305 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

December 13, 2017

Litigation AFAs (Part 1 of 3)

By Greg Lantier , Natalie Hanlon Leh, and Mindy Sooter, WilmerHale

Five Questions Every Lawyer Should Ask the Client Before Proposing an AFA

Note: Most of the AFA principles described here also apply to transactional AFAs, but the details and examples in this series focus on litigation.

An Alternative Fee Arrangement (AFA) is frequently required as part of a law firm’s response to a client’s request for proposals to handle new litigation matters. In-house attorneys routinely receive, review and compare such proposals, and nearly all law firms regularly submit them, but the parties often do not follow a disciplined approach in developing a realistic budget.

The risks to clients of retaining outside counsel subject to a poorly constructed AFA are very real, while outside counsel have their own set of considerations regarding whether to submit a proposal. To help ensure that the interests and goals of outside counsel and their clients are properly aligned throughout a litigation matter—and stay that way—it is crucial that AFA proposals be intentional in their construction.

In this series of articles, we provide guidance on this issue to be sure that responses are meaningful to both the client and outside counsel. We will identify questions that lawyers, clients, and law firms should ask each other and themselves prior to proposing an AFA.

 

1. Why Is an AFA Being Requested?

Clients who request an AFA have various reasons for doing so, and it is the outside counsel’s role to understand their intentions. The first step in assembling an intelligent response to a request for an AFA is for outside counsel to be certain they understand the primary reasons that the client is making the request.

Most often, predictability is the key driver for the client. But, is it predictability regarding overall fees for the matter? Monthly fees? And/or both fees and costs? To correctly structure an AFA proposal, outside counsel must know the client’s primary focus, so if the client hasn’t articulated her intentions, outside counsel should not hesitate to ask.

In some cases, the client may be requesting an AFA simply to find the lowest possible price, putting the quality of the legal services on a lower shelf. Comparing AFA bids (particularly if they are fixed fee proposals) makes it easy for the client to obtain the lowest price service. If the client is accepting competing bids, that is helpful for the bidding parties to know. This insight is necessary for outside counsel to determine whether making the proposal is in the best interest of the firm. If submitting is not the right choice, the firm’s internal resources are saved; if it is the right choice, this information allows the firm to price the matter as attractively as possible to be competitive—again, making the process more efficient for both sides.

Other circumstances also exist: the client may be requesting an AFA to better align the incentives of outside counsel with the client’s own interests; or an in-house attorney may be requesting a proposal because it is required as a matter of policy by her employer, and she may not have a good understanding of the reasons for the AFA request.

Of course, and as is often the case, the reasons for requesting an AFA can include a combination of several of the above interests as well as others. No matter the circumstances, it is critical that outside counsel understand those interests prior to assembling an AFA.

 

2. Is the Client Able to Share Information Regarding the Value of the Matter?

Intelligently constructing an AFA proposal requires outside counsel to make numerous assumptions concerning what steps will be taken in litigating the case. Those assumptions should be based, in part, on the expected value of the case. If a case is expected to settle for a relatively modest sum, for example, the proposal likely does not need to assume that there will be significant motions practice during expert discovery. Further, the number of hours budgeted for written discovery should vary greatly depending on the stakes in the case.

Outside counsel should ask their in-house counterpart for preliminary information about the exposed revenues and/or whether (if the client is a defendant) plaintiff has already made a settlement demand.

 

3. What Outcomes Would the Client Consider a ‘Win’?

Learning what the client would consider a “win” is paramount in building an effective AFA proposal. Here’s why:

  • Articulating what would be a “win” will calibrate inside and outside counsel’s goals. Starting off on the same page is important for efficiency’s sake and satisfaction with results—from both client and outside counsel perspectives.
  • If the only outcome that will please the client is a favorable, dispositive decision on the merits, then the proposal should reflect that, potentially by building in success bonuses or other financial incentives for outside counsel to devote the resources necessary to achieve that result.
  • If the client would consider a settlement within a certain range a “win,” then the matter strategy—and, accordingly, the AFA proposal—ought to be constructed to maximize the likelihood of achieving a win while moderating the legal fees and costs expended to do so. It may be appropriate, for example, for outside counsel to discount the fees that would be expected were the case tried because outside counsel expects that the case will be resolved short of a trial.
  • If a “win” cannot be defined, the client and outside counsel should carefully consider whether to request/submit an AFA. It is possible, if not likely, that opting out of the proposal process in this situation is better than moving ahead with an AFA proposal that assumes the case must be litigated through a trial and that budgets accordingly. If the goals cannot be articulated, then it is less likely that either party will be satisfied with any outcome that is achieved.
  • It is helpful to both in-house and outside counsel to express the goal for the matter up front, because if that goal changes over the course of the litigation, it may be necessary to also adjust the fee arrangement.

 

4. What Level of Involvement Does the Client Expect to Have?

A client’s level of involvement impacts not only the results of many litigation matters, but it also can impact the costs.

Sometimes clients can help to decrease the time that outside counsel must devote to a matter by undertaking certain responsibilities, thereby decreasing the budget used to calculate an AFA. For example, in-house counsel can add significant value, and decrease fees, by taking responsibility for developing the facts in a portion of the matter. Under such an arrangement, in-house counsel functions in part as another member of outside-counsel’s litigation team—and one who does not need to be budgeted for in an AFA. Similarly, some clients have robust internal procedures for collecting and conducting first-level document review or preparing first drafts of responses to written discovery requests. These capabilities should be accounted for when preparing an AFA.

On the other hand, while it clearly improves the team’s work product, frequent consultation with the client can also be expensive. Discovery correspondence with opposing counsel, for example, can take twice as long if every email is sent first to the client, revised based on client feedback, recirculated for approval, and then sent to opposing counsel. The drafting of motions and other papers likewise can take significantly more time when a client regularly suggests substantial revisions to drafts and/or there are multiple revisions prior to filing most documents. Finally, the time required for multiple calls with a client each week can quickly add up.

Whether a client’s desired level of participation in the litigation increases or decreases costs, it is important for both the client and outside counsel to understand the impact this has on an AFA.

 

5. Who Else is the Client Asking for a Proposal?

A last question that outside counsel frequently do not ask, but should, is what other firms are submitting proposals. There are key reasons for asking the question.

Asking who else is submitting a proposal may prompt the client to comment on her decision-making process for selecting firms as candidates for the matter. This can provide valuable insight into what the client’s goals are and how the client is viewing the matter at the outset.

In addition, knowing what other firms will be bidding can inform both the structure of the AFA that outside counsel submits and its packaging. If, for example, the other firms all have lower hourly billing rates than outside counsel, it may make sense to submit an AFA that proposes making a larger initial investment to obtain an earlier result, followed by a negotiated resolution, rather than an AFA that assumes the matter will be litigated through expert discovery.

There are, of course, many additional questions inside and outside counsel should address before accepting/submitting an AFA proposal for a litigation matter. Even with respect to the five questions above, there is significant complexity in translating the information received from the prospective client into a well-planned AFA proposal. We will touch on some of these additional considerations in the remaining articles in this series.

 

The authors are partners in WilmerHale’s Litigation/Controversy Department and IP Litigation Practice. This is Part 1 in a series of three related articles that have been adapted from Law 360 for the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. The Guide also includes three additional articles on this topic by the same authors.

November 29, 2017

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

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


4. Use Just-in-Time Training Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Assure Continuous Improvement by Following Up Relentlessly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

November 15, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

 

2.    Aim for Quick Wins to Create Internal Champions

The successes listed in Part 1 of this series, and many others, have begun to create a cadre of internal champions who are continuing to spread LPM within Lathrop Gage.

One broad example emerged from coaching several members of the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights Practice Team.  Several leading members of the team saw the benefits of using task codes to organize their work, convey the details of the work effectively to clients, and improve budgets.

Following Clark’s recommendation, the group implemented a task code pilot project in June 2017, requiring the use of firm task codes on all new litigation matters opened by that group. Clark worked with the firm’s accounting department to design and implement the task code project, created training materials on the proper use of the task codes by all attorneys and paralegals in the group, gave presentations on the pilot project at team meetings, and had a special training session for secretaries on the correct use of these task codes. In conjunction with this pilot project, Clark’s LPM team created an in-house spreadsheet tool to assist lawyers with creating and monitoring budgets utilizing litigation task codes.  In addition, Clark and his team are working closely with a global business intelligence company specializing in legal and professional services firms to help it develop a robust matter planning and budgeting software program that will serve the firm’s long-term needs.

Throughout this coaching program, each lawyer focused on their “low hanging fruit,” the changes that would have the most immediate benefit to their practice.   For example, Rick Bien, Co-chair of the Business Litigation Team and leader of the firm’s ERISA, Life, Health, and Disability Insurance Group, created a personal docket for keeping track of all matters – a single document to see the interrelationships between matters.  For one large matter, he also created 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 each team member should receive. RACI is an acronym for who’s Responsible, who’s Accountable, who should be Consulted, and who should simply be Informed. (For details, see page 217 in the Fourth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.) The result of thinking through that matrix was that it helped Bien decide when and how to communicate with the client’s GC and its business executive as the matter progressed.  

Banking & Creditors’ Rights Litigation Co-Chair Wendi Alper-Pressman focused on delegating work more effectively so that each team member understands exactly what she expects, when it is due, and the estimated hours in the budget. Employment partner Bridget Romero focused on tactics to better use Statements of Work and Matter Planning Templates to clarify understanding of the client’s objectives at the start of a matter.  Jill Waldman, another Employment attorney, is standardizing her procedures to set baseline budgets upfront for all significant matters, and tracking and monitoring costs as the matter proceeds.

Wealth Strategies partner Gretchen Gold drafted new procedures for vault usage, and had them reviewed and edited by a team of Lathrop paralegals.  Then she met with Lathrop’s Records Department personnel and coached them on the scanning and indexing of documents in the vault, including naming conventions and sequencing. She also has begun drafting instructions to non-timekeepers who will be responsible for a quality checking process for scanning and bar coding documents in the vault.

In another example of her work as an internal champion, Gold successfully coached another partner how a task done at her higher rates could generate a client cost that was lower than the combination of that partner’s time/rates plus inexperienced associates/rates doing the same work.

 

3.    Publicize Successes Within the Firm

Even in a firm that is as well attuned to LPM as Lathrop Gage, there will be some resistance by attorneys to the adoption of any new practice concept, including LPM. Internal publicity is one way of countering that resistance.

“There are always obstacles,” Clark says. “There are lawyers who say that they don’t need it or that clients don’t want it or that there’s not enough time to do it. There’s always going to be some resistance, and part of my job is to understand, for each lawyer and practice group, what problems they have in their practice, and what LPM tools or templates will help them. Lawyers have started to notice that LPM is being mentioned more and more by clients, and that has helped to encourage them to start adopting LPM principles and practices.”

To date, internal publicity has largely been informal, as lawyers have shared tactics that have worked. 

For example, when Douglas Link completed coaching he began developing a standard checklist for each patent-application project that can be accessed by all members of the team and by in-house counsel for the client.

“The checklist is simply a list of all possible tasks for the project. It’s basically a shared Word document. We start with a basic checklist and then we develop an individualized checklist for each client,” Link says. “It happens that this is a very repetitive practice area, without a lot of unexpected events, so checklists work very well. You can use checklists and task codes to estimate costs and make the cost estimates more accurate. This is especially advantageous when the firm is working on a flat-rate basis.”  As a result of Link and others acting as internal champions, the entire Boulder office, which is devoted to IP matters, is now using this checklist.

Similarly, Travis McCallon reports that “Anyone on my team and anyone on the client’s team can find out where any matter stands and can generate a monthly report.  Because we share this with the client, the spreadsheet is straightforward, professional and comprehensive.”

Over the next few months, one of Clark’s key goals is to help build further momentum for LPM by setting up formal mechanisms and a regular schedule to publicize LPM successes, focusing on the benefits both to clients and to the firm. This can be accomplished particularly well at partners’ meetings or through individual face-to-face or telephone conversations with partners.

November 01, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

A few weeks ago, Lathrop Gage CEO Mark Bluhm emailed everyone in the firm to announce the release of an online library of LPM tools as part of its multi-year initiative “to enhance LPM capabilities within the firm… to deliver greater value to clients, increase new business, and improve efficiencies and therefore profitability.” 

Many law firms are earning an “A for effort” in LPM these days, so initiatives in this area are no longer a cause for headlines. But a much smaller number of firms would get an “A for results,” because it is so difficult to get lawyers to change their behavior. Lathrop Gage is emerging as a national LPM leader by being among the very few that are taking the right steps to meet client needs as efficiently as possible.

The firm has nearly 280 attorneys in 10 offices nationwide, from Los Angeles to Boston. Lathrop Gage was founded in 1873 in Kansas City and, according to its web page, provides “strategic guidance in litigation, business and intellectual property law, with deep knowledge and experience in the industries” it serves.

Its first major LPM initiative began in November 2015 when LegalBizDev began enrolling key lawyers in our two-month coaching program to identify and implement the most effective actions with active clients and matters.  Based on the results with six pilot group participants, they have since expanded the program to a total of 25 lawyers, with more planned for the future. 

One of the lawyers who participated in the first coaching group – IP litigator Dave Clark – became so convinced of the value of these techniques that he took on the newly created role of LPM Partner. 

Clark first deepened his LPM knowledge by completing LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program with Gary Richards.  As part of that program, he developed a firm-wide LPM implementation plan.  To support him as his role evolves, Clark has a telecon every other week with Richards, LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf, and founder Jim Hassett.

His responsibilities and progress to date are described below, including participating in a supplemental “LPM Coaching Certification” process so that Clark can personally continue to expand the coaching program without using LegalBizDev consultants.  He has been coaching individual lawyers on an ad hoc basis for months, and has begun a two-month formal coaching program for his first group of eight lawyers.

The LPM program was initiated by Jennifer Hannah, the Chair of the Litigation Division and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.  She is also a member of a new Client Value Task Force headed by COO Court Landon.  That group was started this year to periodically review LPM past accomplishments, future plans and related initiatives. LPM efficiencies are becoming a key part of the firm’s culture.

The approach Lathrop Gage is using is consistent with the concepts outlined in our white paper “The Top Five Ways to Increase Legal Project Management Results”

  1. Focus on changing behavior and solving problems;
  2. Aim for quick wins to create internal champions;
  3. Publicize successes within the firm;
  4. Use just-in time training materials;
  5. Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly.

This case study describes how Lathrop Gage is applying each of these principles.   

  1. Focus on Changing Behavior and Solving Problems

This is the most important of the five principles because, as noted in our white paper:

The key to getting started in changing behavior throughout an organization is to help lawyers solve the problems they face, such as living within a fixed fee budget or increasing realization.  And the best way to do that is to first identify lawyers who are motivated to change, and then to coach them one-on-one to create quick wins.

The first steps that lawyers should take are often easy to identify.  The hard part is getting them to do it.

Since completing his coaching, Tedrick Housh III, Chair of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice group, has begun to use LPM in both client projects and litigation.  The LPM format is a natural fit for corporate clients who engage Lathrop Gage to assess their data security and privacy policies, regimens and incident response plans.  “We have spent a lot of time looking at all of our repetitive tasks,” he says, “to handle them more efficiently and make sure they are assigned to the right people.” 

For each new litigation matter, his team uses an electronic timeline with all deadlines and events coming up, along with a detailed list of tasks for each pleading, discovery item or witness. This format, says Housh, “prompts regular meetings of our trial team and forces us to continually evaluate whether certain tasks have been done, and sometimes whether they are still worth doing.” As trial approaches, the form suggests more frequent points at which to engage the client in the case.  “It’s certainly true that litigation is unpredictable,” Housh says, “but these tools have helped us even though we know that there will always be surprises.”

In another example, Douglas Link, an IP associate in the firm’s Boulder, Colorado, office worked with his coach to identify immediate ways in to improve his communication with clients. They developed a new engagement letter that spells out all possible steps that the firm might need to take in connection with a patent application. The new engagement letter defines the scope of representation by using task codes and provides future cost projections for the various tasks.

A third example comes from Courtney Conrad, a Kansas City-based partner in Lathrop Gage’s Wealth Strategies group.  She and her group have been informally using LPM for years by creating standard forms that help it serve its estate-planning clients, saving time and money. 

“We have a checklist, basically an electronic binder, that is accessible to everyone in our group,” Conrad says. “It has all the elements that you need for most estate-planning matters. It’s now a Word document, but we will soon transition to a document assembly system that will be even better. Once an attorney enters the necessary names, amounts, addresses and so on, that system will produce the document. This approach can be used not just in estate planning, but in many other groups firm-wide.”

The final example in this section comes not from a program that was started by a LegalBizDev coach, but rather from coaching Dave Clark conducted with LegalBizDev’s support.  Clark’s assumption of his new role as LPM partner coincided neatly with the firm’s being retained by a major auto manufacturer to handle a large series of trademark matters.  Travis McCallon, an IP team leader in the firm’s Kansas City, Missouri office, consulted with Clark during the early stages of this work, and together they worked on efficiency techniques to keep this new client happy and in the fold.

“This kind of trademark work has a lot of volume. Most individual cases are not too sophisticated, but there’s a lot to keep track of,” McCallon says. “We created an in-house matrix that gives us all the information in a spreadsheet – what has happened so far in the case and what will happen next. The spreadsheet includes the name of the alleged infringer, and it even includes a link to the content that constitutes the possible online infringement itself.”

McCallon says the Excel spreadsheet also spells out what the firm’s proposed next steps are in each case and contains a requirement for client approval before each step can take place. The client has full access to the spreadsheet and can “populate” the box for client approval, thus triggering correspondence from McCallon to the alleged infringer.

In addition, McCallon, with Clark’s input, has devised an internal checklist that his team uses to ensure that all key steps are being taken in any of these trademark infringement cases so the data is “right at our fingertips.”

As Clark summed it up, “Through the use of LPM principles, we developed a way to keep the client informed on a regular basis of what’s going on in the large number of trademark cases that we are handling at any one time.  This permits the client to see the status of all the matters practically at a glance. It has made it easy for the client to understand what’s going on in each case and what the recommended courses of action are.  The client has been extremely happy with this approach.” 

October 18, 2017

A checklist to assess your legal project management needs

By Tim Batdorf

The LPM Self-Assessment Checklist below was designed to help lawyers decide whether they should find time to focus on LPM, and if so, in what areas.

As quickly as possible, check off your general level of concern with each topic.  Use the results to determine which areas to focus on first.  If you rate several items as high, prioritize them by looking for “low hanging fruit:"  areas which could have the greatest immediate impact on your practice while requiring the least time and effort to implement.

The checklist could also be useful to law firm leaders who want to determine which lawyers are interested in LPM assistance, and could benefit the most from our one to one LPM coaching or other programs.

LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

Your Level of Concern

Part 1: Set objectives and define scope

None

Low

Med

High

Your clients and/or your team do not fully understand exactly what is and is not included in a particular engagement

€

€

€

€

Engagement letters fail to specify assumptions in hourly cost estimates or AFAs

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€

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€

Your clients are unclear about exactly what they want and need

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Clients sometimes question the work that was done and what they are willing to pay for

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Client decision makers disagree on the goals of a matter

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€

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€

Part 2: Identify and schedule activities

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team overlook tasks

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€

€

€

Your process for routine matters could be more efficient or simplified

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€

€

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You do not use checklists regularly, effectively, or at all

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€

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Last minute time crunches or missed deadlines sometimes occur

€

€

€

€

 

Part 3: Assign tasks and manage the team

None

Low

Med

High

You are overwhelmed with too much work

€

€

€

€

Team meetings are inefficient or ineffective

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€

€

€

Client demands for lower cost often lead to reduced profitability, which might be avoided with more effective delegation

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€

€

€

Delegated tasks come back late or the work comes back differently than you expected

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€

€

€

You lose too much time to e-mails, phone calls, or other interruptions

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€

€

€

Part 4: Plan and manage the budget

None

Low

Med

High

You often begin matters without having a clear idea of the likely total cost

€

€

€

€

Legal fees frequently exceed your budget estimates at the start of a matter

€

€

€

€

Your realization rate is too low and/or you have too many write-offs

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€

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You have a difficult time meeting AFA requirements and capped fees while remaining profitable

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€

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Part 5: Assess risks to budget and schedule

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team are unaware of the risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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€

€

€

You and/or your team could improve the way you minimize risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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Part 6: Manage quality

None

Low

Med

High

Perfectionism drives up fees with minimal quality improvement and/or little to no significant benefit as perceived by the client

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€

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You and/or your team do not have quality control measures in  place to maintain the same level of quality while becoming more efficient

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€

€

€

Part 7: Manage client communications and expectations

None

Low

Med

High

You fail to keep your clients regularly informed about progress

€

€

€

€

You do not know what type of updates (e.g., phone or email, weekly or monthly) each client prefers

Your team lacks a clear understanding of responsibilities and a clear plan for communicating within the team

Your team lacks a clear understanding of who should communicate directly with clients, and who should not

You and/or your team sometimes engage in miscommunication with each other and/or with the client

You do not routinely hold “lessons learned” reviews with your team and with clients

You could improve the way you handle difficult clients and situations

Part 8: Negotiate changes of scope

None

Low

Med

High

You do not effectively negotiate changes in scope with clients

You do not spot “red flags” immediately and make needed adjustments

You do not communicate changes in scope to clients

You do not have systems in place to track work that is beyond scope

You do not have a formal process for dealing with changes in scope

Your team does not know when there is a change in scope

Your team does not immediately inform you about changes in scope

€

€

€

€


Download a pdf of this LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

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

October 04, 2017

24 Benefits of Matter Planning

By Gary Richards

 

Our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes a number of sections on different approaches to matter planning that will be useful in almost every legal matter.  For large and predictable matters, your matter plan may be quite detailed.  In most litigation and other unpredictable matters, detailed planning should be limited to the first few weeks or months.  (For background on an alternative approach to traditional project management which better fits unpredictable matters, see our article “Why the Agile Approach Is So Important to Law Firms” in the October 2017 issue of Of Counsel.)

But if you are one of the many lawyers who feels too busy for this, before you give up on the idea, consider these 24 benefits of matter planning:

  1. Helps set clear and reasonable client expectations
  2. Improves client understanding of the time and tasks required
  3. Helps prevent cost and delivery problems
  4. Improves estimates of time required
  5. Allows more accurate fee estimates
  6. Forces you to think through the entire matter
  7. Allows you to establish a logical sequence for the steps
  8. Identifies steps that can be in progress concurrently
  9. Allows insights as to which steps can be consolidated to gain efficiency
  10. Establishes a clear beginning and ending point
  11. Pinpoints missing steps
  12. Can discourage procrastination by identifying easily accomplished first steps
  13. Identifies the people, material, and other resources that are needed and when
  14. Identifies the commitment needed from you and from others
  15. Identifies tasks and general areas of responsibility that can be delegated
  16. Identifies the potential obstacles or problems that may need to be solved (risk planning)
  17. Shows where expert input/client help could add value
  18. Identifies the elapsed time required, i.e., total number of days from the beginning to the end of a matter as influenced by the need to wait or process certain interim steps
  19. Becomes a checklist to track progress and budget
  20. Provides insights into possible conflicts with your work on other matters
  21. Identifies staff assignments that could be changed in order to gain efficiency
  22. Stimulates seeking simpler ways
  23. Identifies areas where unknowns exist and contingency plans can be developed
  24. Increases client understanding as to what is required to meet their desired goals

 

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

September 20, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

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

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

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

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

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

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

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

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

5.  Project management knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

September 06, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you could just start with these five steps:

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

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

TrackingListening_Template

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

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

August 09, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could start with these very direct questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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