273 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

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 23, 2016

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

By Paul Saunders, Practice Innovation Partner, Stewart McKelvey

Some other Agile concepts have proven less useful, at least at our firm. For example, some experts have written about the potential value of Agile sprints to law firms, but that has not been our experience. (An Agile sprint is “a well-defined period of time during which specific work must be completed. Each sprint begins with a planning meeting in which the person requesting the work and the development team agree upon exactly what work will be accomplished during the sprint. The development team has the final say when it comes to determining how much work can realistically be accomplished during the sprint, and the product owner has the final say on what criteria need to be met for the work to be approved and accepted.”)

We haven’t found much utility using this concept, since in most cases the nature of our legal work is ongoing, without any distinguishing features that create a natural divide between different phases. For example, when managing a portfolio of matters or trying to close a major transaction at month-end, where everyone is continually working anyway, we felt that grouping the work into sprints could actually be a bit limiting. If a client asked for work that wasn’t planned in this sprint, the work would have to be done anyway. Perhaps other firms or law departments would have a different experience.

We also tend to not use the Agile terminology at the early stages, since that can sometimes turn off people who are already skeptical of the method. For example, I’ll often use the term “task board” instead of Kanban, “review meeting” instead of Retrospective, and “project manager” instead of Scrum Master, at least at first. Once the team sees the benefit of the Agile method, I’ll then provide the jargon in case they want to do some additional research to learn more.

Another Agile concept which has proven quite useful in software development but not in our firm is the idea of a WIP (work-in-progress) limit. (This has been defined as “a strategy for preventing bottlenecks in software development. WIP limits are agreed upon by the development team before a project begins and are enforced by the team’s facilitator. For example, a team may divide the tasks that must be performed for a feature into design, code, test, and deploy. When a WIP limit for a certain task has been reached, the team stops and works together to clear the bottleneck. The goal of working in this manner is meant to ensure that the entire team takes ownership of the project and produces high quality code.”)

In our legal work, it is very difficult to place WIP limits on people since it is tough to gauge how much time each task will take to complete. In addition, in many cases the work listed on a task board is just one of their assignments and their time is limited by their assignments to other legal matters at the same time. At our firm, a WIP limit is better dealt with by simply asking each individual whether they have capacity for a particular task or not.

Finally, at Stewart McKelvey, our approach has been to pick and choose big ideas from a number of different methodologies, including Agile, Waterfall, Lean, Six Sigma, Change Management, and others. We simply use and adapt the tools and ideas that fit each scenario.

Some Agile experts are a bit more dogmatic and argue that you have to strictly follow the complete system to reap the benefits. We’ve found that starting with the core ideas in their simplest form is the most effective way to get that buy-in early on while also being flexible to pivot to other ideas as needed. I see real value in utilizing traditional project management methods simultaneously with Agile, particularly with respect to developing and managing budgets and estimates, setting scope, and so on.

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.

November 09, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Approach #3: Five steps to improve any business process

Step 1: Make a very quick list of the most critical processes that you want to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, use the standard task codes described on page 183 for a starting point. For example, a litigator focused on the discovery phase of cases could begin with these six tasks:

  • Written discovery
  • Document production
  • Depositions
  • Expert discovery
  • Discovery motions
  • Other discovery

Step 2: Pick one process to focus on first.

It is important to begin with the process that is most likely to allow you to meet your goals, which of course means that you have to be very clear about what your goals are. When you have several goals in mind, you could start by constructing a “process selection matrix” like the one below to make your choice.

 

 

Easy to change

Impact on profitability/ realization

Cost saving to client

TOTAL

Written discovery

2

2

2

6

Document production

2

4

3

9

Depositions

3

4

5

12

Expert discovery

4

2

4

10

Discovery motions

2

2

3

7

Other discovery

2

1

2

5

 

(Note: The format of the table in this example is based on the book Improving Business Processes (page 22). The rows are from the Uniform Task Based Management System and the column values are for a hypothetical mid-sized law firm.)

In this example, there are three different goals, all are rated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high), and the lawyer considers them equally important in selecting a process. Therefore, the last column, the total rating, can be used to determine that your process improvement should begin with the deposition process because it has the highest total rating.

Step 3: Define exactly what is included in the process. Where does it begin and end? Then break it down into five to 10 high-level parts.

Step 4: Decide which step to redesign first.

Again, the step you choose depends on your goals. The following questions from Improving Business Processes may help you to make your choice (p. 32):

  • At which points does this process break down or experience delays?
  • At which points do people typically experience frustration with the process?
  • Which parts of the process seem to consume an inordinate amount of time?
  • Which parts of the process lead to low-quality outcomes?
  • Which parts of the process incur unacceptable costs?

Step 5: Think through the details of the step you will redesign and look for ways to increase efficiency, e.g. by simplifying the process, creating a checklist, and/or focusing more clearly on the factors that the client values most highly. Define action items and implement them.

Approach #4: 10 steps to improve critical business processes

These 10 steps are explained in detail in Susan Page’s book, The Power of Business Process Improvement. Here, they have been adapted and simplified for legal matters.

Step 1: Develop the process inventory. List all the big picture processes within a particular legal area, establish criteria for prioritizing them, and pick the one you want to start with. (The discovery tasks in the table above provide a good example.)

Step 2: Establish the foundation. Write a scope definition document that defines the problem you need to solve and provides a blueprint for the start and the end of your process improvement.

Step 3: Draw the process map. Identify each activity with a specific action word (e.g. create, review, develop, approve, update, or communicate) and then diagram the steps in a form that can be communicated to everyone involved. (Chapter 4 of The Power of Business Process Improvement includes standard flow charting symbols and several sample process maps.) Be sure to include handoffs to lawyers, staff, clients, and others.

Step 4: Estimate time and cost. Specify what is involved in each stage or activity in the process, how long it usually takes, and what it costs.

Step 5: Verify the process map. Ask other stakeholders to review the process map for accuracy. This provides a baseline to begin improvement.

Step 6: Apply improvement techniques. This is where the rubber meets the road. Eliminate bureaucracy, evaluate value added activities, eliminate duplication and redundancy, simplify processes, reports, and forms, reduce cycle time, and more.

Step 7: Create internal controls, tools, and metrics. Create controls to avoid errors, tools to support the new business process, and metrics to quantify improvements.

Step 8: Test and rework. Pilot test the new process, identify any issues, and rework them before introducing the new and improved process on a wide scale.

Step 9: Implement the change. Just as businesses develop marketing plans before they introduce a new product, they must plan how to implement business process changes, including “who has to know about the change, what they need to know, and how to communicate the right information to the right people.” (See page 14 of The Power of Business Process Improvement).

Step 10: Drive continuous improvement. After the change succeeds, you will still need to invest in maintenance. Evaluate, test, assess, and execute to sustain any required change.

Conclusion

All four approaches have value in different situations, and all take advantage of the 80/20 rule to maximize the benefits you will receive while minimizing the time it will take.

If you want to use these approaches in your own personal practice, you should be able to identify improvements quickly. But if you want to get other lawyers in your group to do the same thing, that’s a lot harder.

Whether you use approach 1, 2, 3, or 4, or you go out and buy Page’s book for more detail, or you hire an outside consultant, figuring out how to improve legal business processes is not the hard part.

The hard part is getting lawyers to do it. For more about that, see Chapter 9, “How to implement LPM throughout a firm,” in the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

 

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

November 02, 2016

Tip of the month:  Resolve problems as quickly as possible

If you fail to promptly deal with a problem that could affect client satisfaction, schedule, or budget, it is likely to become a bigger problem later. 

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 5 in the recently published fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

October 26, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

There is no shortage of theories, tactics, or opinions about the best way to increase efficiency, and hundreds of books and articles have been written on business process improvement and related techniques. Many of these systems have become so complicated and demanding that you can earn an MBA in the field. As Susan Page has written in her award winning book  The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability  (p. 5) this supports “the myth that business process improvement must be time consuming and complex.”

(Although we use Page’s book in our Certified Legal Project Manager® program, her full process is too time consuming for most lawyers most of the time. For example, the last chapter of her book is a case study applying her 10 steps to a real world example for the human resources department of a large bank. That chapter includes 67 pages of text, charts, and diagrams, and the simplification project took one year. Lawyers don’t have a year.)

Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series describe four approaches to business process improvement that we have developed with lawyers to increase legal efficiency quickly. They are listed in order of ease of use. We recommend that most lawyers start with Approach #1, which is limited to two simple questions. For critical, time consuming, and repetitive processes, we outline three increasingly sophisticated options which require more time, but can be more effective in simplifying the way you handle legal matters.

Approach #1: Two questions to improve a business process

Ask yourself:

  1. Of all the things you do for clients, what legal work provides the biggest opportunity to deliver greater value quickly or to increase efficiency?
  2. What could you do to improve this process?

Then do it.

Yes, this is so simple that it sounds trivial. But if in fact you stop and think about where inefficiencies lie, and act on what you already know, chances are you can increase efficiency very quickly.

No, it isn’t brain surgery, but for some lawyers, Approach #1 is a great way to get started. If you prefer an approach that is a bit more detailed, read on.

Approach #2: Ten questions to improve a business process

  1. What steps and activities are typically included in this process?
  2. Which steps and activities does the client value most highly?
  3. Which steps and activities do not add value, and could be eliminated?
  4. Could you standardize and/or streamline the process?
  5. Could you reduce or eliminate repetition?
  6. Could you reduce or eliminate bottlenecks?
  7. Could you improve communication within the team and/or with clients?
  8. Could you reduce cost by delegating some tasks to junior staff who bill at lower rates?
  9. Could you reduce cost by “delegating up” some tasks, to senior staff who can complete a task quickly at a low total cost?
  10. Could you reduce cost through legal process outsourcing of selected tasks to another law firm or a legal support services company in the US or in another country?

The final post in this series will describe two more approaches that are a bit more complex than these, but still far simpler than traditional, orthodox process improvement.

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

October 19, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Traditionally, lawyers have been trained to place enormous emphasis on avoiding risk, and little or no emphasis on increasing efficiency. As Ron Friedman put it:

Clients often want to know if there are any major risks: “Let me know if there are any boulders in this playing field.” Lawyers often hear that and think they need to find not just the boulders, but also the pebbles. The fear of being wrong—and of malpractice—runs deep. “Perfection thinking” makes it hard to approximate, to apply the 80-20 rule, [or] to guide in the right direction but with some imprecision.

But as in-house departments are increasingly pressured to control costs, they in turn are pressuring outside law firms to find ways to increase efficiency. Business process improvement is one path to the lower costs that many clients are demanding.

While there is widespread agreement that clients also want legal project management (LPM) and that it pays off for firms, the field is so new that experts still disagree about exactly what should be included and excluded from its definition. These arguments have slowed LPM’s progress.  For example, consider these remarks from one AmLaw 200 firm leader we interviewed for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 89):

We were just at a board meeting last week where we were talking about whether we should do formalized project management training. My answer to that is obviously yes, we absolutely should. But first we need to agree on what legal project management is.

We first became aware of the seriousness of this problem a few years ago when the director of professional development at an AmLaw 100 firm asked us to explain the differences between project management, process improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean. This was an extremely sophisticated client who had been researching this area for months, but she had heard so many different claims from competing consultants that she had trouble keeping them straight.

Process improvement, has gotten a lot of headlines in the legal world as a result of Seyfarth Shaw’s highly publicized success in using it to streamline work, along with Six Sigma and Lean. All three approaches originated in the world of manufacturing.

Six Sigma is built around techniques Motorola developed to eliminate the causes of manufacturing defects and errors. Lean was developed by Toyota to increase manufacturing efficiency by eliminating the “seven wastes” (excess inventory, excess processing, overproduction, transportation, motion, waiting, and defects).

Process improvement typically starts by defining the exact steps that are required to perform a legal process. This includes looking at every process from the client’s point of view, analyzing whether each step adds value for the client, and eliminating the steps that don’t.

Writing in Law Technology, Alan Cohen has noted that this traditional approach “can take weeks to create a map, but the result is a template that spells out the various phases of a matter—and an efficient way to do them.” If you consider the fact that Seyfarth has developed over 500 process maps, each of which took a team of lawyers and staff weeks to develop, you can see why Six Sigma for Dummies (p. 10) says the approach is “not for the faint of heart. It is intense and rigorous, and it entails a thorough inspection of the way everything is done.”

In my book, Legal Project Management, Pricing and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I described how Seyfarth has spent more than 10 years and millions of dollars refining its system. They have trademarked the term SeyfarthLean® and formed a separate company—SeyfarthLean® Consulting—as a wholly owned subsidiary which offers advice to law departments on how to work more efficiently.  However, the Seyfarth model has been so widely publicized that some law firms think that LPM equals process improvement.

We have frequently argued for a much broader definition of LPM, including any activity that increases client satisfaction and firm profitability by applying proven techniques to improve the management of legal matters. Thus, we see LPM as an umbrella term that embraces a very wide range of management techniques, including pricing, communication, process improvement, and much more.

Under this broad definition, process improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean are simply specialized approaches that fall under the more general umbrella term LPM. They are simply tools in the belt, to be used in some cases and ignored in others.

And when they are used, we recommend always looking for simpler and more efficient approaches, starting with the four approaches described in the next two parts of this series.

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

 

[1] http://www.prismlegal.com/wordpress/index.php?p=1026&c=1

[2] http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202566995546/How-six-big-law-firms-get-serious-about-legal-project-management

[3] Link to the book on Amazon

October 18, 2016

My podcast on business development and LPM

If you’d like to listen to a 20 minute discussion about what lawyers should be doing to develop new business, try the recently released podcast of my interview by LeftFoot founder Nicole Giantonio.  The conversation is available for free in iTunes format on the LeftFoot website, and also on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

I talked not just about the key concepts from my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide, but also about the importance of legal project management.  After all, according to Altman Weil’s survey of Chief Legal Officers, the top three things that clients want these days are greater cost reduction, improved budget forecasting, and more efficient project management.  All three are related to LPM, and business development begins and ends with giving clients what they want.

October 12, 2016

Accelerating legal progress with Scrum

By Paul Saunders

In addition to using Kanban to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance responsiveness to clients’ needs, Stewart McKelvey is also experimenting with Agile management techniques known as Scrum.

Scrum provides a framework for team members to organize themselves and conduct team meetings in relation to any project. Scrum originated in the software development world and has been defined as “a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex software projects” and as “a management and control process that cuts through complexity to focus on building software that meets business needs.”

Scrum can be easily adapted to legal projects, which often have many moving parts that need to be coordinated frequently.

In Scrum, teams engage in periodic meetings in which team members are asked to give short and focused status updates. The frequency of these meetings is based on what makes the most sense for a particular team. For example, when working on a complex and time-sensitive corporate transaction with a looming closing date, meetings may be scheduled every day or second day to keep everyone on track. For a portfolio of litigation matters with less time sensitivity, meetings may be scheduled once every week or two based upon the needs of the team.

Regardless of the frequency of the meetings, each team member takes a turn answering three questions in two minutes or less:

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

Meetings are often held with everyone standing up, to keep them short. A critical aspect of the meetings is to ensure that the updates remain relevant to all team members by focusing on these core questions.

One of the essential aspects of Scrum is that every team member, no matter how junior or senior, must report his accomplishments and what is blocking him from proceeding to the next step. This creates accountability. Everyone on the team knows that he will need to report progress, or lack thereof, on a specific topic at the next scheduled meeting.

If the senior partners are not getting what they need, this technique gives them an easy forum to say so. By the same token, if a junior team member finds that he is blocked by something that a senior partner did or did not do, this gives him the chance to make it clear. It enables juniors to manage upwards. This is very effective, because the person is saying that it’s not me or you, it’s the requirement of what comes next.

When Scrum is used in combination with Kanban, when people provide their updates, each team member moves any cards that have progressed on the Kanban board and updates their capacity flags to indicate what they’ll be working on before the next meeting. Meetings are expected to last no more than two minutes multiplied by the number of people attending.

Everyone has attended meetings where one or two attendees wasted meeting time by discussing issues with little or no relevance to the rest of the group. However, requiring team members to stick to the three questions can sometimes be challenging, particularly where more senior team members are accustomed to directing to the discussion.

To address this, Scrum calls for a Scrum Master role. This is often someone who is not expected to carry out work on the project but instead is responsible for managing the process and ensuring that team members are properly adhering to the protocols. This person must have the authority to ensure that all team members answer their three questions and ensure that no one person is monopolizing the floor.

In our law firm’s culture, mid-level personnel, including senior associates and junior partners who aren’t expected to complete substantive work on the matter, are ideal Scrum Masters. In certain cases, the lead lawyer on a matter or alternating individuals can also serve the role, provided that she is able to ensure the team sticks to the protocol and isn’t afraid to intervene if the rules aren’t being followed. In other law firms, different individuals might be more effective. The key is that the Scrum Master has some influence over partners. Since he isn’t accountable for project deliverables he can serve as a more independent enforcer of the rules to keep everyone on track.

Scrum works best when the team also periodically conducts a lessons learned or after action review, often called a retrospective. These typically occur at the conclusion of specific projects or at set intervals (perhaps once every month or two). These meetings could run longer than the daily stand-ups (approximately an hour), but still involve all team members speaking an equal amount of time. The discussion would focus on reaching team consensus around the following three questions:

  1. What is working well?
  2. What is not working well?
  3. What should be tried that is different?

Based on the outcome of those discussions, the team would agree to fine-tune their approach and incorporate lessons learned that could be applied to future work.

Scrum can be seen as a laboratory in which a law firm applies the scientific method. If a series of steps has not worked and you haven’t made progress, it will quickly reveal the lessons learned and let you modify your plan to find a new series of steps.

Stewart McKelvey has seen immediate and significant results in its pilot tests of Scrum. The pace at which matters progressed through the various stages and were closed was significantly improved. This was largely caused by the discipline and transparency that was brought to the process. Team members were committed to move matters along each week and were held accountable for results in the meetings. Many of the participants remarked that they had never seen so much progress on so many matters in such a short period of time.

In addition, the process made it easy to see that some time entries were being rejected by the client because they weren’t sufficiently detailed to meet requirements. As a result, the firm developed a standard set of time entries to conform to each of the stages identified on the Kanban board and created text expansion codes in its time entry system. Now all lawyers and staff are able to type in pre-determined codes, and pre-approved and detailed time entry narratives appear automatically.

Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile techniques are not magic cure-alls that fit every legal process, but they can make a significant difference when they are used properly in the right situations. In the next few years, we expect the use of Agile techniques to grow rapidly at our firm.

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

 

September 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

Please do not read this book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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