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May 02, 2018

A model for LPM success: The case of Bilzin Sumberg (Part 5 of 5)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

Implications for other law firms

First and foremost, to maximize LPM success while minimizing its cost, law firms would be wise to follow the same five steps that Bilzin Sumberg followed when implementing LPM:

  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. Take action now and follow up relentlessly

But these come with an important caveat: To maximize results, the initiative requires strong support at the executive committee level. At Bilzin Sumberg, the key champions included managing partner John Sumberg, managing partner elect Al Dotson, and COO Michelle Weber. Their follow up over the last few years has been patient but relentless.

At other firms, on more occasions than we care to remember, a managing partner or chair would begin an LPM program that achieved substantial successes, but momentum would be lost when they became distracted by other pressing priorities or left the firm.

Perhaps the most widely publicized effort in LPM has been at Seyfarth Shaw, which began its work on process improvement around 2006. Six years into their program, Steve Poor, then Seyfarth’s Chairman and now its Chair Emeritus, wrote in the New York Times DealBook (May 7, 2012):

Never underestimate the resistance to change from lawyers… The continuous move forward takes persistence and, perhaps, a bit of stubbornness.

So the vast majority of lawyers should be expected to resist LPM until they see “what’s in it for me.” It is up to the firm’s leaders to keep initiatives moving forward.

Some of the things Bilzin Sumberg’s law firm leaders did were very simple. For example, according to COO Michelle Weber, “we found that sometimes using the phrase LPM is a roadblock, so we used the word efficiency instead.” As Al Dotson described in Part 1 of this series, when he talked with lawyers across the firm, “every single practice group said they could not use LPM.” So he decided a language change was necessary to remove the roadblock:

We took the acronym “LPM” off the table, and asked practice group leaders to instead think about what would make your group more efficient.

This simple change in terminology helped reduce resistance.

During the 2017 panel discussion that we facilitated for Bilzin Sumberg, several partners described how important it was to have management’s assurance that they had LPM support available. This included hiring external consultants to conduct the initial coaching, obtaining new software, and hiring new staff or reassigning existing staff to focus more on LPM.

In July 2014, Paul VanderMeer became involved in the LPM effort as the Chief Knowledge Officer at Bilzin Sumberg (after working there since 2009). Suzanne Amaducci-Adams offered one example of how Paul helped her by creating a more efficient system for tracking all of her matters, which simplified looking up documents and project costs.

Paul came up with this whole system where I just hit a button, and I can get a quick list of every matter I’d worked on in the firm the last 20 years. I can tailor this list to find what I need in about 90 seconds or less. If that saves me 10 or 15 minutes of my day every day, that’s a lot of time that I could be doing other things.

In the next few years, we expect most firms to expand their internal LPM staff. Unfortunately, as we explained in our posts on “How to Hire LPM Staff,” it won’t be easy. Just about every firm is looking for people who have combined expertise in two different areas: project management and law firm operations. But LPM is a new field, and there just aren’t that many people around who have both. The result has been that too many law firms are pursuing too few people, leading to a great deal of mobility in positions that would benefit from stability.

In February 2016, we posted the results of interviews with 15 LPM Directors about their priorities and achievements. While researching these posts, we went to LinkedIn to see how many of the 15 had changed jobs in the two years since we conducted interviews. Almost half had: four to other law firms, two to in-house law departments, and one to start his own consulting company. In our view, this job mobility reflects not only the competition for experienced staff, but also the difficulty of a position which many law firms have not fully defined.

Our posts on “How to Hire LPM Staff” include the 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....”

The details of how one firm followed this advice can be seen in our case study of LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage. In short, they appointed Dave Clark, an IP lawyer who had been at the firm for 30 years, to the new position of LPM Partner. As Clark put it in that case study (p. 7):

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?

Clark’s LPM training, and the initial rounds of LPM coaching at Lathrop, were completed by LegalBizDev. Now that this foundation has been established, Clark is coaching more lawyers himself.

Whether a firm decides to build the foundation for its initiatives with external consultants, internal staff, or a combination of the two, it is important to begin reaping the benefits of LPM as soon as possible. As long as other firms continue to improve, the LPM bar will keep going up. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm we interviewed for our book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 171) said:

LPM is an evolving process. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point at which you can say: “Now I’ve arrived.”

Firms can increase client satisfaction and profitability by following the principles outlined here. According to COO Michelle Weber, the most significant insight from their client satisfaction interviews is that:

Every client eats up LPM – better communication and budgets provide validation from the client perspective.

And based on their experience over the last several years, Weber believes that LPM is not just an interesting option for most law firms, but it is an absolute necessity:

If you fail to use LPM in the current environment, you will lose clients.

 

A pdf of the complete case study can be downloaded from our web page.

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