381 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

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

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

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

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Last minute time crunches or missed deadlines sometimes occur

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Part 3: Assign tasks and manage the team

None

Low

Med

High

You are overwhelmed with too much work

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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

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

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

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

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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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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

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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

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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.

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.

July 26, 2017

Seyfarth’s recent layoffs:  Much ado about nothing

Many people have been asking us lately whether Seyfarth’s layoffs of about 40 lawyers (out of over 900) a few months ago represent the beginning of the end for legal project management (LPM).  Our answer is very simple:  absolutely not. In fact, the entire LPM movement is still at the beginning of the beginning.

When the layoffs were announced, Law 360 published an article entitled:  “Seyfarth Shaw Layoffs Could Be New Normal For BigLaw.”  It quoted several leading experts about the challenges of a marketplace in which “demand for law firms remains sluggish.”  As Tom Clay, a principal at our strategic partner Altman Weil, put it: 

“This has nothing to do with Seyfarth and everything to do with what’s going on with the profession.  The reality is there isn’t enough work to keep everyone busy… Many law firms are going to have to … [resort to layoffs], and some have been quicker to act than others.”

Yet, given Seyfarth’s fame as the first large law firm to embrace LPM, the questions about implications have continued to linger.  The American Lawyer published a followup piece several months after the layoffs were announced, which asked again: “What [do the layoffs] say about Seyfarth’s lean strategy a dozen years in?  And what [do they] say about the broader LPM movement?”

Like the earlier analyses, this article argued that the layoffs resulted from changes in the profession rather than from LPM:

“Seyfarth’s financial results over the past five years have mostly outperformed the AmLaw 100’s…That occurred even as Seyfarth’s five year headcount outpaced the industry, 15.6 percent to 10.7 percent.  But that head count caught up to the firm last year.”  

In other words, Seyfarth has been doing quite well compared to other firms, but simply grew too fast.

The article also noted that: "Demand for the firm's SeyfarthLean Consulting arm, which helps clients make their legal departments more efficient, has never been stronger.”

Despite the fact that the experts agree LPM did not cause the layoffs, we predict that this is a situation where many lawyers will remain blissfully unaware of the facts, and will continue to use the layoffs as a reason to argue against LPM.   Many lawyers are unenthusiastic about the kind of attention to finance and management that LPM requires.  They would love to hear that they could forget about LPM, because it was just another fad that had run its course. 

Firms are embracing LPM not because their partners want it, but because their clients want it.  In its most recent Chief Legal Officers Survey, Altman Weil asked clients “What would you most like to see from outside counsel?”  The top three answers were greater cost reduction (53%), improved budget forecasting (43%), and non-hourly based pricing structures (36%).  All three are related to LPM, so, as we’ve often repeated, you could say that the top three things legal clients want these days are LPM, LPM, and more LPM. 

To sum it up, the fact that Seyfarth laid off about 40 lawyers means only two things:  they grew too fast, and they were wise enough to correct the mistake. 

The LPM sky is not falling. In fact, we predict that a few years from now almost no one will remember the Seyfarth hiccup.  The firms that will be healthiest will be the ones that have given clients what they are asking for: LPM, LPM, and more LPM.

July 12, 2017

Legal project management and business development (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

Stuart J.T. Dodds is director of global pricing and LPM at Baker McKenzie, one of the largest law firms in the world, with over 4,500 lawyers and 77 offices in 47 countries.  Dodds is widely recognized as a leader in linking LPM to business development, and he is the author of two related books published by the American Bar Association:  Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit, and Pricing on the Front Line.

In a recent interview, Dodds noted that

In RFPs lately, we have seen very specific questions such as, ‘Do you have project managers who have certification? How and where have they supported client matters? Can you give us case studies for how you would deliver LPM concepts in a specific commercial situation?’ This gives the client a good basis to compare one firm with another. It’s more than the words on the page. It’s what the firm actually does. I think this is a very healthy development.

In fact, Dodds says, members of the senior project manager team that he heads (including over 40 project managers) typically become directly involved in the pitching process and interact with prospective clients as part of the business development team. 

This is how we tell the client that we will engage with them, if we are selected. We will take these nonlegal professionals into the client discussions in order to achieve the best result for the client.

When the firm begins work on a large client matter, a project manager is assigned to work alongside the attorneys. For smaller matters, the firm relies on a training program that it developed and executed in-house, in which all of its attorneys have been trained in project management to a high enough level that they can handle the basics of budgeting and planning, with occasional assistance from a project manager. As Dodds says, in those instances the use of LPM is “attorney-driven but expert-supported.”

Interestingly, as director of global pricing and LPM, Dodds reports to the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer. His 40 project managers are an integral part of the global firm’s nearly 400-person-strong marketing staff.

We see ourselves as part of the value proposition for our clients. We are not a cost to the firm. Rather, we contribute to the profitability of the firm.

This type of integration with the marketing department is currently unusual, but may reflect a growing trend.  In 2015, we published an article related to this topic in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Counsel Weekly™ entitled “Why Law Firms Must Change Their Marketing Priorities.”

The article started with an account of how Kramer Levin, a firm with over 350 lawyers in New York, Silicon Valley, and Paris, hired Jennifer Manton as its Chief Marketing Officer in 2014 in part because of her experience in using LPM to meet client demands for improved communication and efficiency.  One of the first things she did after starting at the firm was to arrange for seven lawyers to complete LegalBizDev’s one-to-one LPM coaching.  This pilot program led to increased confidence and ability to provide better price estimates, client communications and more.  Since then, Kramer Levin has gradually expanded this program with more coaching and other LPM initiatives.

However, our Bloomberg article also noted that

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.

It would be nice to report that since that article was published the approach of legal marketers has changed rapidly, but the phrase “rapid change” is rarely found in articles about law firms.

In fairness, LMA has recognized the importance of these issues by organizing an annual “P3 conference” (focusing on the “three Ps” of pricing, project management and process improvement, all of which are included in our definition of LPM).  However, to see how little integration has occurred to date between marketing and LPM, one need look no further than the titles of the speakers at this conference.  Of the 69 speakers at the most recent P3 conference, only 10% had titles that included words like marketing, business development or sales.

Nobody has ever said that implementing LPM will be fast or easy.  But the firms that are effective today in changing lawyers’ behavior, delivering more value, and meeting client needs will be tomorrow’s leaders in business development.

 

June 28, 2017

Legal project management and business development (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

The best way to develop new business is to give clients what they want.  And the data on what legal clients want is crystal clear.  In its most recent Chief Legal Officers Survey, Altman Weil asked the question “What would you most like to see from outside counsel?”  The top three answers were greater cost reduction (53%), improved budget forecasting (43%), and non-hourly based pricing structures (36%). 

All three are related to legal project management, so you could say that the top three things legal clients want these days are LPM, LPM, and more LPM.  The answers to this question in the Chief Legal Officers Survey have been supporting this same conclusion for years.

To put it another way, current clients and new ones are choosing law firms at least in part because of the firms’ ability to deliver value to them by increasing efficiency.   LPM professionals are extremely aware of these client needs and have become increasingly involved in marketing and business development.

For example, at Lathrop Gage, a firm with 300 lawyers in ten offices from Los Angeles to Boston, Dave Clark was recently named the firm’s full time LPM Partner.  Before taking on this role, Dave was a practicing IP litigator for over 30 years. He has completed LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program, and he is now collaborating with a team of analysts and managers to help the firm’s attorneys increase client satisfaction while maintaining profitability.

In terms of the implications for business development, Clark notes that:

Three to five years ago, you hardly ever heard clients referring to LPM. Now, it’s the rule rather than the exception for most clients of any size. Most of the RFPs that we respond to these days have questions about LPM including budgeting, forecasting, or efficiency.  Clients want to know that the firm will work efficiently and bring better cost predictability to bear.

He went on to explain that:

LPM is becoming a marketing differentiator for our firm. It’s not a fad, it’s here to stay, and LPM is definitely needed for business development. Without it, a firm won’t have much of a chance getting or keeping significant work for clients.

Clark’s conclusions are quite consistent with those of the majority of AmLaw200 managing partners, chairs, and others we interviewed for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability.  Here are typical comments from three of the firm leaders in our survey: 

The way law firms deliver legal services to clients is undergoing a huge revolution. It’s going to change before our eyes in the course of a very short period of time. And it’s all being driven by clients who want to get value for their money.

I don’t know of any client that has not asked us to deliver more value, or… signaled to us pretty clearly what they’re expecting. Even as they are required in their markets to deliver more with less, the message is that… lawyers must do the same.

The competition to retain great clients and to get new great clients… has increased nine-fold. It goes back to the basic economics of supply and demand. There are more very, very good law firms chasing the best legal work. And if you have a legal budget of X millions, you have your pick of who to use.

At Ballard Spahr, a national firm with over 500 lawyers, Melissa Prince is the Director of Pricing and LPM, and another alumna of our Certified Legal Project Manager® program.  Whenever an RFP comes in to Ballard Spahr, Melissa or a project manager in her department participate in the initial phone call that is run by the business development manager who is coordinating the RFP response.

“They look to us for input from a pricing, legal project management, technology and client value perspective. We work well with Business Development and Marketing, and our Chief Marketing Officer is one of our biggest advocates and supporters.  She understands that what our team is doing in many cases sets us apart from our competitors. She advocates to our partners that have a seat at the table when we are selected for the final rounds of RFP meetings, and we have received very favorable responses from our clients,” says Prince.

Like Clark, Prince was formerly a practicing lawyer.  She oversees a pricing and legal project management team that focuses on a variety of aspects of LPM within Ballard Spahr, including pricing, process improvement and practice innovation to help lawyers come up with more efficient ways of practicing law. She reports to the firm’s managing partner of finance and operations and to the firm’s executive director.

“Our partners have been amazingly responsive to our team, which has been in large part driven by the support that the firm's senior management, departmental leadership and Board has given us,” says Prince. “They understand that the legal marketplace is changing and the firm needs to be willing to change with it.  It's really exciting to see, and there is a strong feeling at the firm that we are in this together for the benefit of our clients.”

As issues of project management and efficiency have come to the fore in major corporations, a new type of corporate position, that of Director of Legal Operations, has emerged – and that too has had an impact on the way in which clients select their attorneys.

Writing in 2015 in Bloomberg Law’s Big Law Business, reporter Susan Hansen noted that the position of Director of Legal Operations, which often focuses on process improvement and efficiency in getting legal work done for a company, started in Silicon Valley and has spread quickly in corporate America.  

Now, not only are an increasing number of corporate law departments hiring operations pros, but the role they play -- in managing outside vendors and contracts, and in implementing new technology and otherwise driving efficiencies and containing costs -- has continued to expand . . .  And legal industry insiders predict that the demand for savvy operations specialists will only grow.

Ballard Spahr’s Prince is well aware of this trend, in which professionals in corporate legal departments have a great deal to say about efficiency and about the selection of outside counsel on that basis:

I have seen growing demand for efficiency from the client side, primarily from these directors of legal operations.  This year, I attended the CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) conference, because this is where my contemporaries in the corporate world were.   We were recently selected as one of only three firms in a large company’s preferred legal network, and the director of legal operations played a huge role in the RFP and outside counsel selection process.  She understood that selecting firms that were committed to non-hourly fee arrangements and disciplined project management and process improvement was just as important as the quality of the legal work involved.

 To be continued in Part 2....

June 14, 2017

New research on how to improve legal efficiency, and much more

According to Altman Weil’s recently released 2017 Law Firms in Transition (LFiT) survey the top two trends that are transforming the legal profession are “More price competition” (95% of the 386 managing partners and chairs who participated in the survey said this is a permanent change) and “Focus on improved efficiency” (94% said this is permanent).

So what are law firms doing about these fundamental changes in the marketplace?  Not nearly enough. 

When the LFiT survey asked “Has your firm significantly changed its strategic approach to the efficiency of legal service delivery?” only 49% said yes.  (20% said it was “under consideration,” and the remaining 31% replied with a flat no.)  These proportions have been surprisingly steady for the five years that Altman Weil has been asking this question.  It seems that about 20% of firms have been considering change since 2013, but they still haven’t done anything about it.  

Could the slow rate of change reflect the fact that clients don’t really care about efficiency?

No, that’s not it. In Altman Weil’s most recent Chief Legal Officer survey, the number one service innovation that clients wanted was “greater cost reduction.”  There are only two ways to meet this fundamental requirement:  become more efficient, or cut into your prices and profits with discounts.  (These days, most firms seem to be choosing deep discounts, sometimes to the point of what consultant Bruce MacEwen has called suicide pricing.”) 

Could the failure to act reflect a belief that the pace of change will slow down, or that it doesn’t matter? 

No, that’s not it either.  In fact, 72% of the LFiT respondents believe that the pace of change in the legal profession will increase (p. 2).  The fact that more than half of all law firm partners are “not sufficiently busy” (p. 36) also suggests that the forces of supply and demand will continue to put downward pressure on prices. And in our research for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, 85% of AmLaw 200 leaders said that firms will have a competitive advantage if they change more quickly.

When LFiT respondents were asked “how serious are law firms about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients?” the median rating was just 5 on a scale from 0 to 10 (p. 11).  If that’s not bad enough, clients think it’s even worse.  When clients were asked the same question in the Chief Legal Officers Survey, their median rating was a distressing 3 out of 10 (p. 23).

When directly asked “Why isn’t your firm doing more to change the way it delivers legal services?” the number one answer was “partners resist most change efforts” (65%, see p. 14).

Summing it up: Clients want lower prices; more than 9 out of 10 law firm leaders believe there is a need to become more efficient; but less than half of law firms are doing anything about it.  These results may be alarming, but for grizzled law firm veterans, they are not really surprising. 

As Eric Seeger and Tom Clay, the authors of the LFiT, noted on the first page of their report (p. i) “Law firms are slowly changing [but]… we see firms making only cursory investments where they should be aiming for broader, deeper transformation.  And still many partners resist change in all its forms.”

But wait, the slow pace of change is not the only problem.  It gets worse.  When law firms do try to change, they often employ the wrong tactics. 

This year, for the first time, Altman Weil listed eight of the most common tactics to increase efficiency, and they asked which ones each firm was pursuing. More importantly, they asked which tactics “have resulted in a significant improvement in firm performance?”  The graph below (adapted from p. 57) summarizes their findings:

LFiT_Graphic_DSJ2

Note that the two tactics that firms are using most often (knowledge management and using technology tools to replace human resources) are among the least likely to actually improve performance. And the two that have had the greatest impact (shifting work to contract lawyers and to paraprofessionals) are among those least used.  Clearly firms should reconsider their priorities.

If you study the graph above closely, you may also notice another fact that supports an argument we’ve been making for years:  project management training finished dead last in effectiveness.  In 2010, many firms first became aware of LPM when one AmLaw 100 firm got a lot of headlines by training every partner in their firm.  Lawyers love precedent, so that led to a fad of LPM training.  As explained in a post in this blog we here at LegalBizDev refused to participate in this fad, and declined to bid on RFPs that took this approach.  We knew from our two decades in the training business that it would simply not work.  As noted, in our recent posts on the “Top five ways to increase LPM results:   

It is not exactly news that education does not necessarily lead to behavior change. Taking a workshop about how to lead a healthier life by exercising regularly, losing weight, and eating more vegetables does not mean that you will actually do any of these things.

That’s why for years we have recommended that firms start with one-to-one coaching to solve problems that lawyers care about and to produce behavior change and quick wins.  These tactics have been proven to overcome the partner resistance which is slowing so many firms.

While this post focuses on efficiency data, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the 124 page, free 2017 LFiT report.  The report provides a gold mine of additional data on the key topics that law firms need to focus on to prosper in the current climate, including profitability, staffing, and growth.

Many of these findings should affect your strategy.  To cite just one example, the tactic that law firms rely on most to improve pricing – developing data on the cost of services sold – is also the least likely to improve firm performance (p. 62).  The tactic that is most likely to improve performance is also the one used least often:  adding a pricing director or assigning pricing responsibilities to a current staff member.

As Seeger and Clay summed it up (p. iv): 

Firms that pursue thoughtful efficiency initiatives and stick with them will improve internal performance and add value for clients.  Firms that do not will experience competitive disadvantage over time.  It can cost very little to test-run pilot programs in these areas, and we believe it is an investment worth making.

 

A free copy of the 2017 LFiT can be downloaded from the Altman Weil website

Full disclosure:  LegalBizDev is a strategic partner of Altman Weil, and we specialize in the very types of pilot programs they recommend.

 

May 31, 2017

The top five ways to increase LPM results (Part 2 of 2)

by Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

3.  Publicize successes within the firm

The lawyers who achieve quick wins often become internal champions who spread the word to their partners.  This is most effective when the firm establishes procedures to publicize successes internally.

For example, Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami-based firm with more than 100 lawyers, started with a panel discussion at a retreat in which three lawyers who had completed LPM coaching described their experience and results.  One of the three, Al Dotson, the firm’s Land Development & Government Relations Practice Group Leader, described how his LPM activities had led to new business in just a few months.  Dotson’s practice involves public-private partnerships in economic development in south Florida. It includes securing land use, zoning, and other key government approvals and permits for large real estate developments. His clients loved the LPM approach because they use project management to run their own construction businesses. Within a few weeks of starting the coaching, one of his clients was so impressed by a legal project plan Dotson had produced that he asked Bilzin to take on a significant amount of new work.

Based on the endorsement of internal champions, the majority of Bilzin Sumberg's partners volunteered for and completed LPM coaching.  They then proceeded to work LPM concepts into the very fabric of the way the firm operates, as described in a case study on our web page.

LPM successes can also be publicized in practice group meetings; through emails from firm leadership; at firm retreats, lunch and learns, panel discussions; and in many other ways.  

4.  Use just-in time training materials

In our three decades in the training and coaching business, the profession has changed radically.  When we started our company in 1985, most training was built around classes and workshops.  These days, it is far more common to use a just-in-time training approach which enables people to solve the problems they have, the moment they have them.

For example, if you need to use some unfamiliar features of Microsoft Word, it is very unlikely that you would consider taking a class. You will simply find the exact information you need in online help, precisely when you need it.

This approach has been applied in almost every field you can think of, including project manage­ment. When a research study of “The use of just-in-time training in a project environment was published in the International Journal of Project Management, the authors pointed out that “Around 40% of the knowledge acquired in training is lost after a break of one month, rising to 90% after six months.”  They then performed an experiment to show how the problem could be solved by providing access to tools that allow people to solve the problems they care about, just in time.

Full disclosure:  LegalBizDev has developed the most complete library of tools and templates to support just-in-time training for LPM.  This library has grown to over 400 pages in the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  Lawyers in our coaching and training programs have used this book to quickly find the information they need when they need it.  Whether they want to define the scope for a new matter, plan a budget, increase delegation, improve client communication, or increase efficiency in other ways, the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide provides checklists and step-by-step advice to save lawyers time in finding the solution that best fits their client and their personality.

In 2017, LegalBizDev also began offering electronic versions of these tools and templates, which lawyers can access anytime, anywhere using their laptop, tablet, or phone.  These online templates are frequently updated to include new tools that we are constantly adding to the collection.

A number of firms have also begun to develop their own custom tools, from budgeting spreadsheets to checklists for planning an alternative fee arrangement. 

Firms that want to apply the just-in-time training approach to LPM must decide whether to “build or buy.”  They can create their own complete library of firm-specific LPM tools and templates, or start from the foundation we provide with over 150 customizable electronic LPM tools and templates that provide step-by-step advice to solve the most common problems.

5.  Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly

To retain current clients and find new ones, a law firm simply needs to be just a little better than its key competitors.  The good news is that until recently that was easy, because other lawyers were not focused on efficiency.  The bad news is that it is getting harder to beat competitors, as more of them focus on LPM.  The bar is going up, and what was good enough to win new business last year may not work this year.

For example, one of the most interesting developments in LPM is the application of “Agile” approaches. In the traditional approach to project management, you start by creating a plan, including deliverables, deadlines and budgets, and then work your way to the end, one sequential step at a time.  In contrast, Agile takes a more flexible approach to managing projects by constantly reviewing priorities and a team’s ability to respond to change rather than sticking to a rigid plan created before the work began.

Agile first emerged in software development, but it can be extremely useful in managing legal matters where deadlines, tasks, and even goals change frequently.  Planning at the outset of every engagement remains important, but the ability to reprioritize tasks as further information becomes available is often critical to the success of legal matters.  If you don’t know whether a case will be in court for years or settle tomorrow, a static plan simply will not work.  Agile speeds up the change process with an iterative approach that seeks client feedback more quickly and uses it to maximize client value.

According to Jeff Sutherland, one of the founders of the movement: 

[Agile is] based on a simple idea: whenever you start a project, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, and if it’s actually what people want. And question whether there are any ways… of doing it better and faster.  (p. 9)

Some of the tips Sutherland offers in his book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time run counter to the way lawyers have been trained to proceed.  However, these tips can save an enormous amount of time in rapidly changing legal matters.  To give you a sense of how Agile works, here are a few suggestions quoted from Sutherland’s book:

  • Fail fast so you can fix early. Working… in short cycles allows early user feedback and you can immediately eliminate what is obviously wasteful effort.
  • Planning is useful. Blindly following plans is stupid. It’s just so tempting to draw up endless charts… but when detailed plans meet reality, they fall apart. Build into your working method the assumption of change, discovery, and new ideas.
  • Don’t guess… Plan what you’re going to do. Do it. Check whether it did what you wanted. Act on that and change how you’re doing things. Repeat in regular cycles and… achieve continuous improvement.
  • Small teams get work done faster than big teams. Data shows that if you have more than nine people on a team, their velocity slows down… More resources make the team go slower.
  • All the work being done… has to be transparent to everyone. If the team gets too big, the ability of everyone to communicate with everyone else, all the time, gets muddled… Meetings that took minutes now take hours.
  • Give teams the freedom to make decisions on how to take action… The ability to improvise will make all the difference.

We predict that Agile will transform LPM over the next few years.  Whether our prediction is correct or not, there is no doubt that LPM will require continuous improvement as the legal marketplace evolves.

To this day, some law firms are trying to identify a complete LPM solution before they take the first step. A committee is formed, monthly meetings are held and delayed, and months or years are devoted to analysis and debate before anyone actually does anything.

But the simple fact is that no one can possibly know what LPM will look like in ten years, or even in two years, because the legal profession is changing so rapidly.

Keeping up with these changes will require constant attention and management support.  As a senior executive from one AmLaw 200 firm summed it up in our book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability:

I think that [LPM] will require a lot of work, and daily support from the top, not just lip service from the partner team twice a year. (p. 192)