327 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

May 06, 2015

Tip of the month: Improve the way you manage your team

To provide clients with the value they are demanding, you may need to devote more time to actively managing the members of your team.  Start with these questions:

  • Who will have primary responsibility for completing each task on time, within budget?
  • Do they agree with your estimated schedule and budget for the task?  If not, discuss any differences of opinion before they begin the work.
  • Will they need any special help or support to successfully complete their assignment?
  • Should the team set up a regular schedule of very short meetings to assess progress and overcome any obstacles?

 

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.

April 01, 2015

Tip of the month: Improve the way you plan activities at the start of every matter

Clients are demanding greater efficiency these days, and efficiency should start before each matter begins.  Instead of jumping right in, set aside a little time for planning and ask such questions as:

  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
  • How can this large matter be divided into smaller sub-tasks which a single individual on your team could be responsible for?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?

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.

 

March 04, 2015

Tip of the month: Improve the questions you ask when you start an engagement

When I interviewed chairs and managing partners of AmLaw 200 firms for my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, they said that the single most important factor in LPM success was defining scope.  The simplest way to improve is by asking the right questions before an engagement begins, such as:

  • How do you define success or “a win”?
  • What business problem do you want to solve?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • What deadlines matter the most to you?

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.

February 11, 2015

Business development best practices: Work with others

This is one of a series of occasional posts summarizing the most important best practices from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide which is now also available in a Kindle edition.

Business development is difficult, and it helps to work with other people who provide support through the losses, and help you celebrate the wins. One way to do this is to form a business development group. It could be your entire practice group, a formal committee including people from your marketing department, or just two or three lawyers who meet for breakfast once a month.

Keep the agenda simple. At the first meeting, each person should commit to action items for the next meeting. Then at every subsequent meeting, go around the table and have each person report what they accomplished since the last meeting and what they have planned before the next one.

Working with a group provides social support, increases accountability, and leads to steady progress. No one wants to go to a meeting and report that they have failed to follow up on all their action items. The simple fact that you know you have a meeting coming up will help spur you to action.

The results can be summarized in a simple report after each meeting. The fact that a report is being circulated will create a friendly competition and increase compliance. Nobody wants to be the person who has all zeros in their business development report.

The most reliable systems often put a staff person in charge of collecting the data (say, every Monday by noon), and publishing the results every week at the same time (such as Mondays at 5). The report should never be delayed to wait for an individual’s results. This week’s missing data can be filled in next week. And the phrase “missing data” in the report will help to ensure that the information will be supplied, sooner or later. Ideally, the reports should start with a clean slate every few months. Without this fresh start, once people fall behind, they are likely to stay behind and just give up.

But whether you decide to have written reports or not, the biggest challenge here is to simply make sure you keep meeting. Life is sure to intrude with your meeting schedule, and it is easy for these meetings to fade away after a few misses. Therefore, it can be extremely useful to include a non-lawyer (e.g. your marketing person) who takes responsibility for reminding everyone of the next meeting, and do everything possible to maintain a quorum. In a nice way.

For many lawyers, an even better way to proceed is to work with a professional legal business development coach.

On the other hand, working alone may not be as good as working with a coach or a group, but it’s a whole lot better than doing nothing. If you are one of those rare individuals who will continue to follow-up through sheer self-discipline, go for it. The important thing is to find a system that works for you, and to sustain it over the long term.

February 04, 2015

Tip of the month: Be cautious about sharing budgets

When some lawyers begin developing detailed budgets, they get so enthusiastic about their new approach to estimation that they immediately show these drafts to clients.  This can lead to problems.  Some clients immediately start challenging the hourly estimates line by line and use them to negotiate the total price downward.  Others treat this preliminary budget as a fee cap and refuse to pay bills that exceed the initial estimate.

The implication is obvious: Most budgets should be limited to internal circulation for as long as possible. This is especially true for lawyers who are just getting started on detailed budgets and are still learning how to increase their accuracy.   Share budgets voluntarily only after you have developed a track record of accurate predictions, and only when you have a trusting relationship with a particular client.

 

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. This month’s tip was adapted from the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

January 21, 2015

Sample Risk Analysis Template for a public M&A matter, advising the target

A guest post by Sverre Tyrhaug

 Background:  Sverre Tyrhaug is the Managing Partner of Thommessen, the largest law firm in Norway.  He is one of five individuals from the firm who are currently completing our Certified Legal Project Manager Program®.  This is the third of three blog posts based on his answers to essay questions from the program.

This analysis uses a form from page 106 of the third edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  Planning time would be focused on the items that have the highest degree of risk in column 4.

 

What can go wrong?

A. How likely is it? (1-5)

B. How serious? (1-5)

A x B = Degree of risk

Actions

Reduce in advance

Reduce during matter

Insufficient available internal resources at Thommessen

1

4

4

Plan and schedule

Keep people on team informed on progress and schedule

Client does not allocate sufficient resources

3

3

9

Plan and schedule. Inform client about likely input required and when it is required

 

Multiple bidders on M&A project

4

2

8

Prepare for mulitiple bidders with different timelines.  What should response be if timeline is accelerated or postponed?

Emphasize importance of timeline.

Material adverse event at client

2

4

8

Vendor due diligence.

Keep in close touch with client to address any concerns early on.

Process leaks

3

4

12

Inform on importance of confidentiality. Keep team tight. Prepare “holding/leak statement”

Ensure confidentiality. Be prepared for leak.

No bidder is offering good enough price

2

5

10

Do pre-sounding of the market/ potential bidders prior to launch. Structure the process. Prepare well on management presentations etc.

 

Diverging views among major shareholders

3

4

12

Seek to vet good support for decision to initiate process

 

Hostile takeover offer launched

3

5

15

Prepare for responses (available poison pills, white knights etc.).

Keep overview of available options.

January 07, 2015

Tip of the month: Hold a lessons learned meeting

Lawyers are increasingly holding meetings at the end of every significant matter to review what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done better the next time.  These discussions are not just a learning opportunity but also a marketing opportunity. A “lessons learned meeting” will enhance your relationship, help you learn more about what an existing client values most, and enable you to provide more value. If a large matter is at a pivotal point, a mid-course review and redirection could be the difference between success and failure.  

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. For suggestions to increase the efficiency of “lessons learned meetings,” see the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  

December 31, 2014

One managing partner’s view of three critical issues in LPM

A guest post by Sverre Tyrhaug

Background:  Sverre Tyrhaug is the Managing Partner of Thommessen, the largest law firm in Norway.  He is also one of five individuals from the firm who are currently completing our Certified Legal Project Manager Program®.  This is the first of three blog posts based on his answers to essay questions from the program.

A personal plan to improve time management

What I do well now:

  • Clear picture/vision on what I want to achieve.
  • Using to-do lists (with brain map tool, giving good overview of all tasks)
  • Prioritizing and doing one thing at a time
  • Spending time to plan the week ahead
  • Maintaining “stop doing lists”
  • I often ask myself the questions:
    • What is the most productive thing I can do right now?
    • What is the best use of my time right now?
  • Trying to run efficient meetings with clear agendas
  • Keeping a clean desk and papers and documents  in organized fashion
  • Keeping track of time spent, categorized in 15 categories and evaluating it on a monthly basis.

What I could improve:

  • Limit unnecessary internal meetings
  • Establish routines and business process improvements on repetitive tasks including yearly budgeting, partner performance meetings, strategic review, and salary/bonus assessment
  • Limit interruptions (emails, drop-in visitors)
  • Block out time in calendar for my own project work
  • Ask questions and challenge the way I work:
    • What is the value added from this task?
    • Is there an easier way to do this?
    • What three to five things can I accomplish today/this week/this month that will make a big difference to the bottom line?
  • Delegate better and more
  • Learn to say no.

Thirteen ways to improve team performance

  1. Communicate: inform and listen
  2. Allocate enough time to team building.
  3. Involve the team early. Present them with the scoping of the matter and the draft work breakdown structure for brainstorming, buy in, commitment, assignment of tasks, and assignment of individuals responsible for each task. Communicate clearly on client goals and scope.
  4. Communicate “ground rules” for the team early in the process, including respect for each other, productive use of time in meetings, active listening, focus on solutions, and being prepared for meetings.
  5. Have regular efficient team meetings with clear objectives, an agenda in advance, the right people attending (small to get things done, large to build relationships or brainstorm). Provide minutes with decisions reached and follow up actions.
  6. Update the work breakdown structure and the planned schedule.
  7. Watch out for scope creep. Remind the team about the project scope and goals.
  8. Find out what motivates the team (deadline, challenge/difficulties, bonus)?
  9. Motivate team members, along the way and at the end. Make each member of the team aware of the importance of their contribution to the team.
  10. Act as a good example.  Be positive and provide feedback. Be available to discuss problems.
  11. Let people be responsible.  Hold them responsible for the result, but do not micro-manage. Be demanding in terms of performance, but provide clear goals and be supportive. Treat the team members as “winners” and part of our unique firm.
  12. Involve the team members in decisions. Listen to their views, show that you appreciate their input.
  13. Evaluate, gather feedback and take actions based on the feedback.

How to improve delegation

Delegation is an important part of the business model for a successful law firm. We need to delegate to manage profitability, we need to delegate to train our associates, we need to delegate to keep our associates happy in terms of understanding that they are valued and involved, and we need to delegate to free up time to do business development and other firm building work.

To improve delegation: 

  • Delegate early in the project. Think delegation immediately. Do not wait!
  • Think carefully, from the client’s perspective, on what tasks should be delegated. Delegation is not always efficient, but all or most of our projects have activities that should be delegated.
  • Discuss with the client why parts of the project are delegated, and explain why it is in the client’s interest.
  • Be a good coach when delegating.  Be clear on expectations (e.g. deadlines and  feedback) and priorities vs. other projects. Be available to help. Put the activity that is delegated in context. Why is the task important for the project (and what is the project?). Upon a new assignment, provide clear goals and objectives (WHAT).  Spend little time on HOW, but ask for their input on how they propose to perform the task (do not dictate how to perform the work in detail), and spend time on WHY (give the task meaning).
  • Learn from your experience when delegating. If you are not happy with the result or get a lot of questions from the associate on how to perform the work, think about whether you could be clearer on expectations etc. when delegating.
  • Try to delegate entire projects or work-activities as that generally helps the associates’ motivation, commitment and sense of responsibility for the end result.
  • If you lack confidence or delegate to new associates, start with delegating smaller tasks and provide structure and guidance.
  • Think carefully about the skills required and who to delegate to. Also think about the workload of the people and avoid delegating to someone who is already busy if there are other resources available.
  • Evaluate completed assignments and provide feedback. This is an extremely important point, as it is an investment in the associate that will provide the associate the tools and learning to perform even better on the next task delegated.

December 03, 2014

Tip of the month: Tie compensation to results

In 2011, I quoted managing partner Joe Morford about Tucker Ellis’ philosophy of compensation “If you pay for hours you get hours, and if you pay for results you get results.”  Since then, the vast majority of firms have done little or nothing to adapt their compensation to client demands for better results in fewer hours.  But a major step was taken a few weeks ago when Jackson Lewis announced that associates will no longer be compensated for billing more hours, and will instead be rewarded based on factors tied to results such as efficiency and client service.  Other firms are sure to follow.

 

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. The relationship between compensation and profitability is discussed in my new book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability

 

November 05, 2014

Tip of the month: Embrace experimentation aimed at quick wins and developing champions, one practice group or one lawyer at a time

Lawyers love precedent, and many law firm committees are postponing action until they see evidence proving the value of a “one size fits all” perfect solution that will fit their entire firm.  But there is no silver bullet, and firms that continue to look for it could go out of business while they wait. The key to success is, as Stuart J.T. Dodds put it in his book Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit, to “think big and start small.” 

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. This month’s tip is explained in detail in Chapter 7 of my new book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability.