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November 29, 2017

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

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


4. Use Just-in-Time Training Materials

All examples in this case study reflect LegalBizDev’s emphasis on “just in time” training, which addresses individual problems as they arise.  This can be contrasted to a traditional approach to LPM training which relies on workshops to educate people about the entire field, and then hoping they remember to apply the relevant concepts months or years later.

The just-in-time approach is most effective when it is supported by an extensive library of tools and templates that people can use when they need them.  In most professions, just-in-time training materials have become the standard way to teach new skills. For example, when people need to use an unfamiliar feature of Microsoft Word, very few would consider taking a class or looking it up in a book. They simply find the exact information they need in online help, precisely when they need it.

Until this year, LegalBizDev’s library of tools and templates appeared only in a printed book: the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, now in its fourth edition.

In 2017 we began offering firms licenses to the fifth edition, an evolving electronic library that can be accessed by any lawyer at any time whether they are in their office, in a hotel room, or on an airplane.  This approach also makes it easier to update new tools every few months, and allows firms to customize our tools to their needs, and add their own templates to the library.  Lathrop Gage was the first firm to license this online library.  Since then, five other firms ranging in size from 100 to 800 lawyers have licensed the electronic fifth edition.

Even before these templates were placed on Lathrop Gage’s intranet, Dave Clark used the library in his coaching by emailing lawyers just the tools they needed in the form of short pdfs. For example, when Stephen Dexter, a lawyer on the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights team, started a new bankruptcy matter for an existing client, the client wanted a phased budget which took into account the estimated costs of various litigation tracks the case might take.  Clark emailed Dexter relevant tools from the library on planning and managing a budget and that made it easier for him to send the client the type of budget they requested, and to track costs as the matter proceeds.

In addition, Clark says, “One of the things that I do on a regular basis is to speak with team leaders and executive committee members to get an idea of what efficiency tools and templates we need.  We have already developed some Lathrop-specific tools, and included them in the online library, and plan to develop many more.”  Given that LegalBizDev is also developing new tools every few months, this online library has become a living resource that gives every Lathrop Gage lawyer instant access to the latest advances in the field

5. Assure Continuous Improvement by Following Up Relentlessly

LPM is not a simple set of procedures that law firms can put into place, and then move on to the next challenge.  Instead, it is an ever-evolving set of techniques that requires consistent attention and support.  In 2016, the firm decided to hire a full-time LPM Director, and consulted with LegalBizDev about the most effective way to conduct a search.

They ultimately agreed with the approach we outlined on our recent posts on “How to hire LPM staff,”  including our recommendation that “It takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM… [Therefore], the best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant....”

According to LPM Partner Dave Clark: “The firm decided to put the program in the hands of a partner who was already here, one who knows how our firm thinks.  They asked me and I agreed. I set aside my full-time IP practice in order to implement LPM here at the firm. We felt it was very important to change lawyer behavior, and what better way to do that than to put someone in charge of the program who has been here more than 30 years and who knows all the lawyers and the pressures that they face on a daily basis?  My partners know that I understand their needs and practices. My daily role is to help the lawyers provide value and increase efficiency. My previous role as an IP partner helps open doors.”

An LPM director drawn from the partner ranks is much more likely to visualize the possibility of immediate efficiency gains in particular cases and practice groups on an ad hoc basis, tailoring solutions to specific matters rather than developing a top-down approach to LPM.

One of the first things Clark did after completing certification was to set up individual meetings with more than a dozen practice leaders and members of firm management.  From these interviews, “It became clear that budgeting and pricing tools and practices are a priority with virtually every practice team,” he says. “Creating practice-specific checklists and improving work flow and processes were also important to many teams. In addition, some teams, particularly litigation teams, have a need for improved practices and tools related to setting objectives and defining the scope of a matter with the client.”

Clark sees a major part of his job as “identifying possible inefficiencies in our client work and correcting them to bring value to our clients.” Accordingly, he is looking to train and work with lawyers who not only can help him identify such areas of improvement, but also are open to follow up and implement new systems.

Clark recently reviewed the characteristics of those lawyers who had previously gotten the most out of past LPM programs with LegalBizDev. He then created a profile for the most promising future participants, in the interest of identifying people who were likely to succeed with LPM. He discussed with the task force which practice groups and individuals would be the best ones to focus on.  Before accepting any candidates into the next round of coaching he will conduct, he is verifying that each one is motivated and has adequate time to work on the program.

Clark expects his role to continue to evolve.  “In LPM, the bar is always being raised. A firm that was an innovator in this area just a couple of years ago can now be easily overtaken by other firms that begin to focus on LPM. Now that so many firms have LPM programs, what was good enough to win new business last year in a competitive market may not be good enough this year.”

 

To download a pdf with all three parts of this case study, go to https://tinyurl.com/LPM-Lathrop

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