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September 05, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

 

How does a firm identify the best lawyers for LPM coaching?

We recommend starting with the motivated: lawyers who are open to new ideas and who have the most to gain. They could be key partners who are responsible for new alternative fee arrangements. Or they might be relationship partners who are worried about protecting business with clients who are looking for greater efficiency. Or maybe an entire practice group is considering new checklists, templates, and processes to improve its competitive position.

The exact individuals and groups will vary from firm to firm. But in every case, the best pilot group consists of those lawyers who are open-minded about change and efficiency, in a position to benefit when it works, and influential enough to quickly spread the word of their success. 

Here are three questions you might consider asking your lawyers to determine the best candidates for LPM coaching:

  1. Are you willing and able to commit one to two hours per week to participate in a coaching program?
  2. Have your clients or prospects asked for greater efficiency or for LPM?
  3. Have you used any flat fee or other alternative fee arrangements, or been asked for greater efficiency on hourly matters, or had clients refuse to pay a bill?

 

How much time does LPM coaching take?

The answer depends on the lawyer. Our program generally requires eight 30-minute calls. Most lawyers spend at least another hour or two after each call following up on their action items. Note that if a lawyer chooses to work on an active matter, that time may be billable, since they will be performing tasks required by the matter, just in a different, more efficient way.

Among other things, we ask lawyers to think about, and sometimes change, how they define objectives and determine the scope of a matter, how they plan matters to be more efficient, and how they organize their communications to better communicate with clients. The suggestions we make are based on best practices that other lawyers have used successfully.

As Aristotle famously said, “You get out what you put in.”  The more time a lawyer dedicates to coaching, the more benefits they will see as a result.

 

What topics will be covered?

Once again, the answer depends on the lawyer. Our coaching is organized around eight key LPM issues listed in the table below. Note that while many lawyers think of LPM as a way to organize schedules and budgets, our view is much broader. In a study of AmLaw 200 managing partners and law firm leaders, we found that the two most important issues for most firms were improving how the scope of matters were defined and communicating better with clients.  The amount of time a lawyer spends on each of the eight issues will be totally customized, so each lawyer can focus on the issues that will have the greatest impact for their practice.

 

What happens on the first LPM coaching call?

Before the first call, we provide each lawyer with a copy of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (4th Ed.). The only thing lawyers are required to do before the first call is to make sure they have their copy handy during the call.  However, lawyers receive more benefit from the first call if they spend a little time thinking about the following two questions (which we ask on the call):

  • What would have to happen for you to consider this coaching a success?
  • What client or matter should you focus on first?

After the lawyer considers these questions, we suggest that they take a little time to look through the table of contents of our book to see which tools and templates are most likely to help them.  The table below provides examples of typical action items for each of the eight key LPM issues.  Each lawyer then works with their coach to identity LPM action items that will create “quick wins” – immediate benefits to the lawyer’s practice.


Legal project management issue

Typical action item

Benefit

1. Set objectives and define scope

Improve an engagement letter

Avoid misunderstandings

2. Identify and schedule activities

Create a matter plan listing all key tasks

Maximize efficiency and organization

3. Assign tasks and manage the team

Improve delegation

Better manage valuable time

4. Plan and manage the budget

Improve budgets, including tracking and controlling spending

Increase realization

5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule

Complete a risk analysis template for a new matter

Prevent problems before they occur

6. Manage quality

Develop a formal process to assure quality while improving efficiency

No compromises on work quality

7. Manage client communication and expectations

Improve communication with clients through monthly reports or weekly calls

Avoid surprises and increase client satisfaction

8. Negotiate changes of scope

When assumptions change, negotiate fee adjustments at an appropriate time

Protect profitability

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

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