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November 01, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

A few weeks ago, Lathrop Gage CEO Mark Bluhm emailed everyone in the firm to announce the release of an online library of LPM tools as part of its multi-year initiative “to enhance LPM capabilities within the firm… to deliver greater value to clients, increase new business, and improve efficiencies and therefore profitability.” 

Many law firms are earning an “A for effort” in LPM these days, so initiatives in this area are no longer a cause for headlines. But a much smaller number of firms would get an “A for results,” because it is so difficult to get lawyers to change their behavior. Lathrop Gage is emerging as a national LPM leader by being among the very few that are taking the right steps to meet client needs as efficiently as possible.

The firm has nearly 280 attorneys in 10 offices nationwide, from Los Angeles to Boston. Lathrop Gage was founded in 1873 in Kansas City and, according to its web page, provides “strategic guidance in litigation, business and intellectual property law, with deep knowledge and experience in the industries” it serves.

Its first major LPM initiative began in November 2015 when LegalBizDev began enrolling key lawyers in our two-month coaching program to identify and implement the most effective actions with active clients and matters.  Based on the results with six pilot group participants, they have since expanded the program to a total of 25 lawyers, with more planned for the future. 

One of the lawyers who participated in the first coaching group – IP litigator Dave Clark – became so convinced of the value of these techniques that he took on the newly created role of LPM Partner. 

Clark first deepened his LPM knowledge by completing LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program with Gary Richards.  As part of that program, he developed a firm-wide LPM implementation plan.  To support him as his role evolves, Clark has a telecon every other week with Richards, LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf, and founder Jim Hassett.

His responsibilities and progress to date are described below, including participating in a supplemental “LPM Coaching Certification” process so that Clark can personally continue to expand the coaching program without using LegalBizDev consultants.  He has been coaching individual lawyers on an ad hoc basis for months, and has begun a two-month formal coaching program for his first group of eight lawyers.

The LPM program was initiated by Jennifer Hannah, the Chair of the Litigation Division and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.  She is also a member of a new Client Value Task Force headed by COO Court Landon.  That group was started this year to periodically review LPM past accomplishments, future plans and related initiatives. LPM efficiencies are becoming a key part of the firm’s culture.

The approach Lathrop Gage is using is consistent with the concepts outlined in our white paper “The Top Five Ways to Increase Legal Project Management Results”

  1. Focus on changing behavior and solving problems;
  2. Aim for quick wins to create internal champions;
  3. Publicize successes within the firm;
  4. Use just-in time training materials;
  5. Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly.

This case study describes how Lathrop Gage is applying each of these principles.   

  1. Focus on Changing Behavior and Solving Problems

This is the most important of the five principles because, as noted in our white paper:

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.

The first steps that lawyers should take are often easy to identify.  The hard part is getting them to do it.

Since completing his coaching, Tedrick Housh III, Chair of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice group, has begun to use LPM in both client projects and litigation.  The LPM format is a natural fit for corporate clients who engage Lathrop Gage to assess their data security and privacy policies, regimens and incident response plans.  “We have spent a lot of time looking at all of our repetitive tasks,” he says, “to handle them more efficiently and make sure they are assigned to the right people.” 

For each new litigation matter, his team uses an electronic timeline with all deadlines and events coming up, along with a detailed list of tasks for each pleading, discovery item or witness. This format, says Housh, “prompts regular meetings of our trial team and forces us to continually evaluate whether certain tasks have been done, and sometimes whether they are still worth doing.” As trial approaches, the form suggests more frequent points at which to engage the client in the case.  “It’s certainly true that litigation is unpredictable,” Housh says, “but these tools have helped us even though we know that there will always be surprises.”

In another example, Douglas Link, an IP associate in the firm’s Boulder, Colorado, office worked with his coach to identify immediate ways in to improve his communication with clients. They developed a new engagement letter that spells out all possible steps that the firm might need to take in connection with a patent application. The new engagement letter defines the scope of representation by using task codes and provides future cost projections for the various tasks.

A third example comes from Courtney Conrad, a Kansas City-based partner in Lathrop Gage’s Wealth Strategies group.  She and her group have been informally using LPM for years by creating standard forms that help it serve its estate-planning clients, saving time and money. 

“We have a checklist, basically an electronic binder, that is accessible to everyone in our group,” Conrad says. “It has all the elements that you need for most estate-planning matters. It’s now a Word document, but we will soon transition to a document assembly system that will be even better. Once an attorney enters the necessary names, amounts, addresses and so on, that system will produce the document. This approach can be used not just in estate planning, but in many other groups firm-wide.”

The final example in this section comes not from a program that was started by a LegalBizDev coach, but rather from coaching Dave Clark conducted with LegalBizDev’s support.  Clark’s assumption of his new role as LPM partner coincided neatly with the firm’s being retained by a major auto manufacturer to handle a large series of trademark matters.  Travis McCallon, an IP team leader in the firm’s Kansas City, Missouri office, consulted with Clark during the early stages of this work, and together they worked on efficiency techniques to keep this new client happy and in the fold.

“This kind of trademark work has a lot of volume. Most individual cases are not too sophisticated, but there’s a lot to keep track of,” McCallon says. “We created an in-house matrix that gives us all the information in a spreadsheet – what has happened so far in the case and what will happen next. The spreadsheet includes the name of the alleged infringer, and it even includes a link to the content that constitutes the possible online infringement itself.”

McCallon says the Excel spreadsheet also spells out what the firm’s proposed next steps are in each case and contains a requirement for client approval before each step can take place. The client has full access to the spreadsheet and can “populate” the box for client approval, thus triggering correspondence from McCallon to the alleged infringer.

In addition, McCallon, with Clark’s input, has devised an internal checklist that his team uses to ensure that all key steps are being taken in any of these trademark infringement cases so the data is “right at our fingertips.”

As Clark summed it up, “Through the use of LPM principles, we developed a way to keep the client informed on a regular basis of what’s going on in the large number of trademark cases that we are handling at any one time.  This permits the client to see the status of all the matters practically at a glance. It has made it easy for the client to understand what’s going on in each case and what the recommended courses of action are.  The client has been extremely happy with this approach.” 

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