242 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

April 27, 2016

How to evaluate legal project management programs (Part 3 of 3)

When you want to evaluate an LPM program, the best source of information is to rely on the opinion of the people who are in a position to make an informed judgment: the lawyers themselves. In our coaching, for example, if a lawyer gets new business that seems to be related to their LPM activities, we simply ask them: what do you think? Was LPM partly responsible for this? Whether they say yes, no, or maybe, we don’t second guess them; we merely record the opinion and move on.

At the highest level, this means listening to the opinion of the decision makers who ultimately decide whether to invest in LPM or not. For example, as Hanson Bridgett Managing Partner Andrew Giacomini summed it up in the middle of one of our ongoing coaching programs, “I don’t have any statistics, but if I didn’t believe that LPM was producing a return, I wouldn’t keep investing in it.” After each program concludes, he continued, “You can see the energy that lawyers are putting into applying it to their practices. As they pass these tools along to others, it creates new strengths for the entire firm. And if our lawyers become the best at LPM, they will get noticed.”

In the first few years we offered LPM coaching, lawyers’ reports of its effects were limited to internal reports and occasional public case studies. More recently, we’ve created systematic reports of results both when a program ends and 90 days later, in a format like Table 1 below. This can be circulated internally to assess what works best and to publicize success and generate enthusiasm for spreading the approach.

Note in Table 1 that we recommend that the first column identify the person who first made the change. However, depending on its culture, some firms may prefer to eliminate the “who” column. Since LPM takes time, the benefits column should include not just benefits experienced to date but also the potential benefits for the future. The more specific this can be, the better.

Table 1

Sample format for tracking LPM benefits

Who?

LPM behavior change

Benefits

     
     
     
     
     

 

Table 2 includes typical results from past coaching programs, with some details changed slightly to protect the confidentiality of the firms.

Table 2

Examples from past LPM coaching programs

LPM behavior change

Benefits

For every matter over $50K, lawyer shared a description of project scope and assumptions with everyone on the project team

Team members became more familiar with what each budget included and excluded, which improved cost predictability and client satisfaction

Required lawyers to use a special task code to identify any work that was performed despite the fact that it was technically beyond scope

Kept lawyers more aware of the scope of the agreement, enabled relationship partner to negotiate increased scope with the client where appropriate

A lawyer established a procedure to provide written summaries of strategic objectives to clients for their review at the beginning of every new matter.  This later was adopted by his entire firm

Improved client satisfaction, led to more accurate budgets and increased realization

At the start of a large matter, one lawyer used our matter planning template to create a list of key sub-tasks and assignments, then asked team members to estimate how many hours each sub-task would take them

Team members completed most tasks within the time estimates they provided, which led to more accurate bids, increased realization, and new business

A litigator explained our risk analysis template to a key client and then used it to assess their budget in an early case assessment

The client loved the template and used it to structure their discussion of risks vs. costs. The result was increased client satisfaction and cost control.

The lawyer developed a new fixed fee product for consultations in a specialized area by working with a coach to identify all sub-tasks required and the range of possible time to complete each

Increased new business by offering a fixed price product in a specialized area before competitors did

One lawyer added a cover memo to monthly invoices with a bullet point summary of the progress of each matter on the invoice and the expected remaining costs

By explaining the rationale for each fee and what to expect, the lawyer avoided surprises and increased realization

A litigator developed a checklist of questions to ask at the beginning of each case to better define scope and assign lawyers to cases

More accurate bids, better team assignments, lower costs to clients

The lawyer arranged to have the accounting department to provide “tickler” emails sent automatically when certain financial milestones were reached, such as when 50% of the budget was spent.

Improved budget tracking led to cost control and avoided surprises to clients by enabling early discussions of possible scope changes

For a multi-million dollar flat fee for handling a large number of litigations, the relationship partner designed spreadsheets showing cost to date and cost to estimated completion for each case. This made it easier to quickly spot where there were significant overages in attorney time spent, above the flat fee for a given month

Early identification of possible problems improved discussions of why any cost overruns may have occurred in a particular case and ways to control overruns in the future. Ultimately, this led to the fixed fee arrangement becoming more profitable

IP lawyer used our matter planning template to simplify the steps required to complete patent applications for a key client. The lawyer identified 12 steps that were required for every patent application and a likely range of hours for completing each step

Team members were able to easily compare their effort on each phase against expectations and increase efficiency. This improved client satisfaction and increased new business

At the end of a matter, the relationship partner conducted a short lessons learned review with the client

The discussion led not only to ideas for increasing efficiency but also to being assigned similar matters in the future

Senior partner who had to approve write downs identified a few key partners with high write-down rates and interviewed them about the causes and possible cures

Each lawyer developed a personal action plan to reduce write-downs, and the firm improved realization

A practice group required team leaders to hold weekly internal team status meetings for each matter over $100K

Avoided duplication of effort and led to early identification of issues that could increase scope

As firms increasingly use this type of evaluation to document the results of their LPM programs, the approaches that work best for each lawyer and each practice group will gradually spread to the entire firm. The firms that follow this path first will achieve the greatest benefit by giving clients what they asked for in the Altman Weil CLO survey quoted at the start of this piece: LPM, LPM, and more LPM.

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

April 20, 2016

How to evaluate legal project management programs (Part 2 of 3)

Identifying the best way to evaluate a particular training or coaching program is challenging for any business. Donald Kirkpatrick “wrote the book” that most professional trainers use in this area: Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. The title refers to four different ways Kirkpatrick says training can be evaluated, from the easiest approach to the most difficult:

  • Level One – Reaction – measures how students feel at the end of a program. For example: “How useful was this workshop to you?” This level requires just a questionnaire and is often the only way training programs are measured, since it’s so easy.
  • Level Two – Learning – measures how well students have mastered the course content with test questions such as “Please define LPM.” This is considered more compelling evidence of whether a training program works. However, again it only requires a paper test and may or may not influence job performance.
  • Level Three – Transfer to the job – measures how the knowledge and skills from a course or coaching program are used on the job, often several months after the program ends. For example, one could conduct interviews asking lawyers whether they had changed specific aspects of their practice after LPM coaching or training, and if so to provide specific examples.
  • Level Four – Organizational impact – measures the business impact of a program such as quality improvements. In the case of LPM, these could include such benefits as:
    • Increasing client satisfaction
    • Delivering greater value to clients
    • Protecting business with current clients
    • Increasing new business
    • Increasing the predictability of fees and costs
    • Minimizing or eliminating surprises to clients and to the firm
    • Improving communication with clients
    • Managing budget and schedule risks
    • Improving realization
    • Increasing profitability

As you ascend from Level One to Four, each level requires a bit more time and money to measure. As a result, while Level One evaluations are nearly universal, Levels Three and Four are far less common among professional trainers. Unfortunately, they are also the only levels that most businesses ultimately care about. It’s nice if employees smile at the end of a workshop (Level One) or can pass a test (Level Two), but unless it actually changed what they do on the job (Level Three) and ultimately benefits the organization (Level Four), few firms would invest in training.

Interestingly, when the LPM movement was just getting started, a report from the Association of Corporate Counsel and the ABA reinforced the idea that Levels One and Two were not enough. An article published in ACC Docket described a meeting “at which leaders of corporate and law firm litigation departments rolled up their sleeves and tackled the complex issues surrounding present day concepts of value in litigation.” After the meeting, the organizers concluded that future progress in LPM will not be based on improved understanding or increased knowledge. Instead, “The challenge is change/behavior management.” It’s not a question of knowing what to do; it’s a question of helping lawyers to do it.

When firms get serious about evaluating LPM, the first thing many think about is somehow measuring its ROI (return on investment). The underlying math is simple: ROI = (Return – Investment) / Investment. For example, if you invest $1000 in a one year bond that pays $1050, your ROI is 5% (($1050-$1000) / $1000).

This simplicity is appealing, but it is also deceptive when it comes to training and coaching. For one thing, according to Dominique Hanssens, UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management’s Bud Knapp Distinguished Professor of Marketing, these are not good examples of one-time investments. (As your CFO would say, training and coaching are expenses on the firm’s profit and loss statement, not assets on the firm’s balance sheet.)

For another thing, the full impact of a training program could come months or years after its completion and is almost impossible to isolate from other factors. If a lawyer completes an LPM program, increases client satisfaction by avoiding surprises, and gets more business from that client in the future, did LPM coaching CAUSE the increased satisfaction and new business? Of course not. It was just one factor in a complex situation.

There is some evidence that investing in efficiency pays off for law firms. Altman Weil’s 2015 Law Firms in Transition reported that firms that said they had changed their strategic approach to efficiency were more likely to report that revenue per lawyer was up (76% of firms that changed had increased revenue per lawyer in the previous year vs. 62% of firms that had not changed) and that profits per equity partner were also up for a higher percentage of the firms that had changed (76% vs. 61%).

While this is thought provoking, scientific purists would point out that correlation does not imply causality. Perhaps it was a third factor such as effective firm leadership that produced both the efficiency and the increased revenue and profitability.

At the end of the day, it is a fool’s errand to try to scientifically PROVE that LPM – or any other single activity in a complex situation – is solely responsible for any of the possible benefits listed above.

Despite these barriers, convincing ways of evaluating LPM programs have started to appear, as explained in next week’s final post in this series.

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

 

April 13, 2016

How to evaluate legal project management programs (Part 1 of 3)

Clients want law firms to improve legal project management (LPM).

In its 2015 Chief Legal Officer (CLO) Survey, Altman Weil asked 258 CLOs, “Of the following service improvements and innovations, please select the three you would most like to see from your outside counsel.” The three that clients picked most often were greater cost reduction (50%), improved budget forecasting (46%), and more efficient project management (40%). Since LPM leads to improved budget forecasting and to cost reductions, you could say that the top three client requests were LPM, LPM, and more LPM. Just as they were in the previous year’s Altman Weil survey, and the one before that.

And CLOs are not impressed with what law firms have accomplished to date. In the CLO survey, Altman Weil asked respondents to rate how serious law firms are “about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients” on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (doing everything they can). The median rating was just 3.

Law firm leaders also recognize the need for change. In a separate Altman Weil survey – the 2015 Law Firms in Transition Survey – managing partners were asked for their opinions on which of 14 current trends were most likely to be permanent. The number one need, according to 93%, was an increased focus on practice efficiency, which is the goal of LPM. But when the same survey asked, “Has your firm significantly changed its strategic approach to efficiency of legal service delivery?” only 37% said yes. So 93% of firm leaders think more LPM is needed, but only 37% are doing something about it. Why?

One key reason for the slow pace of change is that if there’s one thing lawyers are good at, it’s being skeptical. That’s what makes it so important to evaluate LPM programs in this time of transition: lawyers need proof that it helps them increase client satisfaction and more.

To date, most “evaluations” have been intuitive judgments. And they have not always helped the cause of LPM, because there have been a number of false starts and missteps.

In 2010, Dechert announced that it had trained all its partners in LPM. Lawyers love precedent, so this led to a small fad of large-scale LPM training programs, which in turn led to some great press releases but precious little in the way of behavior change. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm that invested heavily in LPM training put it in our survey of Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 193):

Every shareholder and top level associate [in our firm] has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you that they use it, but they don’t.

To this day, training programs enable firms to write responses about their commitment to LPM in their RFP responses. But they have not convinced skeptics nor gotten many attorneys to change the way they practice law.

With the wisdom of hindsight, this lack of impact of education on behavior change should not have been a surprise to anyone. Taking a course or reading a book about how to lead a healthier life by quitting smoking, eating more vegetables, and exercising regularly does not mean that you will actually do any of these things. Training professionals have amassed a large body of research from other professions showing that education does not necessarily change behavior.

For example, according to one medical white paper:

Traditional medical education programs are effective for the transfer of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, yet ineffective in changing physician behavior… Physicians report spending about 50 hours per year in continuing medical education (CME) activities… There is an underlying belief associated with CME activities that health care professionals will improve how they practice, which will in turn improve patient outcomes. Despite this belief, many studies have demonstrated a lack of effect from formal CME.

A white paper from the engineering profession makes a similar point and then explains what does work:

Using skills and knowledge within the work environment makes learning stick, causing behavior change… In this step it is important to experience early success. This early success depends on leadership support and coaching. The system, and often the people, resists change. Employees need someone supporting them with encouragement and coaching, and running interference as they attempt to adapt their behavior.

How did experts in other professions learn these lessons? They conducted formal evaluation programs.

The only way to find out what works is to try it and measure the results. What works with one client may fail with another. What works for you may fail for your partner. And what works this year may fail next year. The world changes, and clients and law firms must change along with it. The only thing that does not change is the need for testing. As it says in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:21): “Test everything, retain what is good.”

There is a large body of research about the best ways to promote behavior change in large organizations. In the book Leading Change (p. 123), John Kotter, professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School, argues that one of the most effective tactics is to create short-term wins which help create internal champions. This is also the key to behavior change in law firms. In its survey Legal Project Management: Much Promise, Many Hurdles, ALM Legal Intelligence concluded (p. 17) that, “The quicker there are demonstrable positive benefits, the faster other partners will take notice.”

Once firms overcome the initial resistance to LPM by providing examples of its success, they must continue to monitor its application and results.

What gets measured gets done. The origin of the phrase has been attributed to management gurus from Tom Peters to Peter Drucker, as well as Lord Kelvin, the 16th century astronomer Rheticus, and others. Whoever said it first, the idea is important for a very simple reason: It’s true. What gets measured does get done.

Do you know anybody who wears a Fitbit to track the number of steps they walk every day? If you don’t yet, you will soon. According to one recent estimate, Fitbit has over 19 million registered users, and its revenues for its most recent fiscal year were $1.86 billion. Not bad for a company that was founded less than a decade ago. And when you add in competitors such as Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit, and others, the total market for wearable fitness trackers is much larger.

Why has the demand for these devices grown so rapidly? There is also an important truth behind the popularity of these devices: if you count your steps each day, look at the results over time, and maybe even use Fitbit’s online features to compete with friends, you are likely to walk more and ultimately become more fit.

So if lawyers want to improve their legal project management behavior, measuring the results will help assure that they reach their goals.

As Lou Gerstner, former chairman of IBM, put it in his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (p 231):

Execution is all about translating strategies into action programs and measuring the results… Proper execution involves building measurable targets and holding people accountable for them.

One way or another, it always comes back to measurement. When sales training guru Tom Snyder reviewed several decades of research on sales training, he concluded that, “Only those things that are measured will get done; the engine of change is measurement.”

By evaluating LPM programs more carefully, changing tactics based on what works, creating internal champions, and continuing to measure results, firms will be in a much stronger position to prosper in challenging times by offering clients what they want and need. They will also be better able to invest their limited time and money in the programs that are most likely to produce results.

But what exactly should firms do to evaluate LPM programs? The rest of this series will summarize the state of the art.

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

April 06, 2016

Tip of the month:  Set a schedule for internal and external progress reports

At the beginning of a large matter, define exactly when internal team members should report progress to the responsible attorney, and also when and how the responsible attorney should report progress to the client.

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

March 30, 2016

Agile vs. traditional approaches to LPM

By Ed Burke, Jim Hassett, and Michelle H. Stein, LegalBizDev

 

As more and more law firms have begun to adopt LPM to increase client satisfaction and their own profitability, a number of experts have begun to discuss the potential value to law firms of “Agile” approaches to project management.

The traditional approach to project management (also called the “waterfall” approach) is based on a sequential series of steps, such as:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

In this model, a project starts by creating a plan, and you then work your way to the end, one sequential step at a time. Agile speeds up the process with an iterative approach that gets client feedback more quickly.

The Agile alternative first emerged in software development, when programmers found that the old saying “Perfect is the enemy of the good” was delaying many technology rollouts. The goal of getting a complex, diverse collection of needs correct on the first try was getting in the way of rolling projects out in a timely manner.

This alternative iterative approach was first described in the Agile manifesto written by a group of influential software developers in 2001. Under Agile, technology firms:

  • Develop programs as quickly as possible
  • Try them out on users
  • Make changes based on feedback
  • Then try them out again

Rather than starting out by defining the perfect requirements document, they recommended developing release after release until they had a product that truly met user needs. Anyone who owns a computer or a smartphone has seen Agile in action. Regular updates are common, delivering incremental improvements that benefit the customer while giving the company feedback quickly. Today Google, Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other technology companies rely on Agile.

But what is the exact definition of Agile project management? Unfortunately, as Alan Shalloway has noted in an article written for Eric Verzuh’s Fast Forward MBA in Project Management (Fifth edition, p. 57) , “There is a lot of confusion about the answer… a movement was created around the term agile but the movement is not governed by a single body and agile methods continue to evolve.”

Shalloway defines the essence of Agile as focusing on the following questions:

  • “How do we deliver value quickly to our customers?
  • How do we discover as early as possible what is needed?
  • How do we accurately gauge the progress we’re making in our project?
  • How can we accelerate the learning of the development team?”

These questions hit the nail on the head for many areas of the law, so it is not surprising that a variety of experts are now working on ways to apply Agile to LPM. To date, this has had the greatest impact as a general mindset rather than as a particular collection of well-defined techniques.

In one sense, almost all of the LPM work we’ve done over the last several years is more closely based on an Agile mindset than a traditional LPM approach. Instead of urging lawyers to develop a complete, end-to-end plan for an ongoing matter, we urge them to “look for low hanging fruit,” try out promising techniques as quickly as possible, to build on what works and discard what doesn’t. This approach is also the defining element of both our individual coaching and our “just in time” training workshops, which focus on providing just enough training to benefit individual lawyers quickly.

The Agile approach runs counter to the “committee decision process” at many law firms, which would prefer to have a five-year strategic plan in place before taking the first step. This type of overthinking has doomed many LPM programs to death by old age before the committee made its first recommendation.

Seyfarth Shaw, which has been working on legal project management longer than any other firm, initially found that in many cases the traditional approach was not “well received or effective” with lawyers. In the article “Agile: A Non-traditional Approach to Legal Project Management”, Kim Craig, SeyfarthLean’s global director of legal process improvement, and Jenny Lee, a senior project manager with Seyfarth, explained that:

Traditional project management focuses on robust, comprehensive, mandatory project documentation with lengthy project charters, detailed project plans, complex status reports and rigorous, formal change control logs… [But] the world of legal service delivery is fast-paced and unpredictable. In legal matters, we cannot possibly know everything that will be involved with litigation at the outset. Developing an overall strategy is generally common practice, but detailed, cradle-to-grave planning is impossible.

Their solution was to incorporate Agile concepts and techniques into their work. Once Seyfarth embraced Agile, it led to many changes in procedures, explained Heather Eskra, a senior project manager at the firm, in an interview. Seyfarth began to improvise more. The typical two- to three-page static project plan—which in many cases had been ignored by lawyers—was replaced by dynamic bulleted must-read emails sent out as needed. Clients were involved earlier and more often in meetings that in pre-Agile days would have been purely internal. This investment of time actually sped up the process by unveiling misunderstandings or changes in direction much sooner than in the past.

Seyfarth even began collaborating with opposing counsel in an effort to speed up a deal, for example by letting the other firm use some of its software, sharing task lists, and housing both sides’ documents on a single platform. This sped up the process on both sides because the other firm did not want to be seen as falling behind. The process also affected the outcome, in the sense that it could help both sides reach “yes” more easily.

Seyfarth lawyers and staff frequently hold joint “lessons learned” debriefing meetings after a matter closes—indeed, sometimes after every phase in large matters, adjusting approaches and tactics based on what worked and what didn’t in the prior phase. Some lawyers who once complained about the debriefings are now pushing to have them earlier, Eskra says.

These days, Seyfarth transactions that are complex, fast-moving, and/or likely to change often take the Agile approach. The program has proven to be a significant step forward in the firm’s pioneering, decade-long focus on improving client service.

Thus, Agile is becoming an increasingly effective approach to LPM, both as a general mindset and in terms of specific techniques, some of which will appear in the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

March 23, 2016

Legal project management: What works best? (Part 3 of 3)

An edited version of this series appeared in the February 2016 issue of Managing Partner magazine with the title  “LPM: An evolving process” and can be downloaded from our web page.

4. Invest in technology at the right moment

As firms gradually implement LPM to increase efficiency and avoid surprises, a time is likely to come when firms will need to invest in software to improve tracking of budgets, assignments, and more. However, many firms have wasted time and money by focusing on technology before lawyers had clearly defined their needs or were ready to change their behavior.

In his book Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit (p. 215), Stuart J.T. Dodds, director of global pricing and LPM at Baker & McKenzie, noted that:

Many of the initial LPM efforts failed… due [in part] to an initial focus on technology… [LPM software] was frequently difficult to learn and then apply to matters at hand, leading to lawyer frustration and limited adoption.

To cite just one cautionary tale, consider this report from a senior executive at an AmLaw 200 firm in our survey (p. 126):

We spent an incredible amount of time and resources coming up with a very sophisticated reporting system that would allow people, with a couple of clicks through our intranet, to go into any particular matter that had a budget and see, down to the timekeeper and task level, exactly how they were doing. Nobody uses them, as far as we can tell. Literally nobody.

In an interview for this blog, Paula Uscian, director of quality assurance at Project Leadership Associates, noted that:

There are very useful LPM software programs available, but we advise clients to first look at the tools that they already have and to leverage the investments that they have already made in software, without buying anything new.

5. Don’t stop

As one AmLaw 200 senior executive in our survey (p. 192) summed it up:

I think that [LPM] will require a lot of work, and daily support from the top, not just lip service from the partner team twice a year.

The Bilzin Sumberg case study cited above provides an excellent example. It would be nice to be able to report that once Bilzin Sumberg completed coaching a critical mass of partners, their LPM work was done, but in fact it was just beginning.

One of the most important steps that Bilzin took to sustain progress after the coaching was the formation of an LPM committee to monitor and sustain progress. Practice group leaders are required to report regularly to the committee and to the managing partner about how they are applying LPM and what works best. “We’re following this so tightly because it’s an enormous priority,” said Michelle Weber, the firm’s chief operating officer. The result is that best practices are spreading. 

It is true that the firm’s clients have already seen significant benefits in reduced costs and greater responsiveness, and this in turn has led to new business. But when we interviewed Bilzin’s leaders for a number of follow-up reports, they continued to use phrases like “baby steps,” “infancy stage,” and “aspirational rather than obligatory” to describe the firm’s current use of LPM. 

They should see the other guys. We spend our lives looking behind the curtain at a wide variety of law firms as we work with them to increase efficiency. Many firms have individual lawyers or practice groups that are quite advanced in LPM, but in our opinion not a single law firm in the world, including Bilzin Sumberg, can yet say that LPM has truly taken hold across the entire firm.

And the LPM bar will keep going up. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm interviewed for my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 182) said:

It’s an evolving process. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point at which you can say: Now I’ve arrived.

Summary:  How to avoid pitfalls in implementing LPM

 

What works best

What doesn’t

Training

Coach key lawyers to change their behavior and become internal LPM champions with quick wins.

Begin with large scale training of lawyers and staff.

Staff

Hire or assign staff to provide the financial and other help that lawyers ask for.

Hire LPM staff too soon and expect them to accomplish their objectives without lawyers’ support.

Technology

Begin by providing lawyers with the budget and other information they ask for using existing systems, even if it is awkward at first.

Invest time and money in new technology too soon, before you have a clear idea of what lawyers want and need

 

March 16, 2016

Legal project management: What works best? (Part 2 of 3)

An edited version of this series appeared in the February 2016 issue of Managing Partner magazine with the title  “LPM: An evolving process” and can be downloaded from our web page.

 

2. Develop internal champions with quick wins

There is a large body of research on tactics that promote behavior change in large organizations. In the book, Leading Change (p. 123), John Kotter, professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School, argues that one of the most effective tactics is to create short-term wins which “provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it, reward change agents with a pat on the back, help fine-tune vision and strategies, undermine cynics and self-serving resisters, and build momentum.”

This approach is the key to behavior change in law firms.  As ALM Legal Intelligence noted in its 2012 survey “Legal Project Management: Much Promise, Many Hurdles” (p. 17): “The quicker there are demonstrable positive benefits, the faster other partners will take notice.” 

The most effective programs we’ve seen were built around one-to-one LPM coaching  for influential partners to enable them to directly experience its benefits. When they do, many become internal champions who lead efforts to adapt LPM to the particular needs of their firms, practice groups, and clients.

Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami firm with over 100 lawyers, was one of the first to put this approach into practice with a significant proportion of the firm. In a case study describing their approach, I’ve argued that no other firm on the planet has gotten such a large percentage of the partnership actively involved so quickly in using LPM.

In March 2012, Bilzin Sumberg formally kicked off its LPM initiative at a partner retreat. A few months before, three influential partners had begun one-to-one LPM coaching to enable them to increase efficiency and client satisfaction. At the retreat, they discussed exactly what they did and how it had worked. All three reported numerous examples of increased client satisfaction, including one case in which LPM had immediately led to a substantial amount of new business. Not surprisingly, the testimony of these respected colleagues was far more persuasive than the words of any outside consultant ever could be.

As a result of this discussion, a number of other partners became interested in seeing if LPM could help them increase client satisfaction, new business, and realization. All 51 Bilzin partners were offered the option to complete the same coaching program that the three panelists had received. By May 2013, a total of 26 partners had volunteered for and completed the program, representing just over half of the firm’s partnership.

At that point, belief in LPM had reached critical mass and developed enough momentum that no more coaching was needed. The partners themselves and Bilzin’s internal staff took ownership of moving the effort forward and sustaining progress. The first quick wins had led to more wins, and an LPM committee was formed to assure that LPM continued to change the firm’s culture.

According to Paul Vandermeer, the firm’s chief knowledge officer and a member of the LPM committee, “The more successes we have gotten, the more converts we obtained and the more that LPM has permanently changed the way we do business.” To cite just one small example, the firm has begun requiring lawyers to systematically track work that falls outside the scope defined by each engagement letter. This idea came not from any outside consultant, but from within the firm itself.

This basic model – start by coaching a few lawyers one-to-one and then have them publicize their success – has been used in many other firms. In our experience, it works best when there is strong management support and a continuing commitment, and is clearly the most effective way for any firm to get started.

3. Assign staff to support lawyers

It is impossible to keep a project on time and within budget if the relationship partner cannot obtain timely information about how much has been spent and what has been accomplished. Therefore, after key partners have made a commitment to LPM, the next obvious step is to assign staff to provide lawyers with financial information and perform tasks that help partners to manage more effectively.

As the chair of one AmLaw 100 firm that has committed to LPM put it in our research on Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 195):

We are starting to hire different people to manage the non-legal aspects of the practice, not the relationships. Lawyers are notoriously bad managers. You could be a fabulous trial lawyer, but you might not be able to get your hours in on time, or bill on time.

In our experience, it is often more effective to promote from within for this role than it is to hire outsiders, which is why we used the word “assign” above. To be effective in the support role, one must be detail-oriented, willing to learn, and familiar with the individuals and the culture of the firm. This last factor – inside knowledge – is critical to success and can take time for an outsider to develop.

The larger the matter or the firm, the more sense it makes to delegate management of the budget and schedule to staff. However, some key aspects of LPM cannot be delegated.

In our survey, we asked AmLaw 200 leaders to rank the urgency and importance of eight key issues in LPM. The top two were defining scope at the outset of a matter and communicating with the client as it proceeds. Neither can be delegated to project management staff.

Too many firms act as if hiring an LPM director and/or a pricing director will solve all their problems. This is clearly part of the solution for many firms, but it only works if partners are committed to changing their approach.  (For more information, see our white paper The evolving role of LPM Directors.)

March 09, 2016

Legal project management: What works best? (Part 1 of 3)

An edited version of this series appeared in the February 2016 issue of Managing Partner magazine with the title  “LPM: An evolving process” and can be downloaded from our web page.

If you believed what you read on the internet, you’d think that legal project management (LPM) has swept the legal profession and that a large number of firms have developed a solid track record of success. However, it is an open secret among people in the field that there is a huge gap between the success that many firms claim on their web pages and the slow pace of LPM adoption within even the most vocal firms.

In one sense, LPM has been around since the first time a lawyer planned a budget or managed an associate. But in the last few years, clients have substantially increased the pressure to provide greater value and manage legal matters more efficiently. This has led many firms to apply management techniques from other businesses to improve budgeting, communication, knowledge management, time management, and much more.

While many law firms have publicized their LPM success, clients have been less impressed. In its 2015 Chief Legal Officers Survey, Altman Weil asked respondents to rate how serious law firms are “about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients” on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (doing everything they can). The median rating was just 3.

And even the firms that have been most serious about making this change have found that progress is slow. One of the best-known names in LPM, Seyfarth Shaw, began working with Six Sigma and SeyfarthLean® several years before the Association of Corporate Counsel announced its influential “Value Challenge” program in 2008.

Although Seyfarth is at the top of many LPM lists, in 2012 the firm’s Chair and Managing Partner Steven Poor wrote in the New York Times Dealbook blog that one should “Never underestimate lawyers’ resistance to change.” That’s the bad news. The good news was summarized by Lisa Damon, the partner who leads the SeyfarthLean Six Sigma program, who has said  that “If you get a group of lawyers and staff into a room to discuss how to make things more efficient, it’s very easy to find savings.”

When you put these two facts together – it’s easy to figure out how to be efficient, but hard to get lawyers to act on it – you begin to see why there is so much confusion about what works best for LPM and about which firms have made the most progress. Add in the vested interest that firms have in publicizing any success they do achieve, the fact that there are wide individual differences between lawyers within a single firm, and secrecy within firms, and it becomes clear that it is almost impossible for outsiders to compare firms on their progress.

Nevertheless, a consensus is starting to emerge about what works best in implementing LPM, starting with the five points listed below.

1. Focus on behavior change, not education

LPM requires partners to change the way they have practiced law for several decades. And as the managing partner of one AmLaw 200 firm put it in our confidential survey Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 191):

Project management is not natural to lawyers. We’ve always been trained to get the case done well to win, but now we also have to get the case done efficiently, and that is not part of the natural toolkit for most people.

When the LPM movement was just getting started, the Association of Corporate Counsel and the ABA published an account of a meeting “at which leaders of corporate and law firm litigation departments rolled up their sleeves and tackled the complex issues surrounding present day concepts of value in litigation.” After the meeting, the authors of a follow-up report (published in ACC Docket, May 2011) emphasized that future progress will not be based on improved understanding or increased knowledge. Instead, “The challenge is change/behavior management.” It’s not a question of knowing what to do; it’s a question of helping lawyers to do it.

Nevertheless, at about the same time, many firms started implementing LPM by launching large-scale education programs. Lawyers love precedent, so when Dechert announced in 2010 that it had trained all its partners in LPM, a number of firms jumped in to do the same thing. This led to some great press releases about how these training programs had proved that firms were committed to LPM, but precious little in the way of behavior change. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm that invested heavily in LPM training put it in our Client Value survey several years later (p. 193):

Every shareholder and top level associate [in our firm] has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you that they use it, but they don’t.

Training programs enabled firms to “check the LPM box,” write RFP responses explaining about what they’ve done in LPM, and put out press releases. What they did not do was get many lawyers to change the way they practice law.

It is not exactly news that education does not necessarily lead to behavior change. Taking a course or reading a book about how to lead a healthier life by quitting smoking, eating more vegetables, and exercising regularly does not mean that you will actually do any of these things. Changing behavior requires a different approach.

March 02, 2016

Tip of the month:  Manage team members to stay within scope

Ensure that every member of your team is familiar with how project scope is defined in the engagement letter or in a written matter objective.  Use memos and emails to regularly remind team members of what work is within scope, and what isn’t.  When there is a legitimate reason to do work that is beyond scope, make sure team members check with you first.

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

February 24, 2016

The evolving role of directors of legal project management (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

In addition to pricing, several of those interviewed stressed process improvement, as in these examples:

I spend most of my time working with practice group leaders and individual partners to identify problems and opportunities for increased efficiency for the firm.

My major goal is to educate the lawyers on process improvement solutions, to make their jobs easier.

My chief goal is to help attorneys constantly plan their matters well and to think of new ways to do the firm’s work. This is particularly useful in IP, because patent and trademark prosecutions often involve the same steps repeated in the same way, so careful attention to each step can save time and effort.

Our major achievement has been to teach lawyers how to deliver legal work in the most efficient way through process maps which show the most efficient paths to achieve a variety of legal goals. For clients, the results are reduced costs, greater predictability and transparency, more efficiency, better use of technology, and better legal and business outcomes.

Several people we interviewed also mentioned their role in helping lawyers to think more clearly about profitability:

My group has helped introduce the concept of profitability of a particular engagement into the law firm’s thinking. Profitability is not the amount that is billed; it is, broadly speaking, what remains after paying associates and everyone else who is involved in the matter.

A few mentioned improving communication. One said that:

The major advantage of LPM is to improve communications between the firm and its clients so that the client can understand what is going on at all times. We also use end-of-case reviews to evaluate what we did right in a case and what could be improved.…Through the appropriate use of LPM, I believe our firm can improve its realization by two percent annually on a consistent basis.

Several talked about working directly with clients, as in these examples:

My work is heavily client-driven, since the firm’s clients are much farther along in their understanding of value and efficiency than some of the partners are. My role is to be a liaison between the firm’s clients and its partners…. The firm’s partners let me work directly with clients and understand what makes them tick. My job is to work with each client and to find out exactly what they’re looking for from us. Do we want to partner with our clients to utilize new technology and to take advantage of innovation? Do we want to propose arrangements based on reduced rates and still remain profitable?

For the next year, my priority is to increase my visibility in client meetings—attending them more often and serving as more of a support system for the partners.

Whether it’s the result of differences in firm culture or in the way that LPM director roles have been defined by management, there are differences in the degree of lawyer acceptance. On the positive side, one respondent reported:

While there are pockets of resistance, they are not vocal or persuasive.

More commonly, there was greater resistance to LPM:

In my director role, I need to have a thick skin vis-à-vis the attorneys. You are talking about people who have worked the same way for years. You can’t force people to change.

My most important challenge is building relationships with the partners and developing their trust.

The biggest barrier to success is the need to instill a sense of urgency among the attorneys. 

My major obstacle, in addition to technology, is dealing with a subset of partners who want to do things the way they have always done them.

I have a real question whether most lawyers have the resiliency to make changes in the way they practice law.

Another common theme was that the resources available for LPM are too limited. Indeed several directors described lack of time as their single biggest problem:

The biggest obstacle to achieving my objectives is the number of hours in a day.

Everyone is too busy. I just wish I had more time to show everyone the framework that’s in place. 

We know that our clients all over the world are interested in budgeting. We need to have the resources available in our department to answer all these client questions. 

The question is, how do we staff everything when we have so few people to achieve all our goals?

This high demand is a good thing in that it proves that LPM directors are making progress in showing attorneys the benefit of LPM. But it also implies that going forward the biggest questions for firm management will be how much to invest in LPM and which activities produce cost-effective changes most quickly.

Our 15 interviews revealed 15 approaches to these tactics, some of the differences subtle and others quite significant.

To those views we would add a 16th opinion about what works best, based on our experience working with a number of firms. Our general approach is summarized in our article “LPM: An evolving process” in the February issue of Managing Partner magazine. As we wrote there:

Too many firms act as if hiring an LPM director and/or a pricing director will solve all their problems. This is clearly part of the solution for many firms, but it only works if partners are committed to changing their approach.

LPM and pricing directors are hungry for information about what works and what doesn’t.  A number of thought leaders have banded together to form the True Value Partnering Institute , described on its web page as “an invitation-only virtual Think Tank… [which organizes] Cohorts which meet several times via one-hour conference calls and can also participate in specialty topic Sub-Groups to collectively explore topics of interest.”  For example, their “Legal Project Management Leaders” Cohort has a sub-group devoted to “Defining the Role and Measuring the Value of a Legal Project Management Director.”

As a result of our interviews, we recently expanded our LPM Acceleration Program to include a wider variety of services to support in-house LPM directors, as well as access to the proprietary scripts and guidelines we have developed over the last several years.

Whether a firm accepts our recommendations or those of others, the most important conclusion from this research is that firm management must play an active role in defining the best way to implement LPM. Fundamental questions regarding the firm’s business approach to profitability and client satisfaction are simply too important to be delegated.

As we reviewed all of our findings, the good news was that these 15 firms and many others are devoting significant resources to meeting client demands for greater efficiency, and that all of them are making progress.

But there is still a great deal of work to be done and LPM directors currently disagree about the best approach to using limited resources. The challenge is to find the tactics that will produce the greatest benefits for each firm, in the most cost effective way possible.

All this at a time when the pace of change needs to increase. In our survey of Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, when we asked AmLaw 200 leaders, “Will firms have a competitive advantage if they change more quickly?” 85% said yes, they would.

At the end of the day, the burden is on the partners who own each firm and on the firm’s management committee to review all the conflicting opinions about LPM tactics and make the best decisions they can in an uncertain environment.

The stakes are high. As one senior executive in our AmLaw 200 survey (p. 11) put it:

I think the market’s going to shake itself out. [And] I think [firms] that can’t do this will fail.

 

A white paper which summarizes this entire series, and describes our LPM Acceleration Program can be downloaded from our web page.