8 posts categorized "Legal Business Development"

July 25, 2018

Keeping litigation costs down and clients happy

 

By Jonathan Groner

At the recent conference of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) one panel was titled “When the Red Phone Rings: Managing Litigation to Keep Costs Down and Clients Happy, From Crisis to Completion.”  We recently discussed their conclusions and more in this interview with panelist Jason Osnes, Director of Strategic Finance and Project Management at Dorsey & Whitney LLP.    

 

LegalBizDev: Do you believe that the growing emphasis on legal operations, on the client side, and the focus on Legal Project Management (LPM), on the law firm side, go well together?

Osnes: Definitely. Our clients are looking for efficiency and predictability, and LPM helps to achieve that. At CLOC they say their goals are to be “efficient, innovative and aligned,” and these represent very similar objectives to what we are striving for with LPM. In fact, when we see this quest for efficiency occurring with such frequency on the client side, it helps me internally to legitimize what we are trying to do here with LPM.

LegalBizDev: You presented at CLOC on a panel with an associate from your firm and two people from a client, one lawyer and one legal operations person. In addition to you, the panelists were Ben Kappelman of Dorsey & Whitney; Paul Dieseth, Vice President, Associate General Counsel, U.S. Bank; and Matt Wahlquist, VP, Head of Outside Counsel Management, Pricing, and Analytics, U.S. Bank. Tell us a little about how that discussion went.

Osnes:  We explained how we work together from the initiation of a legal matter to its end. We discussed how our roles overlap and how we all attempt to increase efficiency and predictability in the spirit that CLOC promotes. The process can sometimes begin with the client, who may request a budget for a matter, and then the Dorsey & Whitney attorney will work with the LPM department to develop a litigation plan and scope the matter out in a way that meets the client’s objectives. Sometimes the lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney moves proactively to develop a budget and wants tools for that purpose, both from my department and from the client. The primary takeaway from our presentation was that true client collaboration involves a lot of proactive communication between attorneys and operations, at the firm and the client, throughout the entire matter lifecycle.

LegalBizDev: What effect do you think the rise of legal operations will have on the importance of LPM and on client development?

Osnes: Legal operations and LPM began as functions to facilitate administrative tasks, but both have grown beyond that to play a key role in improving the relationship between law firm and client. I believe that the demand on the part of clients for law firms with a real LPM capacity will only increase, and that means LPM can become a differentiator for law firms. I’m talking about firms that really do LPM, not those that just check the box that says they do it.

LegalBizDev: Many things can occur in litigation that are not predictable from the outset. Can clients and law firms, each armed with their new management tools, work together to reduce uncertainty?

Osnes: Yes. Just because something is unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you have to throw up your hands. If you as a law firm attorney talk to the client as early as possible, you can develop a solid baseline to manage a case, which ensures everyone is on the same page from the beginning. You may only be able to budget from the outset through a certain phase, rather than all the way through a possible trial, but it’s important to just develop, far in advance, a set of expectations that both sides will be comfortable with. Then, you need to be disciplined in tracking and communicating changes from that baseline when they inevitably occur.

The key is to explain this to the client from the outset. Another key is to remember that pricing and budgeting are something that you do with a client and not to a client.

LegalBizDev: How might this work in practice as a legal matter proceeds?

Osnes: If both the law firm and the client are working with a budget and using it as a management tool, they can almost instantly talk about new cost issues as they come up. They can ask: How will this development, say the need for the law firm to do a task that was originally out of scope, affect the budget? Attorneys on both sides now know this is out of scope or wasn’t contemplated in the budget and can talk readily about how this unexpected event can be handled in terms of the existing budget, or whether changes need to be made.

LegalBizDev: What role do outside litigation vendors play in this process?

Osnes: Some clients have preferred vendors that they use for e-discovery and other important litigation tasks. That is often part of their commitment to improving efficiency through “legal ops.” In our planning and budgeting process, we need to be aware of those. At the conclusion of a matter, when we and the client are evaluating what worked well and what didn’t, we need to look at the work of those vendors as part of the evaluation. Also, we at Dorsey & Whitney have our own in-house e-discovery and document review service called LegalMineTM, and if that team is part of the litigation, we and the client need to evaluate its performance after the case is over, as well.

LegalBizDev: Has anything changed in the way in which your pricing and LPM group presents itself internally to the firm’s attorneys?

Osnes: In the past, we have always described ourselves as a resource for our internal clients, Dorsey & Whitney lawyers. Now that the firm’s clients are asking for so much more, we also emphasize how our LPM team can improve client service, help lawyers meet each client’s expectations, and keep client relationships healthy and strong.

 

July 12, 2018

Leading study confirms that ongoing LPM training and support significantly improves performance

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

If you work at a law firm and care about its future, you must find the time to download Altman Weil’s free report of findings from its 2018 Law Firms in Transition survey.

For the last ten years, this survey “has tracked a continual shift in awareness, acceptance – and some persistent resistance to – legal market change” (p. i). This year’s report by Thomas S. Clay and Eric A. Seeger provides the best available data on law firm efficiency, profitability, pricing, staffing, productivity, and much more. 

To collect the data, Altman Weil sent questionnaires to 801 managing partners and chairs at US firms with 50 lawyers or more.  In other professions, questionnaire surveys like this typically “average [a] 10-15% response rate.”  One might assume that the response rate for a survey sent to law firm managing partners and chairs would be much lower, since they are often too busy to respond to anything that is not on fire.  But Altman Weil received an astonishing 49.7% response rate (398 firms).

The resulting report summarizes the experience and opinions of managing partners and chairs from nearly half of the 500 largest firms in the United States.  It provides information about what law firms have tried, what’s worked, and what hasn’t.  There is simply no better source for this type of up-to-the-minute insight into a rapidly changing profession. 

The findings that caught our eyes first, not surprisingly, were the ones most closely related to our interest in legal project management (LPM), starting with the fact that “Nearly unanimously, law firm leaders see a need to focus on improved practice efficiency” (p. xii).

So, what are law firms doing to meet this need?  Not nearly enough.

One survey question asked, “How serious are law firms about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients?” on a scale from 0 (not at all serious) to 10 (doing all they can).  Less than half of firms (43%) gave themselves a rating of 6 or higher, and only 2.6% answered 9 or 10

But wait, it gets even worse.  In its most recent 2017 Chief Legal Officers survey,  Altman Weil asked the exact same question of clients.  Only 9% of clients (vs 43% of firms) rated this commitment at 6 or higher, and not one single client gave law firms a 9 or a 10.  Obviously, a huge discrepancy exists in how law firms perceive themselves vs how clients perceive law firms. Viewing these results optimistically, law firms that are committed to changing their legal service delivery model could have a significant business opportunity. 

From our perspective, the single most important graph in the 2018 Law Firms in Transition report (p. 55) is reproduced below:LFiT_EfficiencyTactics_2018B“Rewarding efficiency and profitability in compensation decisions” was the most effective tactic for improving performance, as almost anyone could have predicted.  You get what you pay for. 

Much to our surprise, however, more than half of law firms say they are already using this tactic.  Of course, the other law firms may not want to engage in the difficult process of re-evaluating compensation policies, particularly when they know how difficult those conversations can be.  And if this is the only tactic a law firm takes, it could derail significant progress for several months, if not years.  Unfortunately, in today’s market, time may not be a luxury that law firms can afford.

In addition, law firms have historically had trouble measuring and rewarding profitability.  A few years ago, when we interviewed AmLaw 200 managing partners and senior executives for our book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, we reported that many firms are struggling with measurement, like the participant who admitted:

We don’t calculate profitability by formula.  It’s really seat of the pants. (p. 52)

As more and more firms improve the ways they measure and reward profitability, we predict that the impact of compensation on performance will increase far beyond the 47% figure in the graph above.  But again, this type of approach will likely take a few more years to fully materialize in many firms and is definitely not a “magic bullet” solution for any firm.

So, what exactly should law firms be doing now to help lawyers increase efficiency?  They should engage in “ongoing project management training and support,” because:

  • It is the highest-rated tactic for obtaining significant improvement in performance (other than changing compensation policies, as discussed above),
  • It is grossly underutilized with only one-third of law firms actually using this tactic, and
  • It is the easiest and most cost-effective way to significantly improve performance, especially when compared to other less effective tactics like systematically reengineering work processes or using technology tools to replace human resources.

Whatever tactics law firms decide to pursue, Altman Weil’s report (p. viii) concludes that law firm leaders must “pick up the pace:”

The challenge for leaders is to enlist a small cohort to start the innovation process with urgency and pace and begin to educate and bring others into the fold as rapidly as possible.  Leaders should focus daily on supporting the continued efforts of early adopters by providing encouragement, resources, time, and staff support.

We couldn’t agree more. 

For details of exactly how several leading firms have engaged this process, and the successes they have achieved to date, see the case studies section of our web page.

Full disclosure:  Altman Weil is a strategic partner of LegalBizDev, but not a single word of this post would be different if they weren’t.

 

May 30, 2018

How CLOC is helping law firms to improve efficiency (Part 1 of 3)

By Tim Batdorf, Jim Hassett, and Ed Burke

How much do you know about CLOC, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium?  If the answer is very little, and if you work at a law firm that cares about legal project management (LPM), you may be falling behind your competitors. 

As suggested by its name, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium is primarily intended for in-house staff at corporate legal departments.  But a growing number of law firms are becoming involved with CLOC for both substantive reasons (to better understand what clients are looking for) and for marketing purposes (to improve communication with current clients and with potential new ones).

CLOC’s mission is to help legal operations professionals and other core corporate legal industry players (e.g. tech providers, law firms, LPOs, law schools, etc.) optimize the legal service delivery models needed by small, medium and large legal departments to support their clients.  As summarized on CLOC’s web page:

In a technology and data driven world, when business moves faster than ever, legal is totally out of step. Our industry has been frozen in time, slow to change.  We organize all players in the legal ecosystem to help reform and shape our industry.

CLOC’s influence has exploded in the last few years.  According to a recent Bloomberg Law interview with its founder Connie Brenton (chief of staff and senior director of legal operations at NetApp Inc.), CLOC started in 2010 as a small discussion group which, at that time, might have best been described as “an information book club” or perhaps as “therapy.”  In 2016 CLOC became a non-profit, and according to Brenton:

In two years we went from an informal group of 40 to nearly 1,400 legal operations professionals.  

That was in February.  More have joined since, and at the time of this writing, CLOC had approximately 1,500 members and over 750 member companies, including roughly 30% of the Fortune 500. CLOC membership represents 43 states in the US and 39 countries around the world, and member companies have an estimated combined external legal spend of over $40 billion.

CLOC’s growing influence on the legal profession can also be seen in the fact that attendance doubled at each of its first three US meetings: from about 500 participants in 2016, to 1,000 in 2017, and nearly 2,000 in 2018. 

Given those numbers, it is clear why law firms are increasingly involved with CLOC.  According to Melissa Prince, Ballard Spahr’s Chief Client Value Officer, the most important benefit of CLOC involvement is proactive communication. 

For years, clients and law firms have had the common goal of transforming the way legal work is done, but until CLOC they were not really talking to each other about it in any meaningful way.  The reality is there will never be any long-term change in the legal industry until clients and law firms really start talking to each other.  CLOC encourages us to tackle tough issues and to be brutally honest with each other about what isand more importantly what is not working.  This is exactly what we need in the legal industry.  

After attending CLOC’s meeting in Las Vegas last month, David Clark, LPM Partner at Lathrop Gage, noted that:

CLOC emphasizes how clients and their in-house legal departments want law firms to collaborate with them.   This runs counter to a common misconception in law firms that clients are just using things like LPM and alternative fee arrangements to drive down legal fees, without regard for the law firms which represent them.  Instead, most clients want to increase collaboration with their law firms through LPM and similar tools.  While it is true that these tools allow law firms to more efficiently and cost-effectively handle legal work, at the same time, clients are rewarding collaborating law firms by increasing the volume of their work and paying success fees.  CLOC helps law firms understand that implementing LPM can foster increased collaboration with clients, resulting in more value for clients and deeper engagement for the law firm.

CLOC conferences are designed primarily for in-house departments, and the first session at each conference  provides an overview of the 12 core competencies identified by CLOC and summarized in this graphic:

  CLOC_12_Competencies_Pic1 Pic1_Copyright

All remaining sessions at each conference describe how best to execute against those competencies.  According to Jeffrey Franke, Assistant General Counsel at Yahoo Inc. and a member of CLOC’s Leadership Team:

The core competencies are the reference model for achieving operational excellence by in-house legal teams.  Legal operations professionals, working with their GCs and legal leadership teams develop strategic and tactical plans to create service delivery models (in-house, law firm, LSO, and tech solutions) to deliver the right quality of legal support at the right cost by executing against those competencies.  Each core competency is comprised of several sub-core competencies.  Until CLOC created the 12 core competencies, there was no comprehensive definition of legal operations.

Typically, legal teams focus on the 12 core competencies in a clockwise fashion – representing CLOC's operational maturity model.  Franke estimates that 60% of legal departments operate primarily at the foundational level, 35% at the advanced level, and about 5% at the mature level.  Franke says there are similar, observable patterns in the way in which legal departments evolve over time:

The parallel to operational maturity and the core competencies is functional maturity: we've found that legal ops teams mature (grow in size, scope, talent, and reporting structure) in a similar way over time as legal departments understand what it takes to execute at the highest levels.

CLOC’s web page also lists a number of crowd-sourced initiatives based on the idea that:

When experts from across the legal ecosystem work together to take on the biggest challenges of our industry, almost anything is possible… The CLOC initiatives… each led by a CLOC member, draw on contributions from law firms, alternative legal providers, technology companies, and law schools.  The result – best in class solutions that shape the present and the future of our industry.

While some initiatives are of primary interest to in-house law departments (such as the “Legal Ops Career Skills Toolkit”), others are of substantial interest to law firms, starting with CLOC’s LPM initiative, which will be described in Part 2 of this series.

November 29, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


4. Use Just-in-Time Training Materials

All examples in this case study reflect LegalBizDev’s emphasis on “just in time” training, which addresses individual problems as they arise.  This can be contrasted to a traditional approach to LPM training which relies on workshops to educate people about the entire field, and then hoping they remember to apply the relevant concepts months or years later.

The just-in-time approach is most effective when it is supported by an extensive library of tools and templates that people can use when they need them.  In most professions, just-in-time training materials have become the standard way to teach new skills. For example, when people need to use an unfamiliar feature of Microsoft Word, very few would consider taking a class or looking it up in a book. They simply find the exact information they need in online help, precisely when they need it.

Until this year, LegalBizDev’s library of tools and templates appeared only in a printed book: the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, now in its fourth edition.

In 2017 we began offering firms licenses to the fifth edition, an evolving electronic library that can be accessed by any lawyer at any time whether they are in their office, in a hotel room, or on an airplane.  This approach also makes it easier to update new tools every few months, and allows firms to customize our tools to their needs, and add their own templates to the library.  Lathrop Gage was the first firm to license this online library.  Since then, five other firms ranging in size from 100 to 800 lawyers have licensed the electronic fifth edition.

Even before these templates were placed on Lathrop Gage’s intranet, Dave Clark used the library in his coaching by emailing lawyers just the tools they needed in the form of short pdfs. For example, when Stephen Dexter, a lawyer on the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights team, started a new bankruptcy matter for an existing client, the client wanted a phased budget which took into account the estimated costs of various litigation tracks the case might take.  Clark emailed Dexter relevant tools from the library on planning and managing a budget and that made it easier for him to send the client the type of budget they requested, and to track costs as the matter proceeds.

In addition, Clark says, “One of the things that I do on a regular basis is to speak with team leaders and executive committee members to get an idea of what efficiency tools and templates we need.  We have already developed some Lathrop-specific tools, and included them in the online library, and plan to develop many more.”  Given that LegalBizDev is also developing new tools every few months, this online library has become a living resource that gives every Lathrop Gage lawyer instant access to the latest advances in the field

5. Assure Continuous Improvement by Following Up Relentlessly

LPM is not a simple set of procedures that law firms can put into place, and then move on to the next challenge.  Instead, it is an ever-evolving set of techniques that requires consistent attention and support.  In 2016, the firm decided to hire a full-time LPM Director, and consulted with LegalBizDev about the most effective way to conduct a search.

They ultimately agreed with the approach we outlined on our recent posts on “How to hire LPM staff,”  including our recommendation that “It takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM… [Therefore], the best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant....”

According to LPM Partner Dave Clark: “The firm decided to put the program in the hands of a partner who was already here, one who knows how our firm thinks.  They asked me and I agreed. I set aside my full-time IP practice in order to implement LPM here at the firm. We felt it was very important to change lawyer behavior, and what better way to do that than to put someone in charge of the program who has been here more than 30 years and who knows all the lawyers and the pressures that they face on a daily basis?  My partners know that I understand their needs and practices. My daily role is to help the lawyers provide value and increase efficiency. My previous role as an IP partner helps open doors.”

An LPM director drawn from the partner ranks is much more likely to visualize the possibility of immediate efficiency gains in particular cases and practice groups on an ad hoc basis, tailoring solutions to specific matters rather than developing a top-down approach to LPM.

One of the first things Clark did after completing certification was to set up individual meetings with more than a dozen practice leaders and members of firm management.  From these interviews, “It became clear that budgeting and pricing tools and practices are a priority with virtually every practice team,” he says. “Creating practice-specific checklists and improving work flow and processes were also important to many teams. In addition, some teams, particularly litigation teams, have a need for improved practices and tools related to setting objectives and defining the scope of a matter with the client.”

Clark sees a major part of his job as “identifying possible inefficiencies in our client work and correcting them to bring value to our clients.” Accordingly, he is looking to train and work with lawyers who not only can help him identify such areas of improvement, but also are open to follow up and implement new systems.

Clark recently reviewed the characteristics of those lawyers who had previously gotten the most out of past LPM programs with LegalBizDev. He then created a profile for the most promising future participants, in the interest of identifying people who were likely to succeed with LPM. He discussed with the task force which practice groups and individuals would be the best ones to focus on.  Before accepting any candidates into the next round of coaching he will conduct, he is verifying that each one is motivated and has adequate time to work on the program.

Clark expects his role to continue to evolve.  “In LPM, the bar is always being raised. A firm that was an innovator in this area just a couple of years ago can now be easily overtaken by other firms that begin to focus on LPM. Now that so many firms have LPM programs, what was good enough to win new business last year in a competitive market may not be good enough this year.”

 

To download a pdf with all three parts of this case study, go to https://tinyurl.com/LPM-Lathrop

September 20, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

Based on our LPM work with over 100 law firms, LegalBizDev recommends that candidates should be evaluated based on the five criteria below, which are listed in order of importance: 

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

In a 2006 American Lawyer article, David Maister published a classic article entitled “Are Law Firms Manageable?”  Maister’s article opened with these words: “After spending 25 years saying that all professions are similar and can learn from each other, I’m now ready to make a concession: Law firms are different.” He went on to describe four major differences at length: “problems with trust; difficulties with ideology, values, and principles; professional detachment; and unusual approaches to decision making.”

The most fundamental challenge in hiring legal project managers comes from this fact: they must learn how to work effectively with lawyers. More than a few law firms have made the mistake of hiring somebody with a traditional approach to project management and no experience with law firms.  The results include lots of wasted time developing plans, frustrated attorneys, LPM staff who move from firm to firm, and firms that think LPM doesn’t work. 

The best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant, who is interested in being trained in LPM.  We believe that it takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM.  Internal candidates already know how things really work behind the scenes at your firm and who the key players are. In addition, the people making the hiring decision also know the candidate well.

2.  A flexible approach to project management that fits the needs of law firms.

Traditional “waterfall” project management works best in an environment where requirements can be well defined at the start of a project and are relatively stable.  However, in the legal environment, that is rarely the case.  The result is that Agile project management techniques designed for rapidly changing environments are most valuable to lawyers, and in many cases the traditional approach may actually be counter-productive. According to the article quoted in Part 1 from two Seyfarth Shaw project managers (“Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services,” in The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), one of the qualities that Seyfarth looks for when it hires new project managers is:

Are [they] flexible in their approach to projects?  How well do they respond to fluid situations?  If they have only practiced the traditional waterfall project management methodology… we would have to consider whether they have the ability to adapt to our environment. (p. 91)

We have seen many cases in which law firms first tried to find people with legal experience and failed.  Then they decided to focus on credentials designed for other businesses, such as people who have been certified as Project Management Professionals (PMPs).  This can be exactly the wrong way to go, if the certification came in one of the many professions in which project managers devote an enormous amount of time and energy to defining requirements and making a complete plan at the start of a project.

In the legal environment, needs can change suddenly, and all of those expensive plans may have to get tossed out the window the instant an adversary changes its tactics.

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

When Seyfarth hires LPM staff, another requirement is that candidates:

Possess a mature sense of confidence and ability to influence a team of high-performing individuals to achieve success.  Could we see them sitting alongside attorneys or across the table from our clients?  (p. 91)

Successful legal project managers are both diplomatic and credible, with the gravitas to be accepted by senior partners.  Many firms have hired individuals with great technical facility, but none of these personal qualities.  They tend to sit in their offices developing elaborate plans for a small number of like-minded partners, while everyone else ignores them.  They also tend to last only a year or two in the position, before moving to a different law firm, or out of the legal field.

Obviously, personal qualities such as flexibility and gravitas will be much easier to observe and assess if one hires internal candidates rather than relying on impressions from interviews.

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

By its very nature, LPM requires a high degree of organization, discipline and tracking details.  This is another factor that will be easier to assess for internal candidates than for external ones.

5.  Project management knowledge

Note that this is last in our list, because in our experience, it is the easiest to train.  A number of our clients who have promoted from within have used our LegalBizDev Certified Legal Project Manager® program to develop the appropriate knowledge base.

In our opinion, it is unfortunate that many firms put project management knowledge first on their list of requirements, instead of last. We have seen many cases in which firms have hired LPM Directors based on their project management experience in construction, government contracting, or other areas where traditional techniques are used and agile techniques are not.  This has led to many stories of LPM Directors who could not or would not adapt to a legal environment, and ended up working with the very small group of partners who were interested in project charters, Gantt charts, and tools like Microsoft Project software.

Seyfarth faced these exact problems with their own first LPM hires:

The rigors of traditional project management, with its detailed documentation, waterfall-based phases, change control, and paperwork, were interfering with delivery in the fast-paced and often unpredictable world of legal service delivery. (p. 87)

Once Seyfarth switched to an Agile-based approach, legal project managers gained widespread acceptance among lawyers and “three day planning meetings were replaced with one hour kickoff meetings.” (p. 87)

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

 

 

 

September 06, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

When firms decide to make a serious commitment to LPM by hiring internal LPM staff, they must answer two questions:

  1. How should we define the job of the LPM Manager?
  2. Who is the best person to fill the job?

The position of LPM Manager is so new that both questions are much more difficult to answer than you might expect.

Some LPM Managers have been much more successful than others, due to a combination of management support, firm culture, and the background and personal characteristics of the individual who fills the position.  For an overview of how some of the most widely known LPM directors have defined the job, see the results of our research on the evolving role of LPM directors in this blog.

Quite frankly, in our survey of LPM directors at 15 large firms, it appeared that even within this group there are wide differences of opinion on how to define the job.  For example, some LPM Directors spent an enormous amount of time on evaluating and implementing new software, while others focused on more effectively using the software the firm already owned.  (We recommend the second approach.) 

Perhaps these differences of opinion are related to the high turnover rate for LPM Directors.  A year and a half after we published our research, we went back to LinkedIn to see how many had moved into different jobs.  33% of the people we had interviewed – 5 out of 15 – had changed employers in this 18 month period. (Three of the five had moved to different law firms, and two had gone to in-house law departments.)

In any case, the titles of two thirds of the people we interviewed included both pricing and LPM, but the vast majority of these 15 people spent most or all of their time on pricing.  One reason for this emphasis is that most groups were understaffed, and senior management often mandated an emphasis on pricing first.  It is much easier to get lawyers to agree to bid a particular fee than it is to convince them to change the way they practice law so that they actually deliver services within that amount.

In our view, both pricing and LPM are extremely important for long-term financial success.  To remain profitable, firms must both charge the right price and get lawyers to deliver services within that price. 

However, we also believe that if limited resources force one to choose between the two, LPM is ultimately more important than pricing.  These days, the fees that firms are able to charge are often determined more by competitive bidding than by thoughtful analysis.  And the best pricing function in the world does little good if lawyers consistently exceed the amounts they bid.

Once the job description is defined, the next question is how to identify the best candidate. 

Seyfarth Shaw has probably been hiring project managers for longer than any other law firm.  In the article “Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services” (which appears in Ark’s recently published book  The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), Seyfarth senior managers Karen Dalton and John Duggan have noted that “One of the biggest challenges can be finding people with the right skill set to perform the role of Legal Project Manager.”

The fundamental problem in finding qualified candidates is that as the demand for LPM has increased in the last few years, so has the demand for LPM staff.  Almost every firm starts their search by looking for people with prior LPM success at other law firms, which makes perfect sense.  The difficulty here is that the LPM Director position is so new that only a very small number of candidates meet this criterion.  And people in this group also tend to be highly compensated due to high demand and low supply.

In Part 2 of this series, we will recommend five criteria for evaluating potential LPM staff.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 23, 2017

How to increase new business through active listening (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 of this series included about a dozen questions to get clients talking.  This post contains over 50 additional questions which could help you probe into the details of client needs.  We start with the following:

  • What do you like about working with our firm?
  • What could we do better?
  • What could we do to make your life easier?
  • Can you think of any other ways we could help clients like you, or any new services we could offer?
  • Could we better use technology to be of service to you?
  • What type of status reporting do you like? Weekly? Monthly? Email or phone?
  • Would you recommend our firm to others? Why or why not?
  • If you managed a firm like ours, what would you do differently?
  • How would you rate the quality of our legal product?
  • How well do we listen to your concerns?
  • How well do we understand your goals?
  • How well do we understand your industry?
  • Do we do a good job keeping you informed?
  • Do we explain legal issues in terms that are easy for decision makers to understand?
  • Do you perceive us as genuinely committed to your business success?
  • Do you perceive our lawyers as prompt, responsive, and accessible on short notice?
  • Are our billing statements accurate and complete?
  • Do our invoices include an appropriate level of detail?
  • Do you think our fees are fair and reasonable?
  • In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with other law firms, and with ours?
  • What have you liked least about working with law firms?
  • When you select outside counsel, what factors are most important to you?
  • When you rate lawyers’ performance, what factors are most important to you?
  • How do you decide when to do work in-house, and when to use outside counsel?
  • What future trends in your business or industry will affect your need for legal services?
  • What are your biggest legal concerns?
  • How would you describe your overall impression of our firm?
  • What mistakes can be made when lawyers don’t understand your business and/or industry?

Note: While most of these questions address your service, they could easily be reworded to ask how clients perceive other law firms they work with. That can be an excellent way to get insights into where competitors are vulnerable.

With some clients, it may be better to start with big picture business questions, such as:

  • What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Where do you see your industry going in the next few years?
  • What does your ideal customer look like?
  • What works best in finding new customers?
  • Who are your biggest customers?
  • What is it like to work for your company?
  • Who are the key people you work with?

Whatever specific topics you choose to explore, it is important to “master the art of the easily answered question,” as explained in Kevin Daley’s Socratic Selling.The book describes how to become an active listener by using simple prompts like these:

  • Tell me more about ____.
  • Would you elaborate on ____?
  • Give me an example of ____.
  • What else should I know about ____?
  • How does ____ fit the picture?
  • Talk to me about your experience with _____.
  • How do you handle _____?
  • What makes this urgent?
  • Why is this important right now?
  • What bothers you most?
  • How tough a position does this put you in?
  • How does this affect you?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • How does that sound?
  • Do I have it right?
  • If you were to go ahead with ____, when would you ____?
  • What else should I ask about?

To be honest, the first time I saw this list I thought it looked a little dumb.  By nature, I did not want to ask clients “tell me more,” or “do I have it right?”  I usually quickly thought I had heard enough, and of course I thought I had it right.  So I wanted to get right to the point and tell clients what I thought they should do. 

Many lawyers seem to feel the same way.  They’d like to get to the point faster by dominating the conversation. Probes like the ones above do not come naturally to many lawyers because they like to control the conversation. But guess what.  Clients do too.

Simple questions like the ones above can help clients think through a situation while assuring that they talk 80% or more of the time. 

Professional salespeople have an old saying that “Whoever talks the most will enjoy the meeting the most.” That’s one reason lawyers so often leave business development meetings thinking the meeting was very successful; they did most of the talking.   But then they don’t get the business.

If you want to improve relationships and increase new business, you want the client to be the one who enjoys the meeting more.

If you would like to create more specific questions to fit your client’s precise interests, one place to start is with Paul Lippe’s influential article, “Welcome to the Future: Embracing the New Normal.” Then use your background knowledge of the client to create specific questions about some of the trends Lippe lists: alternate staffing, predictable pricing, defined quality, client intimacy, technology, and process innovation. 

And if you want general tips on becoming a better listener, there are countless websites and books that can help.  You could even join the International Listening Association, which has members in 19 countries who “promote the study of listening… and pursue research into the ways in which listening can develop understanding in our personal, political, social and working lives.”

Or you could just start with these five steps:

  1. Establish genuine interest by asking questions that you care about.
  2. Take notes. Writing down what people say shows that what they say is important, and that you are paying attention. Just put the pen down if the talk turns confidential.
  3. Respond to the speaker’s nonverbal cues and monitor your own, including eye contact, smiling, and frowning.
  4. Keep people talking. Paraphrase, summarize, and restate what you hear. When you agree with people, they will think that you are smart. Especially if you don’t interrupt them or argue.
  5. Come prepared with good questions.

If listening does not come naturally to you, practice.  Make a commitment for your next meeting to talk no more than 20% of the time, or some other percentage. (The actual percentage will depend on the client’s needs.  There are meetings when you should talk 50% or more of the time, if the client wants to interview you about your knowledge.  The client is always right.)  Then, after the meeting, compare the percent of time you planned to listen with what actually occurred. Track the results over time, using a simple format like this:

TrackingListening_Template

Obviously, the “actual” percent will be a very rough approximation. But the National Science Foundation is not going to review these results, so an estimate is fine. The important things are to track your behavior and to improve over time.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 09, 2017

How to increase new business through active listening (Part 1 of 2)

Over the years, I’ve written quite a few times in this blog about the importance of listening. But in my opinion, this topic cannot be emphasized enough, whether you are focused on legal project management, business development, or just relating to your own family.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “If I were to summarize the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relationships, listening is the key.”

In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman explains that effective leaders must be good listeners so that they can sense how employees feel, and then channel that energy into the most productive directions.

In the book Advanced Selling Strategies, sales guru Brian Tracy explains four reasons why “Active sincere listening leads to easier sales”:

  1. Listening builds trust. In a survey of professional purchasers, the single biggest complaint was that salespeople talk too much. If you show that you are interested in understanding what people really need, they are more likely to believe that you will provide it.
  2. Listening lowers resistance. It helps to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable instead of tense and defensive.
  3. Listening builds self-esteem. Everyone wants his or her views to be heard. So when you listen to a client, it shows that you respect their opinions.
  4. Listening builds character and self-discipline. Hopefully, this fourth point won’t come up very often. But from time to time, you may sell to a client who is, shall we say, not overly dynamic. As they keep talking, it’s easy to start daydreaming about which type of salad you should order for lunch. But the more boring your client is, the more character you will build by listening. And the better you understand what the client wants, the more likely you are to get a new engagement.

Why is listening hard for so many lawyers? Because you have to talk less. (One of the reasons I am a bit of a fanatic on this topic is that, like many lawyers, I would rather talk than listen.)

Many experts say that when you are building business relationships, you should spend 80% or more of your time listening. But when lawyers meet potential clients, many think that they should spend all of their time listing the wonderful things they can do. This is a mistake.

The client is a lot more interested in her own problems than in your capabilities. If she did not think you were good, you wouldn’t be meeting. So you need to devote most of your time to focusing on what she wants, needs, and feels. As the old saying goes, that’s why you have two ears and one mouth.

Great listeners don’t argue. That’s another reason many lawyers find it difficult. To listen effectively, you must give up the need to be right.

Improved listening is not only helpful in finding new clients, it will also strengthen relationships with existing clients. From a project management perspective, this may include not just communicating about the details of a particular matter, but also asking general questions about a client’s perception of value.

This brief series lists over 60 questions that will be helpful in preparing for client discussions. Just pick a few key questions that fit your  situation, schedule a meeting, and let the client talk 80% of the time. Do not argue or object to criticism, just listen.

You could start with these very direct questions:

  • How could we increase the value of the services we provide?
  • How satisfied are you with our services, on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • What could we do to increase our rating?
  • What do other law firms do that you really like?

For many additional questions, you could review the online resources published by the Association of Corporate Counsel.  For example, see their one page introduction to getting started with the ACC Value Challenge entitled “Meet.  Talk.  Act.”   It recommends that law firms begin by arranging “a two-hour bag lunch” with top clients “with a single question for discussion:  Working together, how do we improve the value of legal services?”

They then list seven issues that may be particularly relevant in the discussion:

  • How can we reestablish trust and improve our relationship, on both sides?
  • How can we assure an adequate flow of work so that outside lawyers understand the client better and can be more efficient in what they do?
  • How can we get junior lawyers better trained, priced at more reasonable levels, practicing law more on the front line, and less likely to leave?
  • How can we better budget and manage costs and staffing?
  • How can we better institutionalize the relationship?
  • How can we evaluate progress and performance?
  • How can we create a culture of continuous improvement, on both sides?

Part 2 of this series will list over 50 additional questions lawyers could use to improve active listening.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.