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May 16, 2018

The Best Way to Increase Firm-Wide Commitment to LPM: A Panel Discussion by LPM Champions

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev

The single most difficult step in implementing a firm-wide LPM initiative is getting the attention, interest, and buy-in of busy lawyers. 

In more than a decade of working with law firms of all sizes to implement LPM, we have consistently found that the most effective way to generate interest is to conduct a carefully structured panel discussion where LPM champions discuss their success stories and how other lawyers at the firm might benefit from LPM. 

(Note: This approach assumes that the firm already has at least a few influential partners who have succeeded in increasing client satisfaction and/or profitability by increasing efficiency and applying LPM.  If that is not the case, the panel discussion must be preceded by a one-to-one coaching program or other initiative to develop the first LPM champions.) 

The reason that a panel discussion is so effective is that the testimony and proven experience of lawyer colleagues is much more effective and convincing than anything any outside expert could say.  Whether the panel discussion is featured at a retreat, or simply the basis for a lunch meeting for a small group, the keys to success are:

  • Pick the right participants based on both their presentation ability and their influence with colleagues in attendance.
  • Identify a skilled facilitator to organize and conduct the panel discussion to assure that the participants focus on benefits rather than getting lost in the details. (Note: It may be best to hire an outside consultant to facilitate the panel discussion.)
  • Decide whether the facilitator should be an outside expert or an internal staff member.
  • The session should be planned with a clear, concrete, and measurable goal, such as:
    • Identifying volunteers for LPM coaching
    • Increasing the use of internal LPM staff and resources
    • Increasing the use of on-line just-in-time training LPM tools
  • Hold one or more brief preparation meetings or pre-calls with the champions to review the goals of the session, what they will each talk about, and how long they will have for each section. (Note that this should NOT be a practice session of exactly what people will say.) 
  • Encourage all participants to keep the tone of the discussion positive and upbeat and avoid any negative comments about other lawyers or practice groups within the firm. Avoid any controversial law firm subjects.
  • Structure the panel so that no champion speaks for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Make sure that all of the champions have a chance to speak and share their stories. 
  • Determine whether participants will want to display slides or samples of spreadsheets and other LPM tools while they speak.
  • Consider how best to arrange the order of the participants. As every lawyer knows, it’s always best to make a good first impression and present a strong closing.

The facilitator’s primary role is to assure that panelists consistently focus on LPM benefits, such as:

  • Increased new business and profitability
  • Meeting client needs for cost reduction
  • Meeting client needs for predictable budgets
  • Greater client satisfaction and better client relationships
  • Improved alternative fee arrangements (AFAs)
  • Improved definitions of scope
  • Improved communication

These questions can be used to help structure the panelists’ discussion: 

  • What were your goals and expectations when you started working with LPM?
  • What have you done differently with clients and/or your team as a result of LPM?
  • What specific benefits resulted from LPM – for clients, you, your team, and the firm?
  • Would you recommend LPM to other lawyers in the firm? If so, why? 
  • Any thoughts about which lawyers might benefit the most from LPM?

In the preparation meeting or pre-call, the facilitator should circulate a detailed agenda to all panelists.  These are guidelines at best, and the facilitator is ultimately responsible for managing the time. 

The sample agenda below was used at a firm retreat for a 60-minute session that ran from 10:00-11:00 am and included four panelists and audience questions.  Some firms hold a longer, 90-minute session and have three to five panelists, including the managing partner.  Some firms also extend the optional section (shown starting at 10:07 below) if an external facilitator provides slides discussing how other firms are using and benefitting from LPM.

Approx. start time

Total minutes per section

Who

What

10:00

2

Facilitator

Overview of the goals of the session, panelist introductions

10:02

5

Managing partner

Background on why LPM is important to the firm, current plans and initiatives, and why the firm is making this commitment, including any specific examples that highlight the need for LPM (e.g., client requests for LPM)

10:07

3

Facilitator

(OPTIONAL) Expand on key concepts mentioned by the managing partner, such as the definition of LPM, why it is important, and a list of firm clients that have requested LPM (ideally a slide showing their logos).

10:10

20 total

(5 mins each)

Four panelists

Each panelist answers these questions:

  • What were your goals and expectations when you started working with LPM?
  • What have you done differently with clients and/or your team as a result of LPM?

Each lawyer will focus on benefits such as increased client satisfaction and/or profitability.  (Sample templates used by each lawyer could be projected in the background while they speak, unless the templates are distracting or give an impression that LPM is overly complicated.)

10:30

20 total

(5 mins each)

Four panelists

Each panelist answers the following questions:

  • What specific benefits resulted from LPM – for you, your team, for the firm?
  • Would you recommend LPM to others in the firm?   If so, why? 
  • Any thoughts on which lawyers would benefit the most from LPM?

10:50

3

Managing partner

Summarizes lessons learned about LPM so far, and the importance of LPM to the firm in the future.

10:53

7

Facilitator

Questions from the audience.  In case there are only a few audience questions, the facilitator should be prepared to ask panelists additional questions, based on what was discussed already, or to end the session a few minutes early.

11:00

 

Facilitator

END

On the day of the panel, the facilitator must:

  • Monitor the time each lawyer takes.
  • Coordinate with the panelists to use a subtle signal (e.g., passing a note) if it is necessary to send a message like: “Please finish this answer soon so we can go on to the next question.”
  • Constantly bring the conversation back to LPM benefits whenever needed.
  • Make appropriate judgment calls. For instance, if the lawyers’ stories are engaging, allow them to go a bit longer and have fewer audience questions.  Be willing to flex by focusing on where the audience is most attentive.
  • End the session on time or a few minutes early.

Note:  This post was adapted from a tool in the digital 5th edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide and is not available in any LegalBizDev books.

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