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2 posts from August 2018

August 22, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

As explained in our white paper, The Keys to Legal Project Management Success, the five most effective ways to increase legal project management (LPM) results are to: (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, and (5) take action now and follow up relentlessly. 

In over a decade of research and consulting with hundreds of law firms, we’ve seen that one-to-one LPM coaching is the most effective way to change behavior and achieve quick wins. 

There are a number of ways that LPM coaching programs can be structured by internal staff or external consultants.  Our own approach has evolved over the last ten years, as we found that some tactics worked better than others.  This series of posts explains how our approach works, what lawyers can expect if they sign up, and actual successes that typical participants have achieved.

 

What is the goal of LPM coaching?

Project management has been used for decades in fields like engineering, construction, information technology, and aerospace.  It is only in the last ten years that lawyers have begun to apply these systematic and disciplined tactics to the unique challenges of the profession, and best practices have begun to emerge.  A primary goal of LPM coaching is to help lawyers apply the latest findings about best practices, so they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

From the start, the primary goal of our coaching programs has been to help lawyers apply LPM quickly to find “low hanging fruit” and directly experience such immediate benefits as: 

  • Increasing realization and profitability
  • Reducing risk
  • Protecting current business
  • Increasing new business

We have repeatedly seen that once individual lawyers achieve success, they become internal champions who help spread LPM best practices to others within their firm.  (Our web page includes several case studies showing how this has worked at a number of firms.)

 

How does our LPM coaching work?

A certified LegalBizDev coach provides one-to-one advice on the best ways to apply LPM over a period of several months. LPM coaching is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. What works best for one practice team or one individual lawyer might not be best for another practice team or individual. Therefore, the precise content and approach of coaching is customized to each lawyer’s needs and personality. But for every lawyer, each call provides an opportunity to brainstorm with an LPM expert.  And the very fact that a lawyer has a call scheduled helps that individual find the time for LPM in an otherwise busy schedule.

The program typically includes unlimited phone calls and emails for two months from the date of the lawyer’s first call. Most lawyers schedule a 30-minute phone call at the same time every week, such as every Tuesday at 10 AM.  If the lawyer is unable to complete at least eight calls within two months, the program is extended for up to two additional months or until eight calls have been completed, whichever comes first.

Most lawyers begin the coaching process by selecting an active client or matter, then identifying which of eight key LPM issues are most critical to meet their goals. Each participant receives a copy our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (4th Ed.), which is a toolbox of templates and best practices. During the coaching program, the LPM coach helps the lawyer quickly select the tools that are most likely to result in immediate benefits for their immediate situation. During the coaching, the lawyer also becomes aware of all the other LPM tools that may be helpful to them in the future, and when to use those tools.

A few lawyers prefer to start the coaching program by analyzing a past matter that went over budget to better understand how LPM could prevent that problem in the future.  Some use the coaching program as a CLE-type course to understand the big picture of LPM.  Although these theoretical approaches offer value, we prefer to engage lawyers in an active matter so that LPM is immediately real and relevant to their practice.  But the bottom line is that our approach is entirely customized, and whatever works best for the lawyer works for us.

 

Is LPM coaching just for lawyers?

To maximize the benefits of LPM coaching, we believe it is best if lawyers participate in our LPM coaching program.  However, we have coached paralegals, legal assistants, project management professionals, and LPM staff members with success.  The reason we recommend coaching lawyers is obvious to anyone who has ever worked in a law firm:  lawyers are in charge, and if they don’t buy into LPM, it simply will not be applied as effectively.  We have found it can be unproductive and frustrating for a legal assistant to learn new LPM concepts, and then be limited in his or her ability to implement that new knowledge because they lack the authority to introduce important changes into the LPM process. 

In addition, lawyers are principally involved in many of the key LPM issues.  Lawyers work with clients to set objectives and define scope and negotiate changes of scope.  The same holds true for other key LPM issues such as managing client communications, assigning tasks, managing the team, assessing risks, and managing quality. 

While many lawyers would prefer not to set aside time for coaching, as we often say, “You can’t pay someone else to do your pushups.”  It is the lawyer who must learn LPM concepts if LPM is to be fully implemented in ongoing client matters. 

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide

 

August 08, 2018

AFA pricing best practices

By Jonathan Groner

At the recent conference of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), Matthew Beekhuizen, chief pricing officer of Greenberg Traurig, was a member of a panel titled “How to Build an AFA Program: Best Practices in Design, Implementation, and Management.”  Beekhuizen recently discussed the panel and various aspects of pricing and alternative fee arrangements with us in the following interview.

LegalBizDev: Based on your personal experience, what approach do you take in dealing with pricing issues?

Beekhuizen: Earlier in my career, I worked in commercial banking, and I became accustomed to analyzing financial statements and profit and loss statements, particularly for the purpose of assessing the amount of risk for commercial loans. That work was highly data-based, and I still use a data perspective in developing prices in my present position.

I use data as a starting point. For example, in developing a budget for a piece of litigation, we look first at the costs of various tasks, such as depositions, motions to dismiss, etc., in similar matters. We also ask: What is the possible range of costs? This historical data paints a picture, and then I sit down with the attorneys on the matter and I ask them how the present case is different, if at all, from previous cases that were similar. We can go from there.

LegalBizDev: Are firms like yours becoming more data-driven?

Beekhuizen: Yes, firms are much savvier now, for example, about why and how they should use task codes to capture data in a meaningful way. In addition to the well-known ABA litigation codes that have existed since the 1990s, many firms are developing their own coding systems for all types of matters, not just litigation. And Hilarie Bass (current ABA president and a co-president of Greenberg Traurig) has initiated an ABA working group with the goal of creating broader code sets for a variety of practice types, as well as revisions of the litigation code set, aimed at capturing better data and being more useful in AFAs.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between task codes and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: The array of data that can be gathered from completed matters by the use of task codes helps a firm develop detailed projections of the cost of an upcoming matter. These projections can then be used to develop a fee proposal that the firm, with a greater degree of confidence, expects will be a valuable arrangement for the client and the firm.  The use of task codes also enhances legal project management efforts once the matter is under way, so firms can monitor what work has been done, by whom and when in comparison to the fee agreement.

One type of AFA that firms are using more frequently when they are truly data-driven, is task-based pricing. An example of this type of pricing would be that the firm and the client agree on a certain price per deposition, regardless of the number of depositions, or on a certain price for the review of, say, each set of 5,000 documents.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between legal project management and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: AFAs can really set the stage for legal project management. Say the work is being done for a fixed fee, which is a common type of AFA. That means that when the firm agreed on the fee with the client, the firm had based the arrangement upon specific staffing (how many people would be used for each aspect of the matter, where they are based, experience level) and expected scope (activity such as number of depositions, number of documents to review, etc.).  The firm needs to staff the matter in the way it had planned and monitor that the work is within scope. So the fee agreement becomes, or should become, a work plan to which the firm must manage. That requires regular reporting and assessing of where things stand, which of course involves project management. Project management becomes indispensable in making AFAs work well.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between the growth of legal operations within client corporations and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: Because of the growth of legal ops, more sophisticated clients have set benchmarks for what they want to pay for certain specific legal services, just the same way as firms’ use of data has helped firms come up with benchmarks for the prices that offer the most value to all involved. This is actually very good because it makes the relationship and the negotiation between the law firm and the client more transparent in many ways. Now, if the client and the firm have different expectations about the potential costs for a matter, both can review the data behind the expected cost. This helps firms have a more substantial and fact-based discussion with clients about price. When our clients are trying to implement AFAs for the first time, I always tell them to start with data. Having a legal operations professional on the client side helps with this process.

As legal operations continues to grow by leaps and bounds, as it has, we will be seeing a lot more data-driven requests from clients, and I think that’s a great development.

LegalBizDev: Do you deal with aspects of pricing that are not necessarily reducible to data?

Beekhuizen: Yes. Pricing is both a science and an art, and it ultimately is all about understanding your clients’ needs. Sometimes you may come up with an initial cost estimate that you know is beyond what the client is expecting. For example, a price estimate may represent what the firm believes will be required to win a certain litigation, but that cost is greater than the client’s monetary exposure. At that point, you can explore other alternatives that reduce the cost and create value for the client.

In another situation, the client may want to develop a fee arrangement that has the law firm sharing risk with the client, so that the law firm incentives and client objectives are aligned.

In yet another situation, the value for the client is not so much in cost reduction as in predictability of its legal expenses over a period of time.

In all these instances, our job is to develop an understanding of what the client is really trying to achieve. AFAs and data-driven analysis set the stage for the most important part – talking to the client about what they expect and what they consider value.

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