberg completed coaching a critical mass of partners, their LPM work was done, but in fact it was just beginning.

One of the most important steps that Bilzin took to sustain progress after the coaching was the formation of an LPM committee to monitor and sustain progress. 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 Michelle Weber, the firm’s chief operating officer. The result is that best practices are spreading. 

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 Bilzin’s leaders for a number of follow-up reports, they continued to use 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 in our opinion not a single law firm in the world, including Bilzin Sumberg, can yet say that LPM has truly taken hold across the entire firm.

And the LPM bar will keep going up. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm interviewed for my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 182) said:

It’s an evolving process. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point at which you can say: Now I’ve arrived.

Summary:  How to avoid pitfalls in implementing LPM

 

What works best

What doesn’t

Training

Coach key lawyers to change their behavior and become internal LPM champions with quick wins.

Begin with large scale training of lawyers and staff.

Staff

Hire or assign staff to provide the financial and other help that lawyers ask for.

Hire LPM staff too soon and expect them to accomplish their objectives without lawyers’ support.

Technology

Begin by providing lawyers with the budget and other information they ask for using existing systems, even if it is awkward at first.

Invest time and money in new technology too soon, before you have a clear idea of what lawyers want and need

 

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