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May 17, 2017

The top five ways to increase LPM results (Part 1 of 2)

by Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

In the last few years, many legal clients have been demanding greater efficiency and more predictable budgets. Law firms have responded by investing in legal project management (LPM) to increase client satisfaction and profitability.  They have tried a variety of approaches to this evolving specialty, including LPM coaching, training, hiring LPM staff, and purchasing new software.  Some of these initiatives have been quite effective in changing lawyers’ behavior, and some have not.

This two part series provides a high level summary of the five most effective ways to increase LPM results:

1.  Focus on changing behavior and solving problems

In 2011, when the LPM movement was just getting started, the Association of Corporate Counsel and the American Bar Association published an account of a meeting “at which leaders of corporate and law firm litigation departments rolled up their sleeves and tackled the complex issues surrounding present day concepts of value in litigation.” After the meeting, the authors of a follow-up report emphasized that future progress will not be based on improved understanding or increased knowledge. Instead, “The challenge is change/behavior management.” It’s not a question of knowing what to do; it’s a question of actually doing it.

At about the same time, many firms started implementing LPM by launching large-scale education programs. Lawyers love precedent, so when one AmLaw 100 firm announced that it had trained all of its partners in LPM, a number of others jumped in to do the same thing.  These training programs enabled firms to “check the LPM box,” write RFP responses praising their own LPM efforts, and put out press releases. What they did not accomplish, however, was to get many lawyers to change the way they practice law.

As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm that invested heavily in LPM training put it in our survey Client Value and Law Firm Profitability

Every shareholder and top level associate [in our firm] has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you that they use it, but they don’t.(p. 193)

LPM requires partners to change the very way they practice law.  And as the managing partner of another AmLaw 200 firm in our survey put it:

Project management is not natural to lawyers. We’ve always been trained to get the case done well to win, but now we also have to get the case done efficiently, and that is not part of the natural toolkit for most people. (p. 191)

It is not exactly news that education does not necessarily lead to behavior change. Taking a workshop about how to lead a healthier life by exercising regularly, losing weight, and eating more vegetables does not mean that you will actually do any of these things.

The key to getting started in changing behavior throughout an organization is to help lawyers solve the problems they face, such as living within a fixed fee budget or increasing realization.  And the best way to do that is to first identify lawyers who are motivated to change, and then to coach them one-on-one to create quick wins.

2.  Aim for quick wins to create internal champions

Lawyers are most likely to change their behavior if they are provided with convincing evidence that it is in their own self-interest. If respected colleagues say that LPM helped to make a fixed fee deal more profitable, or to avoid a write-down with a difficult client, they will listen.

As ALM Legal Intelligence noted in a survey entitled Legal Project Management: Much Promise, Many Hurdles (ALM Legal Intelligence, 2012, p. 17), “The quicker there are demonstrable positive benefits, the faster other partners will take notice.” (p. 17)

The value of quick wins in changing behavior has also been shown in many other professions.

A few years ago, John Kotter published a Harvard Business School Review article entitled “Leading Change:  Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” summarizing a ten-year study of more than 100 companies.  Most of their change efforts had failed, and Kotter outlined eight phases that were necessary for success:  generating a sense of urgency; establishing a powerful guiding coalition; developing a vision; communicating the vision clearly and often; removing obstacles; planning for and creating short-term wins; avoiding premature declarations of victory; and embedding changes in the corporate culture.

Kotter, who is now a Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, went on to refine these ideas in a number of publications, including the book Leading Change, which TIME magazine listed as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Business Management Books" of all time.  According to Kotter (p. 123), short-term wins:   

  • “Provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it
  • Reward change agents with a pat on the back
  • Help fine-tune vision and strategies
  • Undermine cynics and self-serving resisters
  • Build momentum”

When LegalBizDev coaches lawyers in LPM, we look for the low hanging fruit that makes it easiest to generate short-term wins such as better budget control, improved client communication, or negotiating changes of scope.

In more than three decades in the training business, LegalBizDev has found that the single most important factor in success is selecting the right people to be trained. This is particularly critical in an area like LPM, where there is resistance and skepticism about changing behavior.

We recommend starting with lawyers who are open to new ideas and who have the most to gain. That could be the key partners who are responsible for new alternative fee arrangements. It could be relationship partners who are worried about protecting business with key clients that are looking for greater efficiency and increased value from their outside counsel. It could be an entire practice group that is considering new checklists, templates, and processes to improve its competitive position. 

Experience has shown that our training pays for itself several times over by enhancing client relationships and profitability. That success creates a new group of champions within the firm who will spread the word that legal project management can help serve clients better.

The exact individuals and groups will vary from firm to firm. But in every case, the best lawyers to begin focusing on LPM are those who are (i) open-minded about change and efficiency, (ii) in a position to benefit when LPM makes a difference, and (iii) influential enough to credibly spread the word of their success.

To be continued in Part 2.....

 

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