67 posts categorized "Books"

December 07, 2016

Tip of the month: Make sure every team member knows exactly how to define work that is in scope vs. out of scope for each matter

In many cases, legal team members do not have a clear understanding of the tasks that are within scope for a particular legal matter vs. those that fall outside scope. The inevitable result is that the cost of the matter increases when lawyers perform work that is not included in the original agreement.

 

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple reminder like this to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients, and/or develop new business. For more about this tip, see Chapter 8 in the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

November 30, 2016

Pricing legal matters (Part 1 of 4)

When it comes to offering fee estimates at the start of a matter, far too many lawyers still rely on ballpark estimates that they sometimes pull out of thin air. But even if you follow the “high detail” estimation techniques described in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (p. 152), the fact that you have a budget does not necessarily mean that you have a price which should be quoted to a client.

Wikipedia lists 25 different pricing strategies suppliers use in other businesses, ranging from loss leaders to premium pricing. The two that are used most often in law are cost-plus and value pricing.

Cost-plus pricing is similar to the traditional hourly billing approach and is exactly what it sounds like: a price is based on the cost of delivering a service plus a markup or profit margin. Normally the markup is already built into the hourly rate, so with this approach you could in fact quote your budget as the price.

Some of the most popular new alternatives for lawyers are built around the idea of value pricing, where the client’s perception of value is the most important factor. The best-known proponent of this approach is Ron Baker, author of several books on the topic. In practice, value pricing is much harder than it sounds. (For details, see chapters six and seven of my book, Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements.)

In today’s highly competitive marketplace for legal services, where some firms seem downright desperate for new work, price competition is a giant wild card.

In his book Growth is Dead: Now What? legal consultant Bruce MacEwen has described:

“Suicide pricing” in response to RFPs. These are bids—from name-brand firms, mind you—that are so breathtakingly low one wonders how they could possibly make any money. The short answer is they can’t. These bids come in 5, 10, 20, 40% under what my clients think would be reasonable for the matter. But… firms in an industry with excess capacity face an almost irresistible compulsion to cut prices, even to unprofitable levels. The goal is simply to keep people busy, in service of keeping the firm alive and satisfying clients, and in the hope that once market conditions recover, everything can get back to normal.

The bad news for most law firms is that low prices are the new normal.

When Altman Weil’s Law Firms in Transition survey asked 356 managing partners and chairs of US law firms about current trends which represented a permanent change in the legal landscape, the top trend was “more price competition.” Ninety-five percent of respondents said this was a permanent change in the legal profession. (Interestingly, number two on their list was a “focus on improved practice efficiency” or LPM, which was rated as a permanent change by 93% of respondents.)

Another challenge is posed by the growing popularity of alternative fee arrangements. When the same survey asked, “Compared to projects billed at an hourly rate, are your firm’s non-hourly projects more profitable or less profitable?” 28% said non-hourly matters were less profitable. Of the remaining respondents, 18% said non-hourly arrangements were more profitable, 42% said they were about the same as hourly, and 13% were “not sure.”

Would you invest in a company that didn’t know which deals were profitable? Of course not. But if you are a partner in a US firm with 50 lawyers or more, there’s a 13% chance you already own one.

A few years ago, an AmLaw 100 firm that was just beginning to think seriously about pricing invited me to speak at a practice group leader meeting about pricing trends. When one participant asked what I thought was the most critical issue, I said it was determining the difference between low prices that are acceptable and prices that are simply too low to make business sense for that firm. “Where do you draw that line in the sand?” I asked. The chairman replied, “We don’t even know where the sand is.”

But that was then. Now that same firm has a pricing director and a number of new pricing and management initiatives in place.

This post was adapted from the recently published fourth edition of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

November 16, 2016

Agile legal project management: What works and what doesn’t (Part 1 of 2)

By Paul Saunders, Practice Innovation Partner, Stewart McKelvey

Background on these guest posts: When we published the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide a few weeks ago, some of the most important articles were the new sections on Agile, a flexible approach to managing projects that is well-suited to the rapidly changing nature of many legal matters. Two of the book’s Agile articles were written by Paul Saunders, the author of these guest posts. While many experts have written about the potential value of Agile to lawyers in theory, Paul is one of the very few who has actually applied and tested the concepts in his firm. A few weeks ago, when Ivan Rasic of LegalTrek contacted me to provide input to his “How to Make a Strong Legal Team with Agile Project Management,” I suggested that he also contact Paul. Paul wrote a long and informative email which evolved into the guest posts below.

I wrote in our fourth edition that I “expect the fifth edition to include many more examples [of Agile, as the approach] continues to spread” (p. 25). This prediction is already becoming true. At this time, the evolving fifth edition is available only to firms that subscribe to our new on-line version. (The printed fifth edition will be published in a few years.) However, in the meantime, LPM is growing so rapidly that occasional sections from the fifth edition will appear in this blog, starting with these posts. – Jim Hassett


I recommend that law firms start Agile with something simple and easy – a minimal solution to acclimate the group to this new way of thinking. Then repeat and revise that solution over and over again, based on feedback from the group. (This approach is based on the “Build-Measure-Learn” feedback loop Eric Ries described in his book, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.) This avoids the potential problem of spending months building something that no one is prepared to use.

I often start by introducing a team to the basics of Kanban and Scrum in an hour-long meeting and put together a quick task board on a whiteboard. The team then maps out all the standard stages that a portfolio of matters would proceed through and places cards within the stages to represent active matters they are working on. As a follow-up, the team conducts the equivalent of Scrum stand-up meetings at a frequency that makes sense for the team, with each team member answering in no more than two minutes the three core questions of Scrum:

  1. What did I do since the last meeting?
  2. What will I do before the next meeting?
  3. What’s blocking me or what do I need help with?

I then schedule review meetings (perhaps every month or two) to see how things are going and try to reach team consensus around three other questions:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What isn’t?
  3. What should we try differently?

When trying something differently (say, for example, transitioning to a digital Kanban tool), we come back to the minimal solution again. Change something, get feedback from the group, and change it again until it works well for the team.

I’ve found that these methods require one magic ingredient to work well: each team member must have a vested interest in the outcome of the work of others on the team. We’ve run projects applying this method which didn’t work well, where participants weren’t really part of a team but just did similar work within a similar department or with the same manager. They found the time spent giving their updates and hearing what others were doing was a waste of their time since they were all working independently anyway. Managers found it helpful to give them a sense of what everyone was working on, but if the team members themselves don’t see utility in it, it won’t have the desired effect.

However, within groups that did have a vested interest in the outcome of other members and who were expected to work together (for example, a project team on a big matter or the client service team for a major firm client), we have found these methods very effective at eliminating bottlenecks and in increasing transparency and creating accountability within the teams to progress their matters between meetings.

September 28, 2016

Fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide published today

Vincent Cino, the chairman of Jackson Lewis, calls the fourth edition of our LPM Quick Reference Guide, “A must read.” According to Toby Brown, the chief practice management officer at Perkins Coie, “Every partner should use this book.” And Melissa Prince, the director of pricing and LPM at Ballard Spahr, calls it her “LPM bible.” The book opens with extended comments from these three experts, and 19 others, who describe how this encyclopedia of tools and templates can help lawyers increase value, client satisfaction, and firm profitability for both hourly and alternative fee arrangements.

When the first edition of this Guide appeared in 2010, LPM was essentially a brand new field, and this was the only book that explained “how to do it.” Since then, LPM has grown rapidly and become a mainstay of law firm practice.  At 400 pages, the fourth edition is almost twice as long as the third edition was, reflecting recent advances in the field.  

The philosophy of this Quick Reference Guide is summarized in its first few pages:

Please do not read this book.

This Quick Reference Guide is an encyclopedia of techniques to help lawyers become more efficient. Very few lawyers have the time to read this encyclopedia cover to cover. And even for the ones who do, merely reading about LPM will not make anyone more efficient. This book is designed to help you quickly identify the tactics that will have the greatest impact on your practice and adapt them to meet your needs.

Legal project management increases client satisfaction and firm profitability by applying proven techniques to improve the management of legal matters. It is not a simple set of steps that lawyers should apply to every case or matter, but rather a toolbox which includes a broad array of procedures and templates. Each lawyer must find the tools and tactics that will have the greatest impact for them…

Our examples draw on a rich and deep body of knowledge that project managers have developed over the last several decades to help businesses run more efficiently. This book describes and adapts the tactics that lawyers find most useful and ignores the rest.

LegalBizDev principal Mike Egnatchik is my co-author for the fourth edition, and the book also includes sections written by 25 contributing authors, including such thought leaders as Stuart J T Dodds of Baker & McKenzie, Richard G. Rosenblatt of Morgan Lewis, Tom Clay of Altman Weil, and the Law Firm Value Committee of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

The 412-page, 8.5” x 11” paperback can be ordered for $99.95 by email (info@legalbizdev.com), fax (917-386-2733), phone (1-800-49-TRAIN), or mail (LegalBizDev, 225 Franklin Street, 26th Floor, Boston, MA 02110). More information appears on our web page, including an order form showing the volume discounts on orders of two or more copies.

In association with the publication of this book, LegalBizDev is also introducing several new LPM products and services which use these tools and templates in:

  • Just-in-time training
  • Just-in-time support
  • Traditional training
  • Certification

For more details, contact us today (info@legalbizdev.com, 800-49-TRAIN).

July 27, 2016

Using outsourcing to reduce legal costs (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett, Mike Egnatchik, and Jonathan Groner

Michael Bryant, the CEO of nSource, stressed that help desk functions are only one of many operations that law firms can and are outsourcing with the help of companies like his.

For example, DLA Piper asked nSource to manage a “captive operation” for it in an off-site location in Tampa, Fla. Bryant says that some law firm functions that were at first thought of as requiring attorneys on site actually were susceptible to being done off site by contract employees. One of them, in DLA Piper’s case, was conflict checking – a crucial function that a law firm must undertake before it takes on a new matter.

“We distinguished between the strategic and the tactical aspects of conflict checking,” Bryant said, “and we found that the tactical, day-to-day aspects could be done off site. By doing so, we reduced the firm’s costs for this function by 50 percent, and we also achieved a 50 percent decrease in the time required to hire a new conflicts analyst and bring him or her up to speed.”

nSource did this by carefully studying the conflict checking process – what steps were involved, who did them, and how long each step took. After completing this process mapping, it was able to advise its client, DLA Piper, on how to outsource that task.

Bryant said DLA Piper’s leaders were so pleased with the way outsourcing worked in the conflict checking arena that they expanded it to other functions as well, saving money, increasing efficiency and improving the way the tasks were done.

Legal marketing, like conflict checking, has aspects that are highly strategic and can’t easily be outsourced. But, DLA Piper and nSource found, it has many routine aspects as well.

“Although there are some people in marketing who really need to be near the lawyers,” Bryant said, “when you think about all the external and internal communications demands on a marketing team, the RFP responses, the responses to honors and awards submissions, these can be leveraged and done in a centralized way, off site. For DLA Piper, we moved to a factory-like setting, where they really churn these things out. We placed rigor and precision around an area that has historically been chaotic.”

In similar ways, nSource has set up outsourced offices for other functions such as library services and human resources for DLA Piper and other clients. 

The new world of legal outsourcing does however raise some new management issues.  The challenge of managing subcontractors is familiar in other professions. The 11th edition of Harold Kerzner’s widely quoted textbook, Project Management, has an entire chapter devoted to working with external suppliers. The perspective is interesting, since the chapter makes it clear that a firm using an external source for some of its work on a matter is now in a role reversal. The firm is a client of the outsourcer it has hired, and has the same responsibilities to monitor that outsourced supplier that its own client has to monitor the firm’s work.

If XYZ Corporation has hired your firm for a matter, the legal department of XYZ had the job of hiring you in the first place and has the responsibility to monitor your work. Similarly, if you hire supplier DIS for discovery work, you had the job of hiring DIS in the first place and then you have the responsibility of monitoring DIS to assure that their work product is acceptable. The law firm is responsible for the entire work product, and must make sure that all the parts work.

Lawyers are just starting to become familiar with the idea of subcontracting work, and the use of outsourcers presents new challenges.

As Mark Ross noted in a paper entitled "The Ethics of Legal Outsourcing", “It is clear that to satisfy the duty of competently representing one’s client, a US lawyer engaging a legal process outsourcing provider cannot rely on the provider to evaluate its own work product and must himself or herself be able critically and independently to evaluate the work product received.”

Oversight can be complex. For example, consider the eDiscovery technique of predictive coding. Unlike simpler forms of eDiscovery—such as keyword search, concept searching, and looking for clusters of similar document groups—in predictive coding attorneys train software algorithms to find the most relevant documents by using samples of documents called training sets. According to Predictive Coding for Dummies (p. 8):

Training the predictive coding system is an iterative process that requires attorneys and their legal teams to evaluate the accuracy of the computer’s document prediction scores. If the accuracy of the computer-generated predictions is insufficient, additional training set documents are selected from the document population being considered. Multiple training sets are reviewed and coded until the required performance levels are achieved. Once the desired performance levels are achieved, decisions can be made about which documents to produce.

The great advantage of this approach is that attorneys will be able to explain the decisions made by the computer, since they worked to train the computer algorithms. This can satisfy the obligation of competent representation, so long as things are properly done. But there is always the danger that things will not be properly done. Predictive Coding for Dummies (p. 11) goes on to say:

Understanding how to use predictive coding tools properly is critical for several reasons. First, predictive coding is relatively new to the legal field and introduces additional complexity to the eDiscovery process. Second, many different predictive coding solutions are available on the market that vary in quality and approach. Third, even though predictive coding solutions can be difficult to use, clear instructions and training are often lacking, which can increase the risk of error. These and other factors have combined to create confusion about the proper methodology for using predictive coding tools.

The message is clear: A firm that uses predictive coding cannot rely on it as a black box that gives right answers at all times. Not all providers are equal. There must be a procurement process that evaluates and selects an appropriately qualified provider.

Competent representation includes understanding and monitoring the provider’s work. If that does not happen, the law firm may be at risk.

Due to the growth in outsourcing, in 2008 the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued an opinion to provide ethical guidance to lawyers about how to outsource in a manner that is consistent with the profession’s core values. State and local bar associations have also offered guidance in this area.

In August 2012, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 concluded that outsourcing did not require changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. However, it did propose new Comments to identify the factors that lawyers need to consider when retaining outside lawyers (Model Rule 1.1) and non-lawyers (Model Rule 5.3) to assist on a client’s matter. The Commission also proposed a new sentence (for Comment 1 on Model Rule 5.5) to clarify that lawyers cannot engage in outsourcing if it would facilitate the unauthorized practice of law.

Like many obligations described in the Model Rules, these proposals were intended to be “rules of reason” and were not intended to preclude consideration of broader legal concerns, such as malpractice and tort liability. But they did reflect the fact that new trends in outsourcing place new demands on the supervising lawyers.

This series was adapted from the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide which will be published this fall.

 

February 15, 2016

A preview of the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide

When the third edition of our widely used collection of LPM tools and templates was published a few years ago, here’s what some of the best known experts in the field had to say:

“Every partner should read this book.” – Toby Brown, Chief Practice Officer, Akin Gump

“Not only will every lawyer benefit from this book, but so will those who provide support to practitioners.”  – Kim Craig, Global Director of Legal Process Improvement, Seyfarth Shaw LLP

“This book demystifies LPM, providing tools that lawyers can actually use.” – Stuart Dodds, Director, Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie

As the field has grown since then, we have continued to develop new tactics and job aids to help lawyers increase efficiency and client satisfaction.  Last week, we released a preview of the fourth edition that includes over 100 pages of new tools and templates.  This special preview is now being used by our coaching and training clients, while we solicit advice for improvements from a distinguished board of advisors from over 40 firms, and finish researching and writing a few more templates on some of the hottest topics in LPM including pricing, task codes and Agile.

After we add the finishing touches, the fourth edition will go on sale in October 2016.  If you’re not in one of our coaching or training programs and don’t want to wait until October to get started, we are selling a limited number of copies of the third edition for $99 (a 75% discount from the original list price of $395 per copy), plus shipping and handling.  As in the past, this book will be sold only to law firms and to select in-house counsel and only through this web page.

 

December 26, 2014

Bloomberg interview regarding my new book (Part 2 of 2)

This interview originally appeared in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly.  A pdf of the complete interview can be downloaded from our web page.

Bloomberg BNA: Can in-house counsel help law firms become more efficient?

Jim Hassett: Absolutely. Many law departments need to become more efficient themselves if they expect their firms to deliver better service. A few years ago, an AmLaw 100 Chairman I interviewed for an earlier research report (The LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees) noted that “It is very difficult for a law firm to tell a client that a matter is not going well because of what is going on in the legal department. I think we’ve all had experiences over the years with in-house counsel who are not good managers… [This] can increase cost and reduce the quality of outcomes.” Another participant echoed this theme when he described some problems he was having with a very large client but noted, “I am reluctant to tell [the GC] that his own people cause a fair amount of inefficiency, because he’s not going to want to hear it.”

My new book lists the top three things clients should do to increase value:

  1. Define objectives and scope at the beginning of each matter
  2. Increase transparency about client needs
  3. Improve in-house project management

As one chair summed it up, “Clients have to jointly work with us to figure out what it is they want us to do less of in order to meet their expense goals. You can’t do scorched-earth approaches to matters at reduced fees.”

Bloomberg BNA: How are new staff roles contributing to profitability?

Jim Hassett: In 2012, Jonathan Groner and I wrote an article for Bloomberg Law Reports entitled “The Rise of the Pricing Director.”  At that time, despite extensive networking, we were able to find only a handful of people who held the title of pricing director in a law firm or performed that function. Law firms generally move a little slower than glaciers, but the growth in pricing directors in the two years since has been meteoric. According to a 2014 survey by ALM Legal Intelligence, “Seventy-six percent of big firms now employ some sort of pricing officer. And these positions are in the midst of a remarkable growth spurt.”

With 20/20 hindsight, it is easy to see the reason for the rapid growth of the pricing director title and function. The well-documented changes in the legal profession over the last few years have placed intense pressure on profits. It is therefore not surprising that a new host of high-level executives has emerged to help law firms set their prices in a way that will help them to maintain profitability.

Many firms agreed on the value of hiring people with business backgrounds and empowering them to use their skills to help lawyers make crucial decisions on pricing and efficiency. As one managing partner put it: “I think what’s had the greatest positive effect is our business managers. They can much more impartially sit down and analyze profitability. They build up a database of what it costs us to do things, and they’re just invaluable. They work with enough lawyers that they’re able to focus on the numbers and their minds work differently… These non-lawyers are focusing on the business side of the equation and what it costs to do things, pushing back and helping lawyers have a little bit of backbone. They can now show them a model and say, ‘No, that’s too low, you’re going to lose your shirt.’”

Bloomberg BNA: Is profits-per-partner a good metric to measure a law firm’s influence?

Jim Hassett: In my opinion, it is definitely over-emphasized. Unfortunately, when lawyers talk about profit, many think first and foremost about profits per equity partner, the figure publicized in the American Lawyer annual rankings of the top 200 firms. This is widely perceived as a sign of financial health and sometimes used to recruit laterals to higher profit firms. It is also misleading.

In any other business, profits are defined as the revenue that is left over after all expenses have been paid. In the law, partner salaries come out of the “partner profits” pool. In a law firm, if there were no partner profits, partners would be paid nothing for their work. This leads to considerable confusion. For example, one managing partner in our study said: “As a partnership, everything we make above our cost is profit. I once had a lawyer who stood up and said, ‘How did we lose money this month?’ I said, ‘We didn’t lose money, we just didn’t make as much money as we would have liked.’ It’s very hard for a law firm to lose money, that is, be in a situation where you’re not paying your partners anything.”

In other businesses, companies analyze which product lines and groups are most profitable, and they act on that information by fixing or discontinuing unprofitable products or people. In law firms, the focus on total profits per partner distracts people from one of the most critical questions in today’s competitive legal marketplace: which matters, practices, partners, and offices make money and which don’t?

If that’s not bad enough, there are a number of other problems with these figures, starting with the fact that they are not audited. An August 22, 2011, ABA Journal article by Debra Cassens Weiss reported that “More than half of the nation’s top 50 law firms could be overstating profits per partner to the American Lawyer magazine… An analysis by Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group reportedly found that 22 percent of the top 50 firms overstated profits per partner by more than 20 percent in 2010. Another 16 percent inflated partner profits by 10 to 20 percent, and 15 percent boosted partner profits by 5 percent to 10 percent.”

Bloomberg BNA: Will the legal market ever “bounce back” from the recession, or do law firm partners now need to learn how to excel in a totally different environment?

Jim Hassett: Most of the people we interviewed believe that the world has permanently changed, like the managing partner who said: “The way law firms deliver legal services to clients is undergoing a huge revolution. It’s going to change before our eyes in the course of a very short period of time. And it’s all being driven by clients who want to get value for their money.”

As the chair of another firm summed it up: “I believe that we’re still in the beginning of the process. There are a number of famous economists who have talked about disruptive technologies and disruptive business processes. I think there’s a lot of evidence out there that this profession is being subjected to those pressures. Five years from now, if I turn out to be wrong, that will be great. But if I’m right, then I have to believe that those firms that adapt more quickly will have a competitive advantage, because the firms that don’t adapt quickly enough will be out of business.”

Adapted with permission from Corporate Counsel Weekly Newsletter Vol. 29, No.48, December 10, 22014. Copyright 2014, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com.

 

December 17, 2014

Bloomberg interview regarding my new book (Part 1 of 2)

This interview originally appeared in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly.  A pdf of the complete interview can be downloaded from our web page.

Bloomberg BNA: Tell us about your new book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability – what was your goal and who did you talk to?

Jim Hassett: In the last few years, millions of words have been written by law school professors and consultants about how the demands of the clients of major law firms are changing and what law firms should do about it.

The only thing that’s been missing from the conversation is statements by the people who actually run large law firms. These senior decision makers deal with these issues every day, and their very livelihood depends on coming up with the right answers. I wanted to hear their honest opinions about these highly sensitive issues but knew they could not speak openly if they were quoted by name, so I devised a research approach built around anonymity. I conducted every interview myself, and promised that while firm names would be listed in the report, the name of every individual I interviewed would remain confidential and no quote would be linked to a particular person or firm.

Leaders from 50 of the AmLaw 200 agreed to speak with me for this book. Forty-two percent were managing partners or chairs, and the remainder were senior partners and staff, including CEOs, COOs, and CFOs. They were indeed unusually frank in their responses, including the AmLaw 200 chairman who said that “Lawyers are about as dumb as you could possibly be about understanding how our product is made. The lawyers who understand how to make it and who can manage that process efficiently are going to be the winners.”

They also spoke freely about both problems and solutions, like the managing partner who noted that “I have a $10 million practice. But that could be a disaster for a firm, because it could cost them $11 million to get $10 million. But nobody ever talks about it that way.”

Bloomberg BNA: What was your most surprising finding?

Jim Hassett: While almost everyone agreed that client demands for greater value and lower fees have been putting pressure on law firm profits, firms were remarkably inconsistent about how they measure profits. When I asked, “If you compare profitability for two lawyers in your firm, is there a software program or formula used to calculate profitability or is the comparison more intuitive?” a surprising 26% said there was no such formula or program and that the answer was intuitive. For the other 74%, definitions and formulas varied widely, including total revenue, profits per equity partner, leverage, several different types of realization, and a variety of approaches to cost accounting.

To dig more deeply into this important issue, we conducted follow-up interviews with industry leaders from firms that sell software to analyze law firm profitability. Jeff Suhr, a VP at Intellistat/Data Fusion, reported that his company currently has 91 clients actively using their tools. How do they calculate profitability? Ninety-one different ways. The fundamentals are basically the same, but there are important differences in the assumptions and details. These differences can have significant implications for the way profitability is interpreted and can affect the way in which the figures are used to motivate lawyers to change their behavior so that they can better meet client needs in a way that can be sustained.

Bloomberg BNA: What are law firms doing to protect the bottom line?

Jim Hassett: They are trying lots of things, with mixed success. According to our data, the two most effective ways of protecting profitability are quite new to the legal profession: legal project management (LPM), and new staff positions in such areas as pricing, value, and LPM.

Other tactics have led to more mixed results, including relying on new technology, knowledge management (KM), and contract attorneys and outsourcing. The book includes many quotes from proponents saying that technology, KM, and outsourcing were the most valuable steps they took, and from others who said that they were a waste of time and money. These differences of opinion can be traced both to the different needs of different firms and to the details of how they tried to implement change in each of these areas.

Bloomberg BNA: Lots of people seem to agree that legal project management is important, but what exactly does it include?

Jim Hassett: That is an excellent question. The field is so new that experts disagree about what should be included and excluded from the concept. This has slowed progress, as seen in the remarks of one senior executive who noted: “We were just at a board meeting last week where we were talking about whether we should do formalized project management training. My answer to that is obviously yes, we absolutely should. But first we need to agree on what legal project management is.”

In my book Legal Project Management, Pricing and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I reviewed the short history of this movement and proposed the broad definition we use in our coaching, our training, and this research: “Legal project management adapts proven management techniques to the legal profession to help lawyers achieve their business goals, including increasing client value and protecting profitability.”

This broad definition includes everything from budgeting and communication to process improvement, knowledge management, and personal time management. We believe splitting hairs over what is and is not LPM is just another excuse to avoid action. Law firms need to move as quickly as possible to the real problem: What must we do today to meet client needs while remaining profitable and competitive?

Bloomberg BNA: Where is the pressure for LPM coming from?

Jim Hassett: From clients. One of the best sources of information about client demands is the Chief Legal Officer Survey which Altman Weil has been publishing for the last 15 years. (Full disclosure: LegalBizDev is a strategic alliance partner of Altman Weil.) One key question in the 2014 survey, which was released in November 2014, was, “Of the following service improvements and innovations, please select the three that you would most like to see from your outside counsel.” This year’s answers from 186 CLOs were greater cost reduction (58%), more efficient project management (57%), and improved budget forecasting (57%). Since LPM leads to cost reductions and to improved budget forecasting, you could say that the top three client requests were LPM, LPM, and more LPM. 

In business, everything starts with meeting client needs. But lawyers who understand LPM and apply it to their practice are still a tiny minority. As one senior executive put it: “One of the problems that we have, and frankly that most firms have, is just teaching lawyers how to manage a project, getting them out of the habit of just automatically starting out with some rote process. Just because the client says, ‘I think I might have a lawsuit’ doesn’t mean you go off and conduct 40 depositions. Lawyers need to sit down and talk about what the client is trying to accomplish. It might turn out that we are able to accomplish the client’s end goal without taking any depositions.”

When I asked about which aspects of LPM were most critical to firms’ short-term success, it is interesting that the top two areas participants singled out were defining scope and managing client communication. These issues cannot effectively be addressed by the expensive software that so many firms see as a starting point. They require partners to change their behavior and become more efficient.

Adapted with permission from Corporate Counsel Weekly Newsletter Vol. 29, No. 48, December 10, 22014. Copyright 2014, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com.   

November 05, 2014

Tip of the month: Embrace experimentation aimed at quick wins and developing champions, one practice group or one lawyer at a time

Lawyers love precedent, and many law firm committees are postponing action until they see evidence proving the value of a “one size fits all” perfect solution that will fit their entire firm.  But there is no silver bullet, and firms that continue to look for it could go out of business while they wait. The key to success is, as Stuart J.T. Dodds put it in his book Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit, to “think big and start small.” 

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. This month’s tip is explained in detail in Chapter 7 of my new book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability.

October 29, 2014

Business development best practices: Follow up

This is one of a series of occasional posts summarizing the most important best practices from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide which is now also available in a Kindle edition.

There’s no way around it: business development takes time. To build new business, you must follow up, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

In The Sales Bible (p. 197) Jeffrey Gitomer sums it up this way:

Most sales are made after the seventh no…It takes 5 to 10 exposures (follow-ups) to a prospect to make the first sale…[so] you’d better have what it takes to persevere through the follow-up process and not quit.

For many busy lawyers, the best way to assure that you will follow up is to “make an appointment with yourself” for one or two blocks of time that will be devoted to business development every week, such as 2-4 PM every Tuesday and Thursday. Put the time in Outlook or your weekly planner, and try to avoid scheduling anything else at that time. When something comes up that is more critical, as is sometimes inevitable, reschedule your marketing time.

We recommend setting this time block in the middle of the week, at a time when you are likely to be able to reach clients and prospects. If you think Mondays and Fridays are the best times to discuss new business with your clients, try it, track the results, and then decide.

It also helps to share your results with a colleague, a coach, or even a relative or friend. Simply knowing that someone else is watching will make you more likely to follow up.

Finally, you will need a good system for tracking To Dos.  Different lawyers prefer different approaches, and the best format is the one that contains the information you need, in a form that you will keep up to date.  My favorite is a simple list with three columns like this:

Who

Priority

To Do

Tom French

High

Hold telecon, based on key questions from the Quick Reference Guide 

COO at ABC Corp

High

If COO provides info for press release, finish a draft ASAP

Ms. Johanssen

Medium

Send agenda listing questions for the next meeting

Mary K.

Medium

Hold satisfaction interview

Tom S

Low

Call to set up a meeting

Falco Inc

Low

Meet in early June

This type of overt prioritizing will help you assure that if something simply doesn’t get done due to lack of time, it is likely to be the item that will have the least impact on the future of your practice.

Or better yet, use Outlook or any other program to keep your list.

And then don’t forget to actually follow up.  Week after week, month after month, and year after year.