207 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

August 19, 2015

The heart of LPM: Communication, Part 2 of 2

A guest post by Ed Burke


5.  Communications is a process not an art.

Unlike what many people think, communications is more of a process than an art. (The real art in communications is in forming the right questions and in the “active listening” discussed in Part 1). Like most things not directly related to the legal matter, communications is likely to get lost in the chaos. That’s why our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes so many process aids.

It may seem mechanistic, but mechanization is the soul of project management; what makes it successful. It’s not unlike those checklists that hospitals have imposed, which physicians thought were dopey and demeaning until they saw how many deaths, diseases, and injuries they eliminated. If someone who’s qualified to open your skull and root around in your brain for a few hours can benefit from a checklist, perhaps you can too.

One aid is a “RACI matrix,” a simple chart that will increase efficiency and communications by clarifying the roles of team members in completing tasks and deliverables. It establishes the level of communications they should receive. RACI is an acronym for who’s Responsible, who’s Accountable, who should be Consulted, and who should simply be Informed. It’s a simple chart with the names of members of your team listed across the top, and the tasks listed vertically on the side. An R, A, C, or I is assigned wherever the task and a name intersect.

Another aid is a communication plan. It’s another simple chart, with the following listed across the top: the task; who’s responsible for communications concerning it; to whom the communications concerning that task be directed as well as how often or when; and how (in person, by email, etc.).


6.  The critical points of communications

To some lawyers, the perfect communications plan consists of taking the order and reporting back with a good result. But it’s not that simple. For one thing, just “taking the order” requires communications back and forth, perhaps a number of times, if you’re going to understand what the client wants and if you’re going to give him or her an accurate idea of how long it will take and of the cost.

The best communications plan unfurls throughout the life of the matter. But it’s particularly critical to communicate at three key points. The first, as indicated above, is when there’s bad news. The other two points ironically don’t occur during the matter, but before it starts and after it ends.

The seeds of many, if not most, problems that occur over the life of a matter are sown before it even begins, when the scope is being discussed. The client may have already been living with this problem for months and wants to offload it as quickly as possible and move on to the next problem. S/he may not be happy spending a lot of time answering the dozens of questions you’ll have – some of them, perhaps, uncomfortable for the client – after just parachuting in. 

For your part, you’re loath to risk a bad start, or even a loss of this windfall, by quoting a time frame or cost that, whether or not it’s realistic and informed, is likely to jar the client. So the tough questions are swept under the rug on the theory that, when you bring in a good result, all will be righted.  

If you’re in the business of building relationships rather than just taking orders and billing time, Square One is where a relationship of mutual trust is established or strengthened.  You’ve got to take the time up front to find out what the client wants by asking a raft of questions. Some are obvious and others might not naturally occur to you. 

For example, just in setting the scope of the matter, questions abound, such as:

  • What business issue does the client want to address in the legal matter?
  • Are any of several outcomes acceptable?
  • What are the crucial deadlines along the way?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision-maker?
  • What would a successful result look like to the client?

There are many other questions to ask along the way that will enable you to apply the best principles of project management. They involve:

  • Identifying and scheduling specific activities
  • Assigning tasks and managing the team
  • Planning and managing the budget
  • Assessing and preparing for likely risks to the budget and schedule
  • Managing quality
  • Negotiating changes in fees and expectations when the scope of the matter changes unpredictably

You have to go to the drawing board and divide the matter into its component parts so that you have an informed idea of whom you’ll need to do each component task, how many hours and at what rate, how long each task will take, and all those other uninteresting details that get in the way of having fun doing legal work. But such knowledge enables you to push back constructively when the client complains, with informed explanations for the cost, time, number of staff, etc. 


7.  The Post Mortem: turning the end into a new beginning

This practice has so many benefits that it’s hard to understand why it so often gets neglected. Undoubtedly, it has something to do with getting on to the next substantive legal issue and avoiding “administrative” matters that may bring up uncomfortable issues.

To put it simply, after virtually every matter – particularly with clients who could send you more work – ask the client to do a post-mortem with you so you can provide even better service in the future. These sessions are both learning and marketing opportunities. 

In a large matter, you should suggest a “lessons learned” review after each significant milestone. If they regard it as an imposition on their time, they’ll tell you, and the only thing you’ll have lost is a little bit of perceived arrogance.

There are countless useful questions you can ask – questions about the client’s perceptions of value, bigger-picture business questions, active listening questions, and the like. The ACC even gives you questions in the section of its website, “How to talk with outside counsel (or clients).” 

The process is simple enough, and can be accomplished with two questions. First, “What did you like about the way we handled this matter?” That’s an easy one for clients and, when they list a few favorable things, they feel less awkward about answering the more important question: “What could we do better?”

Don’t argue with the client. Resist the temptation to defend criticized practices or to explain why you did what you did, even if there’s a good reason why. It is not about understanding reality but understanding the client’s perception of reality. If an explanation is really necessary, it can wait for another time. Just listen and let them do most of the talking.

There are countless other good questions to choose from, depending on the specifics of the matter and the experience. Pick only about three key ones and see if they lead elsewhere as well. But let the clients go wherever they want to go. Whatever they say at this point is useful. 

If you think your client will not be able to respond to open-ended questions (which are the most useful), you’ll need to list some areas and ask them to rate you 0-10 in each one. That makes it much easier for many people.

Lawyers pride themselves on their specialized knowledge. But a plumber is a specialist, too, and always subject to questions about how much time something took and whether someone else could have done it quicker, better, cheaper. Effective communications is your first step from fungible specialist to trusted advisor.

And trusted advisors seldom have fee disputes – or need to write proposals.


A slightly adapted version of this series was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Of Counsel: The Legal and Management Report by Aspen publishers.  A pdf of that complete article can be downloaded from our web page.


August 12, 2015

The heart of LPM: Communication, Part 1 of 2

A guest post by Ed Burke


Legal project management (LPM) – which law firms are adopting in droves for greater efficiency and profits – is widely thought to be a green-eyeshades exercise focusing on budgets, deadlines, and the like. So it came as a surprise to some when a recent study found that the leaders of more than 50 of the largest law firms believe that the most important elements of LPM are client communications and, its close cousin, defining the scope of a matter.

As one managing partner summarized:

There are two [issues] that I would rank the most critical: the setting of objectives and scope, and managing client communications and expectations. Those, to me, are linked at the hip. . . .You can run into difficult parties and unforeseen problems, and that’s where an understanding between you and the client has to be solid enough that you can have those kinds of conversations. And work your way through it.

Clients agree, if the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) can be believed. The ACC has listed responsiveness/communications among the most important factors in client satisfaction.

The new study is Client Value and Law Firm Profitability by Jim Hassett, founder of LegalBizDev. It includes comments from leaders of many of the most successful firms in the world. Even they are frustrated by the difficulty of improving their firms’ client communications. These challenges require significant personal interplay directly with the client as well as behavior change from partners. They cannot be addressed by software, as some other LPM issues can.

But the comments of these leaders do suggest a number of ways to improve things. The following points are drawn from their comments and from our years of experience training lawyers in LPM. If you’ve heard some of these points before, that’s OK. Keep hearing them until you get inspired to do something.


1.  Clients really do want better communications.

The first thing to understand is that, despite their busy schedules, clients want you to communicate with them. Consider this comment from a senior partner at an AmLaw 200 firm:

Client communication is far and away the single most important factor in the relationship. Clients don’t want surprises. They want to know if you’re a proactive communicator. Do you know how they want you to communicate? Are you consistent and timely, and communicate to them information they need to know?

Clients want you to be able to figure out what they want communicated and what they don’t want to be bothered with. They want you to know how they want you to communicate. What do you do to find that out? Try asking. They’ll tell you.

Make sure clients know they can contact you at any time for any reason. Keep them regularly informed. Consider sending them brief weekly or monthly status reports. Ask them if your communication methods work for them.


2.  Make your communications direct.

Clients want to hear from you and not your marketing department through mass-mailed client advisories and the like. As one survey respondent put it:

When I was a GC, I would trash all the client alerts I got. I had 27 of them on the same case. But the ones I kept were the ones where an actual lawyer said to me: ‘I saw this article about X, and it made me think of you. If there’s anything you want to talk about, or if there’s anything I can do, here’s what I was thinking...’ It was really creative, value-added communication.

That’s right, you don’t even have to labor over an exhaustive client advisory. An article that touches on something critical to the client demonstrates you know and care about his or her issues. 

Most lawyers consider themselves better written communicators than oral. But the more direct, the better. A phone call trumps an email, and an in-person meeting trumps a phone call. In any event, avoid communicating exclusively by email.

As one chair put it: 

The greatest thing that provides value to the client, in my view, 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.


3.  Listening: the soul of communications

The most important element of communications is not self-expression but listening.  Showing how smart you are is an unfortunate carryover from law school and your associate days. It’s more important to ask diagnostic questions and to listen until you find out what the client really wants (sometimes, instead of what they say they want). Instead of talking, ask open-ended questions that tend to prompt them to do most of the talking (e.g., “Tell me more about . . .” or “What makes this urgent?”)

When I was a Chief Marketing Officer, I once suggested to a diffident partner that he ask the prospect in an upcoming meeting, “What keeps you up at night?” He shrunk away in horror at such a personal question. “Well, use it if you get stuck,” I said, which he did and later reported back in wonderment: “Well, I asked him what kept him up at night. And he told me!!”


4.  Bad news can’t wait.

One of life’s enduring mysteries is why we tend to avoid confronting difficult issues and conversations, even when we know that doing so will only make them worse. Lawyers are no exception. Are they hoping that the brilliance of their work will neutralize an unexpectedly large bill on the horizon? Or maybe they’re just hoping to die before they have to bring it up.

This senior executive’s response was typical of many:

It drives me crazy when a lawyer says that the client’s going to be really stricken by this month’s bill. I then ask the lawyer “When did you know the bill was going to be really high?” And they say they knew it a while ago.

Contrast that with this comment:

We had a fixed fee a couple of years ago on a $300,000 matter. The partner managed it very well and had continuous dialogues with the client. The $300,000 turned out to be closer to a million, and he got pretty much every penny of it.  There were things that happened that were out of control, but there was constant communications about what was going on, which is so important.


A slightly adapted version of this series was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Of Counsel: The Legal and Management Report by Aspen publishers.  A pdf of that complete article can be downloaded from our web page.


August 05, 2015

Tip of the month: Ask every client about their communication preferences

At the beginning of each matter, ask the client how often they want to be informed of your progress and the best way to provide this information.  One client may prefer formal monthly reports, another may want informal emails only when issues arise, and a third may be comfortable only with regular phone calls or even face to face meetings.  The client is always right, and keeping in touch the way they prefer will go a long way toward increasing client satisfaction.


The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. More information about this tip appears in the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

July 29, 2015

Overcoming Resistance to Legal Project Management

A guest post by Gary Richards


“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”  - John Maynard Keynes


It is natural for people to resist changing their normal way of doing things, and many lawyers resist the change of approach and mindset required by legal project management (LPM).

This post was written for internal LPM champions who see the value of LPM to their firm.  It lists six common objections to LPM.  Each is followed by questions and statements that could be used to guide a conversation to overcome resistance.

  1. Clients don’t always know what their objectives are.
    1. Do you have a list of typical questions you ask to help a client define their objectives?
      • Asking relevant questions shows the client that you are interested in what is important to them.
      • Your questions can also help the client think about issues they normally don’t consider.
    2. Do you and your client draft a written statement of objectives for discussion and mutual agreement?
      • Without clear, agreed upon objectives that the client is willing to pay for, you are more likely to have trouble agreeing at the end of the matter on what should have been done, and what will be paid for.
      • It’s easier to discuss client objectives if they are written
      • A draft can more easily be marked up during a discussion than taking notes without a draft for reference.
    3. Do you seek to determine whether other decision makers or stakeholders in the client’s organization share those objectives once defined?
      • A written statement of matter objectives is handy for your client contact to use in his/her internal discussions.
  2. Planning is often a waste of time. My cases evolve so quickly and have so many surprises that things never work out the way I expect. Besides, I don’t have time to plan and budget.
    1. Does the fee incurred ever exceed your quoted budget estimate?
      • Matter plans and budgets allow more accurate fee estimation.
    2. How do you tell if you are ahead or behind in work on the matter?
      • Matter plans help you to monitor progress
    3. What would suffer if you spent 30 minutes planning your next matter immediately upon accepting the representation?
      • Planning time is frequently billable, since the client benefits from increased efficiency, thoroughness, timeliness, etc.
    4. Do you ever run into:
      • Last minute crunches?
      • Missed deadlines?
      • Unavailable staff because they are already committed to another matter?
      • Task-level matter plans help avoid all three of these problems.
    5. Were there ever any problems with scope creep after you started work?
      • It is easier to show that the newly required work was not included in the initial plan/fee estimate if, in fact, an original plan/budget exists.
      • Otherwise, the client may feel it is legitimate to say something like “You are the expert… I thought you would have foreseen this!”
  3. My clients don’t require budgets.
    1. Do they just pay in full whatever you bill them? Or is there sometimes pushback on fees?
    2. Do you ever have conversations with clients that include fees?
      • Those discussions go better when you have a basis for your estimate, such as a matter plan and a clear scope statement.
    3. How do you determine what fee and/or timing to tell the client in the engagement letter?
      • At some point very early in the engagement, clarifying the fee expectation is important.
    4. Do your initial fee estimates ever prove to be too low?
      • (If “yes” because of scope increases…) It is easier to show that the newly required work was not included in the initial plan/fee estimate when, an original plan/budget exists.
      • (If “yes” is because of simply underestimating…) Matter plans allow more accurate fee estimation. Discussing the plan with clients can help shake out exactly what should be included in the work to accomplish their objectives.
  4. I have done this kind of work for years… I know how to provide my services.
    1. Of course I recognize that you would not be working in the firm if you had not been successful for years. But competitors are becoming more efficient and we want to stay ahead of them.
    2. Do you ever have any tasks you have delegated either come in late or get completed differently from what you expected?
      • Matter plans improve the clarity of delegated work, and the likelihood that it will be performed successfully.
    3. Do clients ever push back on fees/require write-offs to keep them happy? If so, how do you handle that?
      • Matter plans and communication plans help avoid fee surprises and related client dissatisfaction.
  5. My problem is that there is just more work to do than I can handle.
    1. Is it possible that you could delegate more of the tasks you are now doing that don’t require your level of skill knowledge and training?
      • (If “Yes”…) Having a solid matter plan/budget makes it easier to identify and hand off tasks that could be done by others.
      • (If “No…there’s no one to delegate to.) If you ask and are refused, then you have data to provide management about the need for more staffing. If you don’t ask, then vital information is being hidden from the firm, and client service may be suffering.
  6. If I become more efficient, won’t my hourly revenue drop?
    1. Is it possible that competitors could take the work away by offering the same quality for lower fees, due to greater efficiency?
    2. Is it ethical and/or a good business practice to have the client pay for your lack of efficiency?
      • When you are able to show that you are you efficient, it increases the likelihood of additional business and referrals from that client.
    3. Do you already have all the new business generation that you can handle?
      • If you reduce the time it takes for you to deliver quality services to a client, you can invest that “found time” in seeking new business, or other activities.

July 22, 2015

Why law firms must change their marketing priorities (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


Robyn Radomski is the chief marketing, strategy & business development officer at Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a firm with over 200 lawyers in eight offices in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. She agrees that a seat at the LPM table is needed, and she earned hers by organizing the firm’s first pilot test of LPM coaching, which has already led to improvements in budgeting, cost control, and client communication.

“At its core, LPM is about delivering value to the client, and as marketers we represent the client’s view and the client’s perspective,” Radomski says. “In addition, firms are always looking for ways to differentiate their services, and we see LPM as a huge part of that. LPM is the best way to deliver efficiencies to the client. It also helps the corporate general counsel look good by improving budget control and risk management.”

Over the last several months, Geoff Goldberg, chief advancement officer at McCarter & English, a firm with over 400 lawyers in the Northeast, has devoted a significant amount of his time to promoting LPM within the firm and recruiting lawyers for a recently-started program of LPM coaching. (Goldberg heads business development for the firm and is also involved with advancing its business in other ways, including working with associates and laterals.)

“At first, I found it very hard to get lawyers to talk about LPM,” he reports. “Whenever I raised the topic, eyes would begin to roll and people would say, ‘That’s for lawyers who do commoditized work, not for me.’”

Goldberg decided to develop a formal presentation about how the legal market is changing. He has offered it in four of the firm’s offices so far, to make the point that “many clients are demanding more value and lower costs.”

Lawyers faced with this demand, Goldberg says, have only three choices in how to respond: “Turn down the work, say yes with discounts and take a hit to the bottom line, or say yes with lower fees but maintain profit margins by using LPM and doing the work more efficiently.”

Most firms, Goldberg said, seem to be selecting the second choice with discounts that reduce margins, a trend that has become so prominent that consultant Bruce MacEwen coined the term “suicide pricing” for it. Over the long term, this trend is simply not sustainable.

Marketing departments these days are notoriously understaffed, so where does Goldberg find the time to focus on LPM? “LPM is the single most important change in how we develop business and it’s here to stay. Since driving it is the highest value I can provide to my firm, I focus on it first,” he said. “I get my traditional day job done at night.”

According to Loeb & Loeb’s Andrea Danziger, “As we become more involved in strategic matters, some traditional marketing activities will have to accept fewer resources and give way to matters that are more important to clients in their selection of outside counsel.  For example, brochures and off-the-shelf marketing materials are too general to guide purchasing decisions. What the client wants to know is who is on the team? What’s their experience? What’s the budget?  How will the matter be managed?”

None of the four individuals interviewed for this article was willing to be quoted on the reasons why legal marketers spend so much time on activities that have a low probability of producing new business, and LMA gives awards for them. But once we talked off the record to others not quoted in this article, it was easy to find marketing professionals who went on at great length about two fundamental problems:

  1. Many lawyers simply don’t understand marketing. There’s no reason they should. Lawyers are extremely intelligent, but very few have ever had the time or the inclination to study marketing. 
  2. In many firms with dozens or hundreds of partners, marketing professionals in effect have the same number of independent bosses. On any given day, several may show up with tasks that marketers see as unlikely to pay off but that the lawyer sees as urgent. Marketers quickly learn to do what these bosses ask or look for a new job.

One head of business development described his job as “deciding who I will disappoint every day, due to lack of time.”

Marketers not only lack time to focus on products, pricing, and LPM, they often don’t have enough time to focus on the most fundamental tasks in business development, such as helping lawyers to increase satisfaction for current clients, plan sales advances, or follow up consistently.

Legal marketing professionals must prioritize relentlessly. They’ve always been expected to work long hours, as their bosses do. But as a more competitive legal marketplace economy has led to staff reductions, the total number of marketing department hours has gone down at the same time that the hunger for new work has gone up. Still, in most firms marketers must set aside their own priorities whenever one of their many bosses shows up with the fire drill of the day.

Several of the people we talked to off the record mentioned the pet peeve of many legal marketers: “best lawyer” surveys such as Chambers USA, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo. An enormous amount of marketers’ time can go into the process of getting lawyers listed. We found many professionals who talked about how this is driven by lawyers’ egos, but not a single one who thought these surveys were a cost-effective way to bring in new business.

Other off-the-record discussions also revealed that marketers are often forced to devote an enormous amount of time to bidding on RFPs that the firm is very unlikely to win. Why? Because a powerful partner insisted on it.

This underlying dynamic – in which people who understand marketing are micro-managed by people who don’t – puts senior management in an awkward position. It is easy to say that the executive committee should simply give the marketing staff more independence. But management cannot afford to alienate powerful partners any more than the marketers can. At a time when lawyers with large books of business can easily become laterals and take their work to a different firm, one can argue that providing services that stroke the egos of powerful partners is a business necessity.

But if this takes so much time that marketers cannot work on the things that will actually bring in new business – such as helping to provide clients with the right product at the right price – then management has just two choices.  Either hire more marketers – some to develop new business and some to stroke egos – or set firm ground rules for marketing department priorities, focusing on activities that are most likely to lead to new business.

At this critical moment in the history of the profession, when it comes to the “Four Ps” of marketing, product and price are far more critical than promotion. The best web page and brochures in the world cannot sell products that people don’t want to buy. Just ask the people who once sold 3.5-inch computer disks, eight track tapes, and buggy whips.

These days, as the managing partner of one AmLaw 200 firm put it in our recent book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability: “The firms that are most effective [at delivering value] are going to do well, and I don’t think everybody will survive.”


Adapted with permission from Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly, 6/10/15.  Copyright 2015.  The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com

July 15, 2015

Why law firms must change their marketing priorities (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


When Kramer Levin, a firm with over 350 lawyers in New York, Silicon Valley, and Paris, conducted a search for a new head of marketing last year, the two finalists were required to give formal presentations to the firm’s executive committee describing their recommendations for the firm’s marketing priorities. Jennifer Manton, the finalist who was ultimately chosen, focused on broadening the position to include more business development activities that will directly drive client growth, including legal project management (LPM) to meet client demands for improved communication and efficiency.

Last fall, when Manton began work in her new position, one of the first things she did was to start planning an LPM coaching program similar to one she had been involved with at her previous firm. (Full disclosure: All of the LPM programs described in this article were conducted by LegalBizDev.) Since then, a pilot group of seven Kramer Levin lawyers has successfully completed one-to-one LPM coaching, and the firm has already seen benefits in improved client communication, more accurate price estimates, increased client satisfaction, and more. A second coaching group will soon be underway.

“It’s all about connecting the dots between the client experience and the service approach,” Manton summed it up. “LPM helps lawyers address many of the issues clients raise in satisfaction interviews, such as the need for better communication.”

One of the many interesting things about this story is that Manton is a former president of the international Legal Marketing Association (LMA), which in the past reflected the nature of the profession by being associated with a more traditional approach to marketing. Marketing is often defined by the “Four Ps”: price, product, promotion, and place. Historically, law firm marketing departments have been involved almost exclusively in promotion. In today’s economic environment, that is a recipe for disaster.

One way to see how most law firm marketing departments have traditionally spent their time is to look at the LMA Your Honor Awards, described on their web page as “the longest-running annual national award program recognizing excellence in legal marketing.” There are 10 major categories: identity, promotional and collateral materials, advertising, events, websites, social/interactive media, media relations campaigns, community relations, marketing on a shoestring, and practice development. Only this last category includes direct business development programs such as attorney coaching and cross-selling initiatives.

In fairness, it is important to note that three years ago LMA recognized the LPM movement when it started a new Client Value Shared Interest Group, which last month held its third annual P3 conference in Chicago. (In this case, the three Ps are project management, pricing, and process improvement.) Interestingly, this group was originally formed as part of ILTA (the International Legal Technology Association). The majority of speakers at this year’s conference were not from marketing or business development, but rather held other titles such as CEO, COO, CFO, or director of LPM, pricing, or knowledge management. And when Strategies, LMA’s official magazine, interviewed three experts to preview this year’s conference, none of them had marketing titles.

In our experience, when LPM is rolled out in a firm, the marketing department has often been limited to a support role, if it has any role at all. In some cases, we have advised clients to get their marketing departments more involved in our LPM coaching and training programs and have essentially been told “No, that’s not marketing’s job.” But we believe it is.

According to Altman Weil’s Chief Legal Officer Survey last fall, the top three service improvements that general counsel and law departments would like to see are greater cost reduction (58%), more efficient project management (57%), and improved budget forecasting (57%). Since LPM leads to cost reductions and improved budget forecasting, you could say that the top three client requests were LPM, LPM, and more LPM.

Andréa Danziger is director of business development and practice management at Loeb & Loeb, a firm with more than 300 lawyers in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and four other offices. She believes that the marketing department should be deeply involved in meeting the need for LPM.

“It bothers me if someone looks at our function as just putting together marketing materials,” Danziger says. “If we don’t reach a strategic level of involvement in decisions relating to pricing and staffing, we aren’t doing our job. We need to be touching the levers of profitability in each and every pitch, proposal and RFP response.”

Loeb & Loeb began its LPM initiative three years ago. According to Danziger, “It’s very important for marketing to have a seat at the LPM table, and at our firm we have one. My business development team makes recommendations concerning what is the right team -- how many partners, how many associates, how many staff attorneys -- and at what price. We work with finance to illustrate how such decisions will impact the budget and, as a result, are able to offer the client options. But LPM is not just about budgeting. It’s about how to achieve clients’ goals in the most cost effective way, and about how to communicate with both clients and the internal team. Our involvement helps ensure this is happening.”

To date, 19 lawyers at Loeb & Loeb have completed one-to-one coaching, and four more are currently underway. Danziger notes, “If the relationship partner has gone through our LPM coaching program, it shows. The client becomes more confident in us as a result. This has improved client retention and satisfaction.”


Adapted with permission from Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly, 6/10/15.  Copyright 2015.  The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com

July 08, 2015

How to change law firm culture (Part 5 of 5)

What should you do about the issues raised in this series?

If your clients don’t care about efficiency and are willing to pay whatever it takes to handle their legal matters, you may not need to do a thing. Yet. Just keep delivering services the way you always have, pile up those billable hours, and pray for the client’s health.

But even if you are one of the lucky few in this shrinking slice of the profession, it is worth asking whether you are sure your clients don’t care about cost. Is it in the best interest of your clients for you to remain inefficient? What would happen if a credible competitor offered a better deal? We would argue that it is prudent for every lawyer to consider whether LPM could help protect your practice in an ever more challenging profession.

For everyone else – all the lawyers who know that the demand for efficiency and cost-effectiveness is already here or coming soon to a client near you – it is critically important to meet those client demands for efficiency as quickly as possible.

Consultant Shlomo Swidler developed the following curve to illustrate the relationship between the speed of change and the competitive advantage it produces:



As this curve suggests, firms that change quickly will have a significant competitive advantage over those that adapt more slowly, and an even greater advantage over those that never change at all.

At the management level, too many firms are reacting to clients rather than taking a leadership position. We talked recently to one managing partner about an embarrassing meeting with the firm’s largest client. The general counsel described hiring a new legal project manager for his law department, and said “I’d like to arrange a meeting for him with your legal project manager.”

The managing partner not only did not have such a person at his firm, he wasn’t even quite sure what LPM meant. But, being a skilled politician, he said, “We’ll make that happen,” and then tap-danced his way through the rest of the meeting. Then he went back to the office and started asking questions about who was working on LPM. The result would have been much better if less tap-dancing had been required.

Fortunately, the research results for Client Value and Law Firm Profitability supported the idea that law firm leaders see change in this area as critical. One key question asked directly was, “Will firms have a competitive advantage if they change more quickly?” Eight-five percent of respondents said yes and only five percent said no. (The other 10 percent didn’t know.)

The results of failure to change quickly could be severe. As one managing partner put it, “The firms that are most effective are going to do well, and I don’t think everybody will survive.”

In a November 2014 American Lawyer article entitled “Big Law’s Reality Check,” Aric Press reviewed a significant amount of data showing that, while a small number of law firms at the top have reason for optimism:

It also seems clear that not every firm is going to make it through the next several years… During the good times it took extreme cases to bring down an enterprise. The limited recovery has shrunk the margin for errors in judgment and execution. The good times were forgiving. Today’s times are much less so.

Or, as investor Warren Buffet famously put it, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

As one AmLaw 200 senior executive interviewed for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability summed it up, “Firms that can’t deliver more value will fail.”

It is all too easy to identify law firm initiatives that have failed and to attribute the failure to the implications of that classic observation, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” As clients continue to demand greater value and competitors continue to become more aggressive, only the firms that actively move to a more business-like culture are likely to prosper.

Changing culture is never easy, but other businesses have learned how to do it effectively and law firms must learn from them:

  • Develop internal champions for every initiative. The ideal champion is not the managing partner or chair, but a group of respected partners who can point to the success they have achieved.
  • Aim for short-term wins.
  • When wins are achieved, communicate them effectively throughout the firm.
  • Choose an area like legal project management where it is clear that there will be benefits to both clients (in greater value) and the firm (in profitability). It will help reduce hurdles for many reluctant lawyers.
  • Get everybody to understand the new initiative as an investment, not an operating cost. Investment and cost are obviously two totally different things, and under-investing in any initiative will almost certainly lead to failure.
  • Don’t form a committee that will postpone action until it is convinced there is a perfect solution.
  • Do support lawyers who are willing to experiment to find out what works best for each client, practice, and personality.
  • If things don’t work out precisely as hoped the first time, recognize that that is the nature of innovation and adaptation. Learn from it and try again

Or, as partner Camden Webb of Williams Mullen put it after completing one of our LPM programs:

Just do something. This will spread project management, because when lawyers succeed, others in the firm will imitate their success.


A slightly edited version of this series was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Of Counsel: The Legal and Management Report by Aspen publishers.  A pdf of that complete article “Strategies to Successfully Change Law Firm Culture: The Example of Legal Project Management” can be downloaded from our web page. 


July 01, 2015

Tip of the month: Assess risks to the schedule and budget

At the beginning of each significant matter, reduce the risk of delays and budget overruns by spending a little time brainstorming these questions:

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the matter, or decrease client satisfaction?

  • How likely is this to happen?

  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?

  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. Sample risk analysis templates and related information appears on pages 106 to 109 in the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

June 24, 2015

How to change law firm culture (Part 4 of 5)

 By Jim Hassett and Tom Clay


In addition to the difficulties with change management described earlier in this series, at law firms there is an additional challenge: the lack of strong central authority leads to a lack of accountability. It’s a lot easier to get things done when someone is in charge; someone who can penalize people if they fail to execute. The non-hierarchical structure of most firms makes it very difficult to hold people accountable.

In change efforts for complex situations like the evolving marketplace lawyers now face, Kotter and Cohen found that successful managers relied on the sequence SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. Instead of trying to appeal to the rational mind, they focused on making an emotional connection – which is exactly what Bilzin Sumberg did as it gradually expanded successful LPM initiatives to create a new LPM-based culture.

It would be nice to be able to report that, once a majority of Bilzin’s partners had completed their coaching, their LPM work was done. In fact, it was just beginning.

It is true that the firm’s clients quickly saw significant benefits in reduced costs and greater responsiveness, which in turn led to new business. But when LegalBizDev interviewed firm leaders for follow-up reports over the next few years, they consistently used phrases like “baby steps,” “infancy stage,” and “aspirational rather than obligatory” to describe the firm’s current use of LPM. 

Well, 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, there is unfortunately not a single firm on the planet that can say that LPM has truly taken hold among all its lawyers.

There are dozens of firms that have put out more press releases than Bilzin announcing their LPM success. But in our experience, none has achieved behavior change more quickly or more cost effectively than Bilzin. LPM aims to change habits that have been reinforced over decades, and that kind of culture change will always occur one small step at a time. 

According to Paul VanderMeer, Bilzin’s director of knowledge management, “The more successes we have gotten the more converts we obtained, and the more that LPM has permanently changed the way we do business.”

One of the most important steps that Bilzin took to monitor and sustain progress was the formation of an LPM committee chaired by Michelle Weber, the firm’s chief operating officer. 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,” says Weber. The result is that best practices are spreading. Many changes have been quite simple but still extremely effective. For example, she noted that:

As matters come in, we routinely have a discussion at the outset with all team members, including paralegals, so that everybody understands what the scope is. At the same time, we discuss the task codes that everyone’s going to use so we don’t have major problems with consistency later.

Al Dotson, who was one of the three lawyers in the initial pilot test of LPM coaching, recently said he is now using LPM principles “in just about every matter that I have here. These principles are flexible and important enough to apply to nearly everything that I do.” For example:

I routinely set up non-billable team meetings to ascertain the status of the work at any given stage to avoid duplication of effort, to identify issues sooner rather than later, and to communicate quickly with the client if there are any issues. This is done early and frequently throughout the project.

A number of other proven tactics for changing behavior have also accelerated success at Bilzin Sumberg and other of our clients. When LPM first became popular around 2009, some firms experimented with training every lawyer in the firm in the hope of spreading innovation like jam across the entire firm at once. It is a common approach among firms and is part of the “CLE syndrome” that’s especially pervasive among professional development directors. It allows the firm to check a box and put out a press release proclaiming success.

However, from a broad behavior change point of view, almost all these training programs were failures. Typically a few lawyers changed their approach but the vast majority just finished the class and went back to work the way they always had. As the managing partner of one firm that invested in extensive LPM training put it:

Project management will probably have the longest-term positive impact but it’s been the biggest challenge, because when busy lawyers start scrambling around, the inefficiency creeps right up.

It is much more effective to start by identifying a small group of lawyers who are most likely to be early adopters, by virtue of both the challenges they face (e.g., those who must manage fixed fee matters) and their personal openness to change.

The “tone at the top” is also extremely important. Enthusiastic support for LPM from senior management is very helpful in assuring acceptance. We have seen some firms succeed with a “bottom-up” effort that spreads LPM from the trenches with only lukewarm leadership support. But things go much faster if leaders are enthusiastic enough about LPM to keep pushing the effort past the inevitable speed bumps.

You may want to take a look at the third edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide for additional examples of how proven tactics from the change management literature can be applied to law firms. In terms of what we’re talking about here, the most important point is simply that law firm cultures can be changed relatively quickly if you carefully apply proven principles from other professions.


A slightly edited version of this series was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Of Counsel: The Legal and Management Report by Aspen publishers.  A pdf of that complete article “Strategies to Successfully Change Law Firm Culture: The Example of Legal Project Management” can be downloaded from our web page.


June 17, 2015

How to change law firm culture (Part 3 of 5)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Clay


Change is inherently difficult, especially for lawyers whose mindset is steeped in following precedent and past practices. But there is a large body of research literature on how to change corporate cultures. It has been successfully applied to the legal profession to increase adoption of LPM.

In his book Leading Change, John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, noted that:

Real transformation takes time... Most people won’t go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence within six to eighteen months that the journey is producing expected results. Without short-term wins, too many employees give up or actively join the resistance.

Kotter listed many benefits of short-term wins, including the fact that they:

  • “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
  • Build momentum”

Most lawyers will change their behavior if they are provided with convincing evidence that it is in their own self-interest. If partners whom they respect and trust say that an aggressive fixed fee deal became profitable because of the way it was managed, or that a lawyer working on an hourly basis avoided a write-down with a difficult client because he or she used project management tactics, the others will listen.

So, one key tactic to promote change is to focus on short-term wins with clearly measurable objectives. Instead of trying to train everyone in the firm to be more efficient, seek out lawyers who are motivated to change and help them to find their personal “low hanging fruit” that will prove LPM’s benefits to others in the firm.

For example, in 2012 LegalBizDev was asked to introduce an LPM program at Bilzin Sumberg, a Florida-based firm of about 100 lawyers. A few months before speaking at its annual retreat, we began coaching three lawyers on LPM. In weekly telephone sessions of about 30 minutes each, our coach walked the three lawyers through key problems and issues that they were encountering in their practices and how best practices from other firms might apply.

They selected real world matters to analyze and identified the key issues that were most critical in each situation, using the templates, job aids, and checklists in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. Then they reviewed the best practices described in the book and discussed exactly how to apply them to increase client value and protect profitability. At the retreat, the three lawyers then discussed their results.

One pilot participant was Al Dotson, a member of the Executive Committee and the practice group leader of its Government Relations and Land Development Practice Group. By the time of the retreat, Dotson’s coaching had already led to new business.

Dotson represents real estate developers and contractors in highly complex matters that involve a series of government regulatory agency approvals, and his developer clients loved the approach because they use project management to run their own businesses. One of them was so impressed by a legal project plan Dotson had produced that he asked Bilzin to take on a significant amount of new work.

As a result of the discussion of this quick win at the firm retreat, a number of other partners became interested in seeing if LPM could help them increase new business and realization. All 51 partners were offered the option to complete the same coaching program that Dotson had received. Over the next 15 months, a total of 26 partners 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 the effort, moving it forward and sustaining progress. The first quick wins had led to more wins and ultimately changed the firm’s culture.

This example can also be related to a second principle John Kotter described in another book (The Heart of Change, co-authored by Dan Cohen, Chairman and CEO at Stuart Advisory Services Group). Kotter and Cohen interviewed over 400 people who had been involved in change efforts at 130 companies to understand why some change initiatives had succeeded and others had failed.

They concluded that the managers who failed had used an approach that could be described as ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE. They focused on rational arguments, compiled spreadsheets, and developed PowerPoint presentations to show workers all the intellectual reasons why they needed to change. This type of systematic approach can be effective in a stable and controlled situation, they concluded, such as when you need to cut your printing costs or reduce your commute time.

But in most corporate change efforts, it does not work because “the parameters aren’t well understood, and the future is fuzzy.”


A slightly edited version of this series was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Of Counsel: The Legal and Management Report by Aspen publishers.  A pdf of that complete article “Strategies to Successfully Change Law Firm Culture: The Example of Legal Project Management” can be downloaded from our web page.