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September 14, 2016

Case Study:  LPM Certification at Tucker Ellis

By Tim Batdorf, Jim Hassett, and Jonathan Groner

In the November 2010 press release that announced the start of our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program, we called it “the first to award certification in this new discipline.”  Many other LPM certifications have been introduced since, but most offer simply a “certificate of attendance” a piece of paper you get for going to a workshop. In contrast, ours remains the most demanding program.  It is still the only LPM certification program designed for the small and select group of lawyers and staff who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others. 

To become a Certified Legal Project Manager™, participants must study over 300 pages of assigned readings, answer 18 essay questions about how these concepts apply to their situation, demonstrate their skills and knowledge with real-world applications in their practice, and pass a written essay test.  To determine its long-term impact, we recently went back and interviewed several participants who were certified years ago.  This is the first of several case studies that will appear in this blog addressing the progress they made during the program, and after it was complete.

Jonathan Cooper, a partner and trial attorney at Tucker Ellis in Cleveland Ohio, was awarded his certification in January 2012.  In his written project, he completed a “Mass Tort Litigation Checklist” which he has updated several times since.  The latest version is reproduced in the recently published fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. 

In the years since he completed certification, Jonathan has gone on to apply many other project management tactics to change the way he practices law.   For example, he continued to refine his checklist of all the steps necessary to defend against an asbestos claim.  The checklist is now in the form of a flow chart which shows what to do in a variety of scenarios to make sure that no key steps are missed.  The firm now uses this checklist/flowchart for all asbestos matters, and, according to Jonathan “This one simple step greatly improved our practice.”

Tucker Ellis is a relatively young law firm, founded in 2003.  It differentiates itself by creating a unique type of client experience – one that focuses on the client’s ideas of success.  Jonathan says, “After all, if you can define the benchmarks of success in advance with the client, you can be appropriately rewarded for achieving them.”

Tucker Ellis handles hundreds or even thousands of similar cases for its clients.  This requires a high level of sophistication in the way in which the firm processes cases and high efficiency from its lawyers if the firm hopes to successfully meet its clients’ objectives profitably.  

Tucker Ellis also offers a significant number of fixed fee arrangements.  With fixed fees, Jonathan says, “The only way to make any money is to reduce the number of timekeepers who touch the matter. That’s why our firm has become an expert at doing things efficiently, with fewer people getting involved in each matter.”

That is not to say that LPM, or Jonathan’s certification, provided a magic bullet that immediately addressed all of the firm’s challenges.  “The most challenging part,” Jonathan says, “was attempting to ‘preach the gospel’ of project management to other practice groups within the firm. It was not immediately obvious that project management would succeed because it’s not easy to get the typical lawyer to change the way in which he or she does things… It remains very hard for some lawyers to give up on the idea that every case is unique and that every rock needs to be turned over in a particular case, even though we’ve already repeatedly turned over that rock in other cases.”

The process of changing lawyers’ behavior is never as quick as LPM proponents would like, but at Tucker Ellis LPM has clearly paid off.  For example, after overcoming initial skepticism, the firms’ ERISA lawyers discovered that they could find commonalities in their employee benefit plans which allowed the practice group to regularize its processes and become more efficient and profitable.  Although it took a while, Jonathan says, “Adopting LPM has started a sea of change at the firm.”   

Tucker Ellis lawyers now realize that much of what they do can be boiled down into common elements that can be repeated.  As Jonathan summed it up: “The key to success in many areas, including our asbestos and medical products cases, is efficiency.  The firm has developed repeatable processes that give clients very high odds of success.” 

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