34 posts categorized "News"

April 09, 2014

Research update: New staff positions in pricing value and LPM, Part 1 of 2

This two-part post previews results from my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, which will be published this summer.  All quotes are from managing partners, chairs, and other senior decision makers at AmLaw 200 firms.  Each participated in 30-minute in-depth interviews and spoke freely based on the understanding that they could review their quotes before publication, but they would not be quoted by name.

 

As law firms compete aggressively with their peers by offering more value to clients, many are establishing new staff positions to oversee pricing, legal project management, and other aspects of the “new normal.”  A few weeks ago, we reviewed the book Law Firm Pricing: Strategies, Roles, and Responsibilities about the rise in pricing directors.  In our research, we asked more generally about new staff positions in several related areas and found:

 

Do you have new internal staff positions in pricing, value, legal project management, and/or related areas?
Hired new people Used existing people No one devoted to these functions
49% 28% 23%

 

Hiring new staff members to meet new needs

Many firms reported it was a very successful move for them to hire people with the right business backgrounds and to empower them to use their skills to help the firm make crucial decisions on pricing and on efficiency. Consider this testimony from the managing partners of two AmLaw 100 firms:

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, they’re able to focus on the numbers and their minds work differently. I think we’ve been very effective at actually developing tools to help people price things. It’s a pretty basic tool, but the lawyers say it is very sophisticated and very helpful. I see it as Finance 101, but I’m glad the lawyers like it. So I think what’s had the greatest effect is the non-lawyers who really 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.

I think that the role we’re asking our client value director to play, which is part consigliore, part expert, part preacher, is going to have a very positive impact, not just on the project management, but on the pricing side, including a better understanding among the partners about what agreeing to certain conditions means. I think we’ve made a lot of progress on this because we’ve had to, but we still have a long way to go.

Senior managers from three other AmLaw 200 firms added this:

On the pricing side, it’s been one of our great successes. We have three people working on pricing. Two of them are analysts who initially were hired just to be analysts, but we’ve now developed them to the point where they communicate directly with clients. They’ve become fairly sophisticated in understanding not just the pure data side, but also recognizing the differences among clients and how they view our relationship. And that triggers what price arrangements they are or are not willing to offer. As the firm’s CEO, I spend five or ten percent of my time on pricing issues, either working directly with clients or dealing with our lawyers in trying to think about how we should price something. It’s worked out well for us.

We now have a pricing director, and he and I really split the work. He’s incredibly effective with my partners and very good. It’s an interesting job that we both have, trying to facilitate partners’ entrepreneurial instincts and helping them to get business, while guiding them in the transition into this new world of pricing. But we’re also the police for bad deals. He’s fantastic. He has a staff, and we do this function of reviewing every non-standard pricing matter, checking the assumptions, checking the projected profitability. And that’s a critical part of having a strong value-based billing program, especially as clients are expecting, really demanding, alternative fee structures.

We’ve added three positions in the last two years related to pricing and value. The person who heads our group has experience doing program and project management in the software industry, but also has a finance background. So we’re starting to get into the project management side. I think it has been successful, because three years ago we had a lot of difficulty in winning fixed fee and other alternative fee cases, and now we’re getting more of them. We never really did that before.

Part 2 will appear next week and will include quotes from senior management at firms that are assigning new responsibilities in this area to existing staff rather than hiring new people.

 

February 18, 2014

Announcing a new Kindle version of our Legal Business Development Guide

Amazon is now selling a new Kindle version of my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.  This book lies at the heart of the highly successful Adams and Reese program I’ve described in the last few posts, and is used in all of our business development coaching and training programs.  See our web page for sample chapters, reviews, and ordering information for the printed book, including volume discounts up to 50% on orders of multiple copies.

January 28, 2014

My upcoming Ark Group workshops on Alternative Fees and on Legal Project Management

On March 19, I will be in New York to chair the Ark Group’s Fifth Annual AFA Forum.  There are plenty of conferences about AFAs these days, but the title of this one suggests how it is different:  Sustaining AFAs Through Collaboration and Trust.  Law firms and their clients will talk candidly about how they have negotiated and managed AFAs in a way that has been beneficial and sustainable for both sides.  Participants include in-house counsel from GlaxoSmithKline, Pitney Bowes, Harley-Davidson, and other major corporations, as well as the lawyers they work with at Foley & Lardner, Reed Smith, Greenberg Traurig, McKenna Long & Aldridge, Faegre Baker Daniels, and McCarthy Tetrault.  You can download the agenda and registration form from our web page, or go to Ark’s page for additional information. 

Then, on May 22 in Chicago, I will be chairing an entirely different kind of event entitled the Legal Project Management Showcase & Workshop: Changing Behavior within the Firm.  I conducted this workshop three times in 2013, making it Ark’s most popular program last year.  I wish I could say it was so successful due to my contributions, but the value was in the frank discussions between panelists about what worked and what didn’t when they established LPM programs.  The Chicago panel will include some panelists who appeared on last year’s programs, and some who didn’t, namely:

Sari M. Alamuddin, Partner, Morgan Lewis
Vincent Cordo, Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith
Stuart J T Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie
David Schaefer, Deputy Chair, Loeb & Loeb
Donald R. Ware, Partner, Foley Hoag

I’ll let you know when the brochure for the Chicago workshop becomes available in a few weeks.  In the meantime, if you’d like a preview of how the event will be structured, take a look at the similar workshop I offered last November with a different panel. 

I hope to see you in New York, or Chicago, or both.

For more information on either event, contact Ark’s Peter Franken at pfranken@ark-group.com or (312) 212-1301.

 

September 17, 2013

Legal project management: Five law firms compare notes on how to maximize its benefits

In theory, it is easy for lawyers to find ways to increase efficiency.  In practice, however, getting lawyers to change the way they practice law has proven extremely difficult.

On November 13, 2013, I will moderate a panel discussion in New York City with leaders from five law firms that have successfully begun the long process of changing behavior:

These experts will talk frankly about what has worked at each firm and what has not.  The discussion will include training and coaching techniques, as well as tools and software, such as sample templates for handling loan transactions, reviewing documents, calculating fees and more.

This is the third time this year the workshop has been offered by The Ark Group, publishers of Managing Partner magazine.   After attending the first session last March, Delilah Flaum, the Partner in Charge of Knowledge Management and Legal Project Management at Winston & Strawn LLP, said:   

This workshop did an excellent job of offering practical suggestions for dealing with the issues law firms encounter when they implement legal project management.  The frank discussions between partners and executives at firms that have successfully changed lawyers’ behavior would be helpful to anyone who is trying to get their arms around this challenging transition.

After attending the second session in May, Christine Johnson, the Director of Client Matter Management at Quarles & Brady LLP noted: 

The greatest benefit of the workshop was hearing from others about what they are doing and how they are responding to the same market challenges that we are facing.  Brainstorming solutions together was useful because it helped me to walk away with some ideas that could be adapted for our firm.

Kevin Klein, the Program Director at Ark, says that:

This is the only workshop we have offered three times within nine months, because the approach has proven so useful to participants.  We had to turn down several people who wanted to register in May when the last session sold out early, and we were unable to get a larger room.

The program will be held on November 13, 2013, at the American Management Association’s Executive Conference Center at 1601 Broadway near Times Square in New York City.  For more details, see the online brochure and registration form or contact Peter Franken for details at pfranken@ark-group.com or (312) 212-1301.

August 21, 2013

New research on client value and law firm profitability

A few weeks ago, I began interviewing AmLaw 100 chairmen, managing partners, and senior partners and staff for a study entitled:  “Client value and law firm profitability:  Insights from AmLaw 100 leaders.”  This new research is exploring what works best in today’s legal marketplace to protect profitability, and what does not.  Our goal is to provide clients and others with advice on how to achieve greater value in a sustainable way that makes business sense for both sides. 

Research on topics like this is usually conducted with questionnaires distributed over the web.  In contrast, this study is based on confidential in-depth interviews with law firm leaders. It is a follow-up to our widely quoted LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees, which used a similar approach a few years ago.

I am conducting every interview myself, in an open-ended discussion of what works and what does not, focusing on the areas of greatest interest to each firm.   The interview questions are sent in advance, and telecons are strictly limited to 30 minutes, unless a participant wants to talk for longer.

The name of every individual who participates in the research will be confidential, and all quotes will be anonymous. In addition, participants will have complete editorial control over what appears in print. Each will be sent a transcript or summary of their interview before anything is published, and will have the option to change any details or wording before publication, or to withdraw from the study.

When this confidential approach was used in the LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees, it enabled senior decision makers to speak frankly and openly. That research provided a platform that made it easy for firm leaders to tell clients and others what they really think, without being quoted by name.

This study was designed with the help of the LegalBizDev Research Advisory Board, eleven thought leaders in the field:

Toby Brown, Director of Strategic Pricing and Analytics, Akin Gump

Tom Clay, Principal, Altman Weil

Vince Cordo, Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith

Lisa Damon, Managing Partner, Seyfarth Shaw

Stuart Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie

Sam Goldblatt, Partner, Nixon Peabody

Jim Kalyvas, Partner, Foley & Lardner

Kelly Milius, AFA Professional Support Lawyer, Perkins Coie

Richard Rosenblatt, Operations Partner – Labor & Employment Practice Group, Morgan Lewis

Michael Roster, Co-Chair of ACC Value Challenge Steering Committee and former Managing Partner LA office, Morrison & Foerster

Amar Sarwal, Vice President and Chief Legal Strategist, Association of Corporate Counsel                  

The final report of the study’s findings will be published next year. It will include a list of the AmLaw 100 firms that chose to participate in the research, but it will not name the individuals who were interviewed.  After an initial analysis of results, a decision will be made about whether to extend this study to include the AmLaw 200, or to complete a separate study of the AmLaw second hundred at a different time. Previews of the report will also appear from time to time in this blog.

I’ve only completed a few interviews so far, so it’s much too early to be talking about trends.  But when I asked people about the relative importance of our eight key issues in legal project management, I’ve already been surprised by the emphasis on the need for better communication.  Yes lawyers need better budgets and better risk assessment and better engagement letters, but most of all they need to talk to their clients. 

As one senior partner put it:

Client communication is the area that requires the most improvement and the one that has the potentially greatest impact for us, even though obviously, good budgeting and good project management are crucial.  [Lawyers must say to clients:] ‘Here’s what this should cost. Here’s how you can help us keep it within this cost. Here are the things that could really knock it off the rails. Let’s be sure we are in accord on some of the assumptions that are built into this budget or fix the arrangement. And then we’re going to talk to you along the way and tell you if we’re maybe getting off track.’

The Chairman of another AmLaw 100 firm made a similar point in different words:

The thing that provides the greatest value to the client is constant communication and responsiveness. And I’m not talking about emails…. It is so much better to be in constant telephone communication or breakfast meetings or lunch meetings, or just visiting. What we’re trying to do is not just deal with litigation. We’re trying to prevent litigation... If we succeed in that, we’re going to have even more clients.

June 12, 2013

New Altman Weil survey reveals law firm leaders understand the problem, but not the solution (Part 1 of 2)

This post was written by Jim Hassett and Matt Hassett

For many years before we formed a strategic partnership with Altman Weil, we have looked forward to studying their annual surveys of where law firm leaders see the profession today, and what they predict for the future.

We are  especially fans of their Law Firms in Transition surveys, which since 2009 have tracked how managing partners and chairmen view the forces of change, and what they are doing about it.   The 2013 Law Firms in Transition survey, published a few weeks ago, summarized the opinions of managing partners and chairs from 238 firms, including more than a third of the AmLaw 200.

This year’s survey found that law firm leaders are more aware than ever before that the legal market is changing permanently, including greater pricing pressure, shrinking demand, growing commoditization and an increasing pace of change.  As survey author Tom Clay summed it up, the belief in these trends shows an:

ongoing evolution of thinking… including some dramatic shifts in opinion since 2009. However, there is less evidence of tangible changes in how law firms operate.

My favorite question in the survey asked “Which of the following legal market trends do you think are temporary and which will be permanent?”  14 trends were listed including more contract lawyers, fewer support staff, more non-hourly billing and increased competition from non-traditional service providers.  Two answers were tied for the top, with 96% of respondents saying they were permanent:  A focus on greater practice efficiency and more price competition.

What are law firms doing about these permanent changes in the marketplace?  Not enough.

When a follow-up question asked “Has your firm significantly changed its strategic approach to the efficiency of legal service delivery?” only 45% said yes.  The response to a similar question about pricing was even weaker:  only 29% said they had changed their strategic approach.  (Both numbers are likely to go up, since 33% said they are currently considering changes in efficiency, and 17% said they are considering changes about pricing strategy.)

More generally, law firm leaders were asked:  “What will be your firm’s greatest challenge in the next 24 months?”  The top three answers were old school:  increasing revenue (15%), new business (15%) and growth (12%).  All three would have made a lot of sense as the primary focus of leadership in 2005, 2006 or 2007, when the legal market was growing.  But if Bruce MacEwen is correct in his book Growth is Dead, most leaders who consider them the greatest challenge in the next 24 months should be thinking less about how to get bigger, and more about client needs.

The fourth challenge they listed – profitability – is better than the first three, since it reflects a new focus on differentiating between clients in an important way that law firms have traditionally ignored. 

But, as Clay noted: 

[The top] four are internally-focused, tactical issues with the primary purpose of protecting the status quo in law firms… It is striking (and disturbing) that delivering value to clients appears only at number eight on the list, mentioned by just 5.6% of law firm leaders. Improving efficiency is eleventh on the list of twelve challenges, cited by only 2.8% of respondents.  Law firms that do not put client needs at the top of their priority lists misunderstand what is driving the forces of change in the legal market in 2013. If firms would focus their considerable resources on truly understanding and aligning themselves with each client’s interests, they would be much more likely to achieve their financial goals.

May 20, 2013

Today’s publication of the third edition of the LPM Quick Reference Guide

The first two editions of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide were purchased by firms with over 85,000 lawyers.  Today we are publishing the third edition, which adds over 100 pages of new tools and templates that law firms are using to increase client satisfaction, new business, and profitability.

Last February, I published Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements to explain WHY firms are focusing on these new areas.  This 226-page Quick Reference Guide is a companion volume and is the only book that explains HOW to implement LPM.

A number of sections were written by 13 contributing authors, including lawyers that have been leading the LPM movement at such firms as Squire Sanders, Morgan Lewis, McDermott Will & Emery, and Valorem. The book also includes a complete list of the readings and assignments from our Certified Legal Project Manager® program.  Readers of this third edition can now complete much of this program on their own, without signing up for certification.

See the book’s description on our web page for reviews by noted experts a description of what’s new in the third edition, and a downloadable free excerpt.

April 23, 2013

Press release: Altman Weil and LegalBizDev announce new strategic alliance

NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA and BOSTON, MA,  April 23, 2013:  A new strategic alliance was announced today by Altman Weil, Inc., the leader in legal consulting since 1970, and LegalBizDev, the thought leader in training and advising lawyers on project management and business development.

The two consulting firms will remain independent entities, but will work side by side on selected client matters to provide solutions that fully integrate Altman Weil’s strategic advisory services with LegalBizDev’s tactical expertise. 

“Law firms face a dual challenge in 2013 – to deliver greater efficiency and value to current clients, and to win new clients in a contracting market.  LegalBizDev equips lawyers with practical tools and training to accomplish both,” said Altman Weil principal Thomas S. Clay.  “In our work with law firms, we often see a disconnect between strategic intention and bottom-line results.  LegalBizDev helps lawyers translate good strategy into effective action in these critically important areas.”

“The firms we work with increasingly ask us about the larger strategic implications of a more competitive legal marketplace,” said LegalBizDev founder and president, Jim Hassett, Ph.D.  “Should firms re-evaluate their overall marketing strategy?   Should lawyers be compensated for efficiency instead of for billing more hours?  How should practice group leaders manage these changes?  These are exactly the type of problems that Altman Weil has been solving for decades.  This new alliance will enable us to offer integrated services that align individual execution with firm-wide strategy.”

About Altman Weil, Inc.: For more than 40 years, Altman Weil (www.altmanweil.com) has been providing a broad range of strategic services to law firms and corporate law departments throughout the world.  The company has a deep understanding of how legal organizations work, and decades of experience working with lawyers to solve problems, enhance performance, and improve profitability.  Altman Weil provides advice on strategic planning, practice group management, client surveys and custom benchmarking, lawyer compensation systems, and more.

About LegalBizDev: Boston-based LegalBizDev (www.legalbizdev.com) helps law firms enhance client satisfaction and increase profitability by improving project management and business development. Since 1985, the company has offered award winning training, coaching, webinars, workshops, retreats, train the trainer programs, publications, and more.  Next month, LegalBizDev will publish the third edition of its Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, the most widely used reference in this rapidly growing field. The book was written by Hassett with 13 contributing authors and will feature dozens of tools and templates that law firms can use to increase efficiency, client satisfaction, value, and profitability.

 

April 02, 2013

Legal project management workshop in Chicago

On May 17, the Ark Group and Managing Partner magazine will present a “Legal Project Management Showcase and Workshop: Changing Behavior within the Firm” in Chicago.  When I chaired a similar event in New York two weeks ago, participants said:

“All of the speakers were excellent… with very different perspectives”

“I learned a great deal from their frank discussion about what had worked well at their firms and what had not worked well.  Also their frankness in the morning sessions set the tone for the small table discussions where people spoke very openly about challenges and things that had to be done to move forward at their respective firms.”

“This was a good panel – good diversity of viewpoints, and each of the panel members was willing to be candid about their experiences.”

There will be four panelists in Chicago, three of whom also spoke in New York:

Stuart Dodds, Director, Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie

Albert Dotson, Partner, Bilzin Sumberg

Scott Kane, Partner, Squire Sanders

Mark Williamson, Principal, Gray Plant Mooty

All four firms are leaders in the LPM movement to increase efficiency and value to clients.  The panelists will compare notes about what has worked best, what hasn’t worked, and what they plan for the future. Near the end of the workshop, the audience will break into small groups to discuss unique challenges at their firms and to brainstorm the best way for each firm to make progress.

I will moderate the panel discussions, and some of the small group discussions will be led by LegalBizDev principals Mike Egnatchik and Steve Barrett.

One thing will be different from the March session.  Several audience members in New York asked for samples of tools and templates developed by the firms on the panel and by LegalBizDev, so that is what we will do in Chicago.  Sample tools and templates will not only be included in the workbook, but will also be discussed by panelists.

When I gave a speech at the beginning of the New York workshop, I said that if I were not already on this panel, I would have paid to attend the event.  It would have been worth every penny.  The workshop presented a rare opportunity to listen to partners in firms that are successfully implementing LPM brainstorm with each other about the nitty gritty details of exactly what is working and what isn’t.

If you plan to come to Chicago and are interested in alternative fees, you should also consider attending Ark’s Fourth Annual Alternative Fee Arrangements Forum which is in the same location the day before.  The speaker list is a who’s who of experts on the topic, including Fred Bartlit of Bartlit Beck, Mike Roster of the ACC Value Challenge Committee, Lisa Damon of Seyfarth Shaw, Paul Williams of Shook Hardy & Bacon, Richard Rosenblatt of Morgan Lewis and Pat Lamb of Valorem Law Group.  If you decide to attend both events, be sure to check the bottom of Ark’s registration form for a significant discount.

March 27, 2013

Managing outsourcing and eDiscovery (Part 2 of 2)

By Matt Hassett, Jim Hassett, and Mike Egnatchik

 

The oversight of outsourcers can be complex.

We will illustrate this with an example from eDiscovery, which includes outsourcing to a software team. 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:

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 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 the best 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. A recent lawsuit has highlighted some of the potential risks of failing to manage outsourcers properly.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:

An increasingly contentious lawsuit by a former client against law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP is putting a spotlight on the legal industry’s widespread use of itinerant “contract” attorneys who review documents for lower hourly wages… The case “may well be a harbinger,” said Jonathan M. Redgrave… There could be more disputes between clients and law firms over work performed by contract attorneys and outside vendors as they are used more in the pre-trial discovery process.

The Wall Street Journal also alluded to the underlying economics that are driving the move to outsourcing: “McDermott’s own attorneys billed J-M at ‘rates as high as $925 an hour’ [and paid]… $61 an hour to staffing firm Hudson Legal.” Hudson, in turn, hired the lawyers who did the work for even less.

According to Mark Ross’s description of this suit:

J-M Manufacturing alleges that McDermott failed to adequately supervise contract review attorneys who inadvertently produced privileged documents to the government. The documents were subsequently handed over to a third party who refused to destroy the documents, arguing that J-M waived attorney-client privilege when it produced them to the government.

McDermott has vigorously defended itself against these allegations. According to a firm spokesperson quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, “J-M keeps changing its story.”

Ultimately, the case may be decided for McDermott or against them. From our perspective, the way this particular lawsuit turns out is far less important than the simple fact that a client has sued its law firm for failing to adequately manage its outsourcers. As Ross summed it up, “While this may be the first e-discovery malpractice lawsuit specifically dealing with the issue of lack of supervision of contract lawyers, it surely won’t be the last.”

Firms that decide to use outsourcers will therefore need to develop effective management processes, policies, and techniques for this type of work.

 

This post was adapted from the forthcoming third edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, which will be published on May 20.