84 posts categorized "Books"

February 22, 2017

Key questions project managers should ask

By Jim Hassett and Natasha Chetty, LegalBizDev

Effective project management starts by asking the right questions. While there are hundreds of questions managers can ask, this list summarizes the most critical ones. It is organized in terms of the eight key issues discussed in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

Set objectives and define scope

  • What business problem does the client want to solve?
  • How does this affect the client’s organizational goals and reputation?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • What deadlines matter to the client?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker?
  • How does the client define success?
  • How will you know when you are done?

Identify and schedule activities

  • How can large matters be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?
  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
  • What external and internal scheduling constraints do we need to be aware of?

Assign tasks and manage the team

  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • How long do they think the tasks will take?
  • What help, resources, or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?

Plan and manage the budget

  • How much should be budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
  • How much was actually spent?
  • If at any point actual spending exceeds the planned budget, what can be done to get back on track?
  • Can savings on one activity be applied to compensate for overspending on another, within the overall budget total(s)?
  • Who are the relevant contacts regarding budget at the client’s organization and what are their needs or priorities?

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the project, or decrease client satisfaction?
  • How likely is this to happen?
  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?
  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

Manage quality

  • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
  • How should I monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?

Manage client communication and expectations

  • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
  • What does the decision maker care most about?
  • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
  • Should brief standard reports be submitted every week or month?
  • Which stakeholders does the decision maker need to communicate with in general or on this matter?

Negotiate changes of scope

  • How should I track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
  • What criteria should I use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?

 

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

February 08, 2017

How to write a statement of work

By Mike Egnatchik and Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev

Legal cases and transactions can have unpredictable aspects, sometimes beyond the control of the best managers and planners. Therefore, flexibility is key. Legal project management is all about tradeoffs, and efficient project managers must be ready to adjust scope, time, and budget as the case or matter evolves. This factor underscores the importance of the primary task at the start of any project: setting your objectives and carefully defining the project scope with the client. Doing so will align mutual expectations and prepare the stage for developing an activity schedule and budget.

A statement of work must fix the boundaries of what is within the reasonably expected scope for the matter and what is not. This is particularly critical if the work is to be performed for a fixed price. The details of contents and format will vary depending on the circumstances, but could include:

  • The client’s objectives
  • Detailed deliverables such as the number of depositions
  • Deadlines or expected timelines
  • Teams and roles, if relevant
  • Assumptions and exclusions
  • Risks
  • Budget or fee as well as payment terms

The first draft of the SOW should be shared with both the client and the anticipated team members for their review and input. You need to understand the client’s goals and expectations and align them with the team’s approach, focusing on the business problem or dispute from which the matter arises and on acceptable outcomes and deadlines for the client.

As the team comes to an understanding of your client’s wants and needs, team members should keep in mind how much each want or need will cost, and whether there is any waste or excess in these expectations. These budgetary considerations may eventually affect the steps and actions taken to complete the matter. Of course the budget is extremely important, so you must be sure to carefully define in writing the anticipated assumptions of your budget and any “carve-outs,” that is, work that will not be included within the fixed price for the agreed scope. And, obviously, the SOW is simply a draft until the client approves it.

Some other helpful steps at this stage are common-sense items such as ensuring that every member of your team is familiar with the final project objective. It can be posted prominently on a bulletin board or online. Also, it does not hurt to remind team members of the client’s objective in regular memos and meetings.

The better your initial statement of work, the more likely you are to meet the client’s objectives. And if things change, the approved SOW will provide a solid basis for negotiating with key client decision-makers before performing work that may require additional funding.

However, remember that the SOW should be as short and simple as possible for managing the process. According to Michael Roster, steering committee co-chair of ACC’s Value Challenge, “When I was general counsel at Stanford, our multi-million dollar arrangements with law firms were covered by a two-page business letter combined with a one-page exhibit describing the carve-outs.”

The SOW is not a deposition or an adverse negotiation, so make sure you don’t over-lawyer it.

 

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

January 25, 2017

Engagement letters and statements of work

At the beginning of a new matter, lawyers often specify its scope and fees in an engagement letter. The engagement letter is designed to clarify exactly what work and services are included, and excluded, from a particular matter.

Some states have specific requirements for what must be included in an engagement letter, and many firms have their own requirements as well. For example, in New York State, Part 1215 of the Joint Rules of the Appellate Division requires a letter of engagement in most matters, except for certain exceptions listed in the rule (i.e., an engagement letter is not required if the fee is expected to be $3,000 or less).

From a project management point of view, there is considerable room for improvement in many engagement letters. Consider, for example, this language from the sample letter of engagement published by New York State:

Scope of representation

A claim, dispute or dealings with relating to ______________.

All of our services in this matter will end, unless otherwise agreed upon in a writing signed by us, when there is a final agreement, settlement, decision or judgment by the court. Not included within the scope of our representation are appeals from any judgments or orders of the court. Appeals are subject to separate discussion and negotiation between our firm and you. Also not included in the scope of this agreement are services you may request of us in connection with any other matter, action, or proceeding.

The rest of New York’s two-page sample focuses on fees and client rights. Fee options for the sample include a flat fee, a contingency, or hourly rates.

If a law firm copied the New York State sample exactly and negotiated a fixed fee, they might end up being very sorry when the matter spiraled out of control. They would be better protected if the engagement letter specified timelines and deliverables, such as the maximum number of interviews, pleadings, interrogatories, opinions, and reports, the anticipated scope of travel and research, the use of outside consultants, and so on.

Could a lawyer possibly know in advance how many depositions would be required to settle or plead a particular case? Of course not. But he or she could specify the maximum number of depositions they expected and exactly what would be included within the fixed price.

This failure to provide sufficient detail is quite common. As the executive director of one AmLaw firm recently put it, “The scope of work often contained in our engagement letters is generally no more than one or two lines. Lawyers are missing an opportunity to clearly specify the scope of what is included in each matter and what is not.”

From the client perspective, better specifying the work up front could lead to more predictable costs and a more sophisticated understanding of what they are paying for. From the law firm’s point of view, it could reduce fee disputes, write-downs, and write-offs.

Entire textbooks have been written on how to develop what project managers call a statement of work (SOW), which specifies what a particular project includes and excludes. Lawyers may wish to adapt some of these ideas and write an SOW which could either be included in the engagement letter or be a separate document, depending on the nature of the matter, the lawyer-client relationship, and joint expectations.

 

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

January 18, 2017

How Agile is being used to increase legal marketing innovation at Fasken Martineau

Agile is a highly flexible approach to project management which law firms are just starting to use. I’ve written several posts in this blog about how Agile works and how some lawyers are applying it to improve legal efficiency by focusing on two key questions:

  • How can we deliver value more quickly to our clients?
  • How should we measure our progress?

So when I heard recently that one of our clients was using Agile techniques to increase innovation in their marketing and business development department, I immediately scheduled an interview with Brenda Plowman, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Fasken Martineau, an international business law and litigation firm with more than 700 lawyers.

The Fasken Martineau marketing and business development department includes people operating from eight offices, six in Canada, one in the UK, and one in South Africa. Plowman has worked in the department for more than 10 years. When she was promoted to the CMO position in July 2015, she noted that:

Over my history here I’d seen many underutilized talents with the potential to help us transform and offer better services to our lawyers. I wanted to reinvent our group. But how could I get people to change when I was coming to work at the same place and with the same people I’ve known for a long time?

We did a survey of the marketing and business development team because we wanted to see what they were thinking. One of the responses was, "The firm doesn’t ask us to innovate enough. It doesn’t expect us to be creative." People didn’t feel that they could bring their ideas forward and they felt that, frankly, they weren’t expected to bring their best game.

Plowman decided to start by adapting two Agile-related concepts: hackathons to creatively generate ideas for improvement and scrum to deliver them and “make sure we were actually accomplishing what we had set out to do.”

Hackathons originated in the software development world and consist of intense meetings in which groups of programmers and others collaborate intensively to solve a particular problem. With the help of a consultant, Plowman adapted the hackathon concept to legal marketing, and in June of 2016 they held their first three-hour hackathon with the team (two sessions with multiple locations involved in each) aimed at coming up with creative ideas to improve marketing efficiency and results on a specific topic. Candidly she admitted that:

At first people were saying, "I don’t know why I’m here." But when a second session was held in October, there was much more engagement and people began to focus on, "How can we go faster and get more done in the limited time we have?”

They created a list of key areas “in which we wanted to improve what we had been providing previously and increase the value we were delivering to lawyers.”

One of the unique aspects of these hackathons is that they were led by the Manager group. Historically, real opportunities for leadership and development were only handled by the Senior Marketing Team (the Director level). That team was committed to developing their Managers and creating opportunity for their growth and development. The Managers were empowered and did a great job working with the teams and bringing the recommendations forward to the Senior Marketing Team (SMT). This aspect is key in Plowman’s vision to leverage the talent on her team.

In addition, the marketing and business development team has started a significant transformation with many changes in place. The Directors have taken on pieces of this transformation and are leading this change with Plowman. There are a lot of moving parts and demands on the team. This led Plowman to adapt another Agile software development technique: scrum. Initially she provided the Directors (the SMT) a copy of the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time as part of the “book club” for this group. After the SMT read it and met on it during an in-person meeting, they then expanded to the Managers as a part of their development and a way to encourage them to innovate and drive their project forward. (This book is an excellent resource for law firms and I will write a separate blog soon describing its key concepts.)

This has now evolved into a 30-minute weekly telecon held every Monday by this group to discuss four substantial projects and several other key initiatives that the team is working on (including digital transformation and social media), in which Fasken’s marketing and business development department is concentrating its efforts to become best-in-class:

The group is using some of the techniques from the scrum book to establish and measure specific goals for the next 30, 60, and 90 days. The Monday meetings are organized around three key questions familiar to anyone who has ever been involved with scrum:

  1. What did we accomplish last week?
  2. What is planned for this week?
  3. Are there any obstacles to progress?

One result of the Monday meetings is that, “People collaborate to identify obstacles. It’s also been really helpful for me as the leader of the group because I learn how I can expedite what needs to get done this week.”

This initiative is very much a work-in-progress, but participants in the weekly meetings have already produced results. “Scrum has helped us to go faster, do more, and get obstacles out of our way. It’s increased transparency, which drives efficiency and effectiveness. And it’s created cultural change within our team. The learning is coming faster and faster.”

Plowman and her team would like to expand the program in the coming year to include lawyers. She predicts that the next steps will be even more exciting “when we get to working with our lawyers and going through the process together with them.”

December 28, 2016

Pricing legal matters (Part 4 of 4)

In the fifth edition of The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing, one of the most widely respected texts in this field, Thomas Nagle, John Hogan, and Joseph Zale noted that:

In many business-to-business markets, where high-volume repeat purchasers negotiate their purchases, buyers are ahead of sellers in thinking strategically…. Buyers have goals and a long-term strategy for driving down acquisition costs, while suppliers rarely have comparable long-term strategies for raising or at least preserving margins (p. 98).

The problem of salespeople discounting too deeply in order to close deals is also common in other businesses:

Customer satisfaction can usually be bought by a combination of over-delivering on value and underpricing products… The purpose of strategic pricing is to price more profitably by capturing more value, not necessarily by making more sales (p. 4).

Nagle’s text goes on to describe five basic concepts that can be used in any profession, including the law, to improve the way prices are set:

1. Differentiate. You may have heard legal marketers use this word quite a bit, and it is just as important to pricing experts. The features of a law firm that add differentiating value must be communicated to the client. Are you different because your legal project management expertise makes you more efficient than others or because you communicate progress better? Let the client know.

2. Communicate value. According to Nagle:

In our research, we have found that business managers rated “communicating value and price” as the most important capability necessary to enable their pricing strategies (p. 72).

Nagle makes special note of the value of an endorsement from a client known to be discriminating. For example, in the health field, Kaiser Permanente has an excellent reputation for being an informed buyer. As a result, “When other hospitals and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) learn that Kaiser Permanente has adopted a more expensive product or service, they assume that its price premium is cost-justified” (p. 75).

3. Have a clear and consistent pricing policy. It is important to have a clear and consistent pricing policy and to avoid commonly granting price exceptions. Discounting to win business creates client expectations of future discounts. In setting up your policies it is important to keep in mind that people are more affected by perceived losses than perceived gains, and you should frame your pricing with this in mind. If the client is offered a service package, it is better to have a policy that allows a reduction in cost if a service is dropped (a perceived gain) than a policy that requires an extra fee to get that service (a perceived loss).

4. Know your market segments. Clients are not all the same; they fall into different market segments. The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing gives an example of a company selling a scientific device to be used in DNA analysis. The device is a great improvement over existing competitor products and the company estimated the differentiation value in order to set a price. However, the company sold to two different market segments—the industrial market and the academic/government market. The differentiation value was not the same in industry and universities, so the ultimate pricing strategy involved different pricing policies in the two segments. As long as this policy is clearly stated it does not violate consistency requirements. Airlines do this all the time when they distinguish between refundable fares for business travelers and nonrefundable fares for vacationers with flexible schedules.

5. Know your client types. Within a given market segment there may be different classes of clients, and knowing their classification may help you to deal more intelligently with each group. The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing divides clients into four categories:

a. Value-driven clients have sophisticated analysis strategies for studying value-added, and you will need to work to establish your value-added for them.

b. Brand buyers (also known as relationship buyers)—For this group, the cost of analyzing value-added is perceived as too high. This “buyer will buy a brand that is well-known for delivering a good product with good service without considering cheaper but riskier alternatives” (p. 105). This is an easier client to deal with so long as you do not disappoint them.

c. Price buyers are looking for a specified service at the lowest possible price. Here you will need to “strip out any and every cost that is not required to meet the minimum specification” (p. 107). It is also important to fence off this job so that more lucrative clients who receive a higher level of service understand that this lower-priced work is at a different level.

d. Convenience buyers “don’t compare prices; they just buy from the easiest source of supply” (p. 108). They know that they are paying a premium for immediate convenience and will not complain.

But whatever price strategy a law firm uses, the simple fact that they are paying more attention to this area will have positive effects. In their book, Law Firm Pricing: Strategies, Roles, and Responsibilities, Toby Brown and Vince Cordo give this example:

Lawyers live in a reputation world, and [financial] monitoring exposes that reputation to risk. Once lawyers realize that others in their firm can see their financial performance on matters, their behavior often changes. In one example, a lawyer was losing money on the first phase of a fixed fee arrangement. Once a monitoring program was put in place, performance on the second phase dramatically changed, leading to a reasonably profitable result (p. 39).

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

December 21, 2016

Pricing legal matters (Part 3 of 4)

If law firm management has trouble defining profitability, it can hardly be surprising that lawyers are confused by the concept. Several of the AmLaw 200 firm leaders I interviewed for my book, Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, expressed frustration with the implications, including these two:

Lawyers don’t understand what profitability means or how they can influence that number. So it’s a case of sometimes being focused on revenue, but not necessarily the right revenue, because they don’t understand the profit trade-off. They say they’ve got an account that’s giving two million dollars a year. Well that’s fine. But if you’re getting a three-percent profit margin, stay in bed.

We’re still struggling with trying to communicate to our billing attorneys that when you agree to a 10% discount or a 20% discount, you’ve probably given away 100% of your margin. They don’t get that. They say, “It’s only a 10% discount.”

In the interest of improving understanding, Stuart J T Dodds, the director of global pricing and legal project management at Baker & McKenzie, has proposed in his book, Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit, that when lawyers price matters, they focus on his simple 1-3-4 Rule™:

For every one percent improvement in price, the potential increase to profitability is three percent. To get the same level of improvement in profitability without increasing price, you would need to work four percent more billable time (p. 36).

Dodds goes on to explain that these numbers are an approximation and that the precise relationship depends on the firm’s margin (p. 38). He even provides a table showing exactly how discounts from 1% to 20% reduce margin for firms whose margin before discount ranged from 20% to 50%.

But for the vast majority of lawyers, the 1-3-4 Rule™ will be enough and will be a great way to simplify a mathematically complex relationship.

Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit goes step by step through everything lawyers need to know to survive and prosper in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. It is divided into four main sections: set the price, get the price, manage to the price, and review the price. So setting an initial price is just the start of the process. LPM is vital for actually living within that price and collecting profit. Dodds notes that:

When getting started on a project or matter, there are three important themes it is important to address at the outset… better communication, greater clarity, and easier review. These break down into 10 key steps for those responsible for leading a matter:

  1. Confirm what the client wants and expects
  2. Group the work into the main areas
  3. Agree how to address changes of scope up front
  4. Develop and agree on the matter plan
  5. Agree on the fee and fee approach
  6. Agree on the engagement letter and share with the team
  7. Agree on the reporting format and schedule
  8. Establish your matter phases and tasks
  9. Approve new timekeepers
  10. Staff the core team and agree on client responsibilities (p. 222)

Taken together, all of the observations in this discussion of pricing could be interpreted as reflecting a glass half-empty (so much remains to be learned) or half-full (firms are moving quickly to focus more on the pricing function). It may make you feel better to know that the law is not the only profession that could greatly improve its pricing strategies.

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

December 14, 2016

Pricing legal matters (Part 2 of 4)

There are many challenges in defining law firm profitability and then managing the firm to become more profitable. For my book, Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, I conducted in-depth interviews with managing partners and other leaders of 50 firms from the AmLaw 200. One question I asked was, “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?” (p. 52). Seventy-four percent said profitability in that case was defined by a program or formula, but 26% said it was more intuitive.

As one senior executive put it:

We don’t calculate profitability by formula. It’s really seat of the pants.

The managing partner at another firm put it this way:

Profitability is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. We’re still looking for good tools to evaluate what is profitable and what is not.

Other evidence suggests that even the firms that have formulas are measuring profitability in a variety of different ways. A growing number of software programs are available to handle the calculations. The two long-time leaders in the field—Intellistat Analytics from Data Fusion Technologies and Redwood Analytics from Aderant—have been providing sophisticated tools to quantify law firm profitability for several decades. But to use these tools one must make a series of assumptions, and that’s where the trouble lies.

At the LMA P3 conference a few years ago, Jeff Suhr, senior vice president of products at Data Fusion Technologies, noted that his company then had 91 clients actively using their tools, including 10 of the top 35 AmLaw firms. Exactly how did these 91 clients calculate profitability? Ninety-one different ways. The fundamentals were the same but there were important differences in the details, which can have significant implications for the way profitability is interpreted and used to motivate changes in behavior.

Suhr distinguished between the relatively straightforward science of calculating profitability and the art of determining the exact methods that best fit the needs of each firm. He also discussed the different challenges of “macro strategies” for analyzing profits for a firm, an office, or a practice group vs. “micro strategies” for analyzing a book of business or a particular matter. These sometimes require different assumptions and different approaches.

As Suhr summed it up:

The right way to measure profitability is one that is accepted in your firm. The art is to measure it in a way that keeps everybody happy.

In an email exchange, Donald Ware, chair of Foley Hoag’s Intellectual Property Department, summed up the state of the art more critically:

I’ve never heard of a law firm that has a good way to measure matter profitability. Many say they do, but when you push on the details it becomes clear that they really don’t.

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

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.