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May 31, 2017

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

by Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

3.  Publicize successes within the firm

The lawyers who achieve quick wins often become internal champions who spread the word to their partners.  This is most effective when the firm establishes procedures to publicize successes internally.

For example, Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami-based firm with more than 100 lawyers, started with a panel discussion at a retreat in which three lawyers who had completed LPM coaching described their experience and results.  One of the three, Al Dotson, the firm’s Land Development & Government Relations Practice Group Leader, described how his LPM activities had led to new business in just a few months.  Dotson’s practice involves public-private partnerships in economic development in south Florida. It includes securing land use, zoning, and other key government approvals and permits for large real estate developments. His clients loved the LPM approach because they use project management to run their own construction 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.

Based on the endorsement of internal champions, the majority of Bilzin Sumberg's partners volunteered for and completed LPM coaching.  They then proceeded to work LPM concepts into the very fabric of the way the firm operates, as described in a case study on our web page.

LPM successes can also be publicized in practice group meetings; through emails from firm leadership; at firm retreats, lunch and learns, panel discussions; and in many other ways.  

4.  Use just-in time training materials

In our three decades in the training and coaching business, the profession has changed radically.  When we started our company in 1985, most training was built around classes and workshops.  These days, it is far more common to use a just-in-time training approach which enables people to solve the problems they have, the moment they have them.

For example, if you need to use some unfamiliar features of Microsoft Word, it is very unlikely that you would consider taking a class. You will simply find the exact information you need in online help, precisely when you need it.

This approach has been applied in almost every field you can think of, including project manage­ment. When a research study of “The use of just-in-time training in a project environment was published in the International Journal of Project Management, the authors pointed out that “Around 40% of the knowledge acquired in training is lost after a break of one month, rising to 90% after six months.”  They then performed an experiment to show how the problem could be solved by providing access to tools that allow people to solve the problems they care about, just in time.

Full disclosure:  LegalBizDev has developed the most complete library of tools and templates to support just-in-time training for LPM.  This library has grown to over 400 pages in the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  Lawyers in our coaching and training programs have used this book to quickly find the information they need when they need it.  Whether they want to define the scope for a new matter, plan a budget, increase delegation, improve client communication, or increase efficiency in other ways, the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide provides checklists and step-by-step advice to save lawyers time in finding the solution that best fits their client and their personality.

In 2017, LegalBizDev also began offering electronic versions of these tools and templates, which lawyers can access anytime, anywhere using their laptop, tablet, or phone.  These online templates are frequently updated to include new tools that we are constantly adding to the collection.

A number of firms have also begun to develop their own custom tools, from budgeting spreadsheets to checklists for planning an alternative fee arrangement. 

Firms that want to apply the just-in-time training approach to LPM must decide whether to “build or buy.”  They can create their own complete library of firm-specific LPM tools and templates, or start from the foundation we provide with over 150 customizable electronic LPM tools and templates that provide step-by-step advice to solve the most common problems.

5.  Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly

To retain current clients and find new ones, a law firm simply needs to be just a little better than its key competitors.  The good news is that until recently that was easy, because other lawyers were not focused on efficiency.  The bad news is that it is getting harder to beat competitors, as more of them focus on LPM.  The bar is going up, and what was good enough to win new business last year may not work this year.

For example, one of the most interesting developments in LPM is the application of “Agile” approaches. In the traditional approach to project management, you start by creating a plan, including deliverables, deadlines and budgets, and then work your way to the end, one sequential step at a time.  In contrast, Agile takes a more flexible approach to managing projects by constantly reviewing priorities and a team’s ability to respond to change rather than sticking to a rigid plan created before the work began.

Agile first emerged in software development, but it can be extremely useful in managing legal matters where deadlines, tasks, and even goals change frequently.  Planning at the outset of every engagement remains important, but the ability to reprioritize tasks as further information becomes available is often critical to the success of legal matters.  If you don’t know whether a case will be in court for years or settle tomorrow, a static plan simply will not work.  Agile speeds up the change process with an iterative approach that seeks client feedback more quickly and uses it to maximize client value.

According to Jeff Sutherland, one of the founders of the movement: 

[Agile is] based on a simple idea: whenever you start a project, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, and if it’s actually what people want. And question whether there are any ways… of doing it better and faster.  (p. 9)

Some of the tips Sutherland offers in his book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time run counter to the way lawyers have been trained to proceed.  However, these tips can save an enormous amount of time in rapidly changing legal matters.  To give you a sense of how Agile works, here are a few suggestions quoted from Sutherland’s book:

  • Fail fast so you can fix early. Working… in short cycles allows early user feedback and you can immediately eliminate what is obviously wasteful effort.
  • Planning is useful. Blindly following plans is stupid. It’s just so tempting to draw up endless charts… but when detailed plans meet reality, they fall apart. Build into your working method the assumption of change, discovery, and new ideas.
  • Don’t guess… Plan what you’re going to do. Do it. Check whether it did what you wanted. Act on that and change how you’re doing things. Repeat in regular cycles and… achieve continuous improvement.
  • Small teams get work done faster than big teams. Data shows that if you have more than nine people on a team, their velocity slows down… More resources make the team go slower.
  • All the work being done… has to be transparent to everyone. If the team gets too big, the ability of everyone to communicate with everyone else, all the time, gets muddled… Meetings that took minutes now take hours.
  • Give teams the freedom to make decisions on how to take action… The ability to improvise will make all the difference.

We predict that Agile will transform LPM over the next few years.  Whether our prediction is correct or not, there is no doubt that LPM will require continuous improvement as the legal marketplace evolves.

To this day, some law firms are trying to identify a complete LPM solution before they take the first step. A committee is formed, monthly meetings are held and delayed, and months or years are devoted to analysis and debate before anyone actually does anything.

But the simple fact is that no one can possibly know what LPM will look like in ten years, or even in two years, because the legal profession is changing so rapidly.

Keeping up with these changes will require constant attention and management support.  As a senior executive from one AmLaw 200 firm summed it up in our book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability:

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. (p. 192)

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