381 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

May 17, 2017

The top five ways to increase LPM results (Part 1 of 2)

by Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

In the last few years, many legal clients have been demanding greater efficiency and more predictable budgets. Law firms have responded by investing in legal project management (LPM) to increase client satisfaction and profitability.  They have tried a variety of approaches to this evolving specialty, including LPM coaching, training, hiring LPM staff, and purchasing new software.  Some of these initiatives have been quite effective in changing lawyers’ behavior, and some have not.

This two part series provides a high level summary of the five most effective ways to increase LPM results:

1.  Focus on changing behavior and solving problems

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

At about the same time, many firms started implementing LPM by launching large-scale education programs. Lawyers love precedent, so when one AmLaw 100 firm announced that it had trained all of its partners in LPM, a number of others jumped in to do the same thing.  These training programs enabled firms to “check the LPM box,” write RFP responses praising their own LPM efforts, and put out press releases. What they did not accomplish, however, was to get many lawyers to change the way they practice law.

As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm that invested heavily in LPM training put it in our survey Client Value and Law Firm Profitability

Every shareholder and top level associate [in our firm] has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you that they use it, but they don’t.(p. 193)

LPM requires partners to change the very way they practice law.  And as the managing partner of another AmLaw 200 firm in our survey put it:

Project management is not natural to lawyers. We’ve always been trained to get the case done well to win, but now we also have to get the case done efficiently, and that is not part of the natural toolkit for most people. (p. 191)

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.

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.

2.  Aim for quick wins to create internal champions

Lawyers are most likely to change their behavior if they are provided with convincing evidence that it is in their own self-interest. If respected colleagues say that LPM helped to make a fixed fee deal more profitable, or to avoid a write-down with a difficult client, they will listen.

As ALM Legal Intelligence noted in a survey entitled Legal Project Management: Much Promise, Many Hurdles (ALM Legal Intelligence, 2012, p. 17), “The quicker there are demonstrable positive benefits, the faster other partners will take notice.” (p. 17)

The value of quick wins in changing behavior has also been shown in many other professions.

A few years ago, John Kotter published a Harvard Business School Review article entitled “Leading Change:  Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” summarizing a ten-year study of more than 100 companies.  Most of their change efforts had failed, and Kotter outlined eight phases that were necessary for success:  generating a sense of urgency; establishing a powerful guiding coalition; developing a vision; communicating the vision clearly and often; removing obstacles; planning for and creating short-term wins; avoiding premature declarations of victory; and embedding changes in the corporate culture.

Kotter, who is now a Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, went on to refine these ideas in a number of publications, including the book Leading Change, which TIME magazine listed as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Business Management Books" of all time.  According to Kotter (p. 123), short-term wins:   

  • “Provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it
  • Reward change agents with a pat on the back
  • Help fine-tune vision and strategies
  • Undermine cynics and self-serving resisters
  • Build momentum”

When LegalBizDev coaches lawyers in LPM, we look for the low hanging fruit that makes it easiest to generate short-term wins such as better budget control, improved client communication, or negotiating changes of scope.

In more than three decades in the training business, LegalBizDev has found that the single most important factor in success is selecting the right people to be trained. This is particularly critical in an area like LPM, where there is resistance and skepticism about changing behavior.

We recommend starting with lawyers who are open to new ideas and who have the most to gain. That could be the key partners who are responsible for new alternative fee arrangements. It could be relationship partners who are worried about protecting business with key clients that are looking for greater efficiency and increased value from their outside counsel. It could be an entire practice group that is considering new checklists, templates, and processes to improve its competitive position. 

Experience has shown that our training pays for itself several times over by enhancing client relationships and profitability. That success creates a new group of champions within the firm who will spread the word that legal project management can help serve clients better.

The exact individuals and groups will vary from firm to firm. But in every case, the best lawyers to begin focusing on LPM are those who are (i) open-minded about change and efficiency, (ii) in a position to benefit when LPM makes a difference, and (iii) influential enough to credibly spread the word of their success.

To be continued in Part 2.....

 

May 03, 2017

What lawyers could learn from other professions about change

Over the last few decades, many lawyers have gotten comfortable with their own success. But, as Microsoft founder Bill Gates has noted, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

As the law firm marketplace has become more challenging, a number of law firms have already lost. Just ask the lawyers and staff who used to work at Bingham McCutcheon, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Heenan Blaikie, Howrey, Heller Ehrman, Thelen Reid & Priest, or Thacher Profitt & Wood. Each of these firms had hundreds of lawyers at one time, but now the firms are gone.

These failures have often occurred with little warning to the rank and file. In a study of 37 large law firm collapses since 1988, John Morley of Yale Law School concluded that “law firms often go from apparent health to liquidation in a matter of months or even days and they never manage to reorganize their debts in bankruptcy and survive.”

Every law firm that has gone out of business had its own unique problems. But lawyers often use this as an excuse to think: It couldn’t happen here. Actually, it could. As Richard Susskind summed it up, “The legal market is in an unprecedented state of flux. Over the next two decades, the way in which lawyers work will change radically… Unless they adapt, many traditional legal businesses will fail.”

This type of rapid change has been seen in many other industries. In 2014, a medallion to operate a taxi in New York City cost about $1 million. According to a recent Bloomberg report: “Owning one used to be akin to owning a gas-guzzling, money-printing machine.”

However, thanks to the success of Uber, Lyft and ride sharing services, by 2017 a medallions’ value had been cut in half, and it is still declining.

There are many other examples of people who experienced great success and thought they couldn’t lose. Here are some of the companies they used to work for: TWA, Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, MCI WorldCom, American Motors, Montgomery Ward, Woolworth’s, RCA, Compaq, Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang, Drexel Burnham, E.F. Hutton, PaineWebber, and Lehman Brothers.

But the world changed and they didn’t; and now all those companies are gone, along with many others.

In the last few decades, the forces of global economic change and technology have radically transformed such industries as telecommunications, airlines, retail, mass media, and medicine.

Similar forces have now begun to transform the business of law. One of the most interesting analyses of lessons from other professions was offered by Clayton Christensen, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma and a professor at Harvard Business School, in a keynote presentation at a Harvard Law School conference on “Disruptive Innovation on the Market for Legal Services.”

Here's one example Christensen presents:  A few decades ago, steel was made in massive integrated steel mills, which were quite expensive to build and to operate. The products they produced ranged from low-quality rebar to the high-quality sheet steel used to make cars. Then, in the late 1960s, new technology enabled mini-mills to produce steel much more cheaply by melting scrap in electric furnaces.

At first, the steel produced by mini-mills was low quality and only satisfied the rebar market. Integrated mills were happy to let the rebar business go away because its gross margins were about 7%, and they could make 12% with higher quality steel.

For a while, everybody was happy. Mini-mills had a 20% gross margin and made a ton of money taking over the low-tier business. And the average gross margin profits of integrated mills went up when they stopped making rebar, because they had eliminated their low-margin work.

But by 1979, mini-mills had driven the last high-cost integrated mill out of the rebar market. When the mini-mills had only each other to compete with, the price of rebar collapsed by 20%, and none could make money. Naturally, the mini-mills concluded that if they could make better steel, they could go after a whole new market. So they attacked the next tier, angle iron with 12% profits.

Again, the integrated steel mills seemed happy to let them have it because they were making 18% on sheet and structural steel, and again their average profits went up. And the same thing happened again. Everyone’s profitability improved in the short term, until the last high-cost integrated mill was driven out of the middle-tier business in 1984 and prices again collapsed by 20%.

Mini-mills then found a way to make high-quality steel, and they now account for 85% of North America’s steel production. All but one of the integrated mills has gone bankrupt.

Could something similar happen in the legal profession, with lower-cost competitors first taking away the simplest work (say e-discovery and contract lawyers) and then gradually moving to more complex matters?

It is always dangerous to generalize across industries, but if you’d like to consider whether law firms are immune to massive change, you might want to study the history of other industries that thought they were immune, including:

  • Travel agencies
  • Bookstores
  • Newspapers
  • Airlines
  • Video rental stores
  • Mini-computer companies
  • Railroads
  • Canal operators
  • Buggy whip manufacturers

As jazz great Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography, “The world has always been about change.”

Now it’s lawyers’ turn to change.

This post was adapted from LegalBizDev’s new LPM Tools and Templates.

April 19, 2017

15 tips for increasing efficiency with Agile

A few months ago, when I wrote in this blog about “How Agile is being used to increase legal marketing innovation at Fasken Martineau,” I noted that Fasken’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brenda Plowman, had provided her entire Senior Management Team with copies of the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time to spur innovation. The primary author, Jeff Sutherland, was one of the 17 software developers who attended the Agile Manifesto meeting that started this movement in 2001.

This book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to adapt innovative Agile project management techniques to the legal profession. While Sutherland defines the term Scrum broadly (others see Scrum as a subset of Agile), he emphasizes that neither is an easily defined step-by-step process. "There is no methodology," he says (p. 16). Instead, Scrum and Agile are approaches "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).

Here is a list of 15 of Sutherland’s top tips that apply directly to lawyers. All are direct quotes that can be found sprinkled throughout the book:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Hesitation is death… Know where you are, assess your options, make a decision, and act!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Give teams the freedom to make decisions on how to take action… The ability to improvise will make all the difference.
  8. Break down your work into what can be accomplished in a… short period [such as the next week or two].
  9. At the end of each [period], have something that’s done [and can be shared with the client].
  10. Everyone [should] know everything. Communication saturation accelerates work.
  11. Working too hard only makes more work. Working long hours doesn’t get more done; it gets less done. Working too much results in fatigue, which leads to errors, which leads to having to fix the things you just finished.
  12. Only plan what you need to. Don’t try to project everything out years in advance. Just plan enough to keep your teams busy.
  13. Make a list. Check it twice. Create a list of everything that could possibly be done on a project. Then prioritize it. Put the items with the highest value and the lowest risk at the top of the [list].
  14. Create new things only as long as [they] deliver value. What in the beginning you thought you needed is never what is actually needed.
  15. Observe, orient, decide, act (OODA). See the whole strategic picture, but act tactically and quickly.

This brief summary just skims the surface. If you want to consider how Agile can be applied to legal matters, buy Sutherland’s book.

This post was adapted from LegalBizDev’s new LPM Tools and Templates.

March 29, 2017

Six law firms take legal project management just-in-time training to the next level

Six leading law firms have recently started to take their legal project management (LPM) programs to the next level by purchasing licenses to LegalBizDev’s new library of online LPM tools and templates which lawyers can access on their laptop, tablet, or phone. The six firms are:

  • Winston & Strawn – an international law firm with more than 875 attorneys in 17 offices in key financial centers around the world. Its largest office is in Chicago.
  • Steptoe – an international firm with more than 500 lawyers and other professionals in offices in Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, Phoenix, and its main office in Washington, DC.
  • Lathrop & Gage – a US firm with over 300 lawyers in 11 offices from Boston to Los Angeles, with its main office in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Stewart McKelvey – a Canadian law firm with more than 200 lawyers in six offices throughout the Atlantic region of Canada. Its largest office is in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt – a firm with over 150 lawyers in seven cities in the Pacific Northwest. Its main office is in Portland, Oregon.
  • Bilzin Sumberg – a Miami-based firm with more than 100 lawyers, serving clients throughout the United States and around the world.

Based on our experiences using these templates with over 100 law firms, LegalBizDev consultants are working with each license holder to create a strategic plan that fits each firm’s unique culture and resources, including tasks, objectives, and timelines to assure that lawyers use these tools. The results they achieve will be described in this blog in coming months.

The concept of just-in-time training is old news in most professions. 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.

But the adoption of just-in-time training techniques has been slower in the conservative legal profession. Law firms love precedents, and many did not begin to think seriously about legal project management (LPM) until 2010 when Dechert, a firm with over 800 lawyers, announced that they had held traditional training classes with all their partners in this emerging field. This led to a wave of imitation, with numerous firms conducting training classes, then publishing press releases announcing their success.

There was just one problem with all of these traditional classes: few lawyers actually changed their behavior and applied the principles they learned in class. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm told me in an interview for my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, “Every shareholder and top level associate [at our firm] has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you they use it, but they don’t (p. 180).”

Long-term readers of this blog know that LegalBizDev has, from the very start of the LPM movement, maintained that the best way to change behavior is for motivated attorneys to directly experience immediate LPM benefits and then become internal champions who spread the word. The most efficient way for lawyers to experience those benefits is to work one-on-one with a personal coach. This is one type of just-in-time training, since it uses the tools and templates in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide to focus on each lawyer’s immediate needs. Our web page includes several case studies showing exactly how this approach has worked.

But until recently, the piece of the puzzle that’s been missing has been an extensive library of online LPM tools which lawyers can access anytime, anywhere. It is time consuming and costly to develop and test LPM tools and templates, so to date the only available online tools have been limited to a few templates created by individual firms.

LegalBizDev has now taken the next step in the just-in-time training approach by offering licenses to use electronic versions not just of the tools and templates published in the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, but also of additional new tools and templates that we will continue to develop and release every three months. These tools and templates make it possible for lawyers to better plan budgets, define scope for new matters, improve client communications, and improve efficiency in other areas by simply looking up what they need when they need it. Our goal is to create the single definitive online resource for the latest information on LPM and to keep adding to it as the field grows.

Instead of paying to reinvent the wheel, these six law firms and others that license these materials in the future will start from a proven foundation of what’s worked at other firms, and what hasn’t, based on six years of development, research, and testing with over 100 law firms.

As soon as just one lawyer who is responsible for a large engagement accesses the right information at the right moment, the return on investment will quickly exceed cost by:

  • Increasing the accuracy of an initial fee estimate and the likelihood of payment in full by using the template “15 questions to ask clients to help define scope”
  • Renegotiating a fixed fee by using the template “Prepare and negotiate for approval of a scope change”
  • Using any of the more than 150 tools and templates in this electronic library to increase client satisfaction and/or firm profitability

For more information on licensing these materials for your firm, contact us (info@legalbizdev.com, 617-217-2578) for details, including the introductory discounts we are offering through June 30, 2017.

March 22, 2017

Lessons learned reviews – Part 2 of 2

By Jim Hassett and Gary Richards

After action reviews

According to the ACC Value Challenge Briefing Package, law firms should “Conduct after action reviews at the end of each matter to help continuously improve performance” (p. 8).

The concepts are basically the same as the questions discussed above, but the details of the process and the term “after action review” originated in the US Army. This approach is organized around four key questions:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What were the positive and negative factors?
  • What have we learned and how can we do better next time?

Jeff Carr has written and spoken extensively about how lawyers should adapt after action review concepts. (Jeff has worked with Valorem Law Group since retiring from his position as General Counsel at FMC Technologies in 2014.)

In an interview published on the ACC Value Challenge web page, he notes that:

It is important that the process focuses on continuous improvement as opposed to dwelling on the past. To do so, the team leader presents first and bases the comments on what they could have done better (as opposed to what other team members might have done differently). This helps avoid an accusatory and adversarial meeting that becomes a “blame game.”

One element of the approach is the “hot wash,” a simple brainstorming session that solicits comments at the end of a matter and classifies each under two columns: What went well, and Take a look at.

Ron Friedmann described in his blog how Carr used this approach in a conference several years ago at Georgetown Law School:

In a session lasting less than 10 minutes, Jeff led the audience in a review… He divided [a] flip chart vertically in two. On the left, he made a column for “What went well” and on the right for “Take a look at.” The idea is to get fast, brainstormed, uncensored audience comments on what worked well and what could be improved. He spent two minutes laying out simple ground rules (e.g., say what comes to mind, think of positives as well as negatives, as scribe he would write down whatever was said without judgment)… In just minutes Jeff filled several sheets with many helpful comments.

In a comment at the end of Friedmann’s blog post, Jeff Carr wrote:

The technique is called “The Hot Wash” and came from a brilliant podcast series known as Manager Tools. I highly recommend this podcast series to all managers—but especially to lawyers leading teams for, as we all know, most of us never had any training in project management, people management, or people development, upward management, shop floor management—or for that matter, playing nice in the sandbox.

We [also] do a more formal after action process as well at the conclusion of every legal matter. We call that L2A2 (“Lessons Learned/After Action”) where we examine procedural improvement (what could the team do better) and substantive improvement (how can the organization avoid similar problems, or continue to do what went well). The team leader always goes first and talks about what he/she could do better (not what others could do better). In theory and practice, this gives the group permission to focus on improvement as opposed to criticism of team members. It’s not about fame, not about shame, but rather how you play the game!

More questions to ask

The following list of questions was inspired by Jeff Carr’s ACES (Alliance Counsel Engagement System) Report Card, a system FMC Technologies developed to calculate performance fees awarded to outside counsel, based on their grades on six key factors:

  • Understands goals
  • Expertise
  • Efficiency
  • Responsiveness
  • Predictive accuracy
  • Effectiveness

If you plan a longer review, some or all of these questions could be adapted to your situation:

  • Would you ask us again to do this kind of work?
  • How likely is it that you would recommend that a colleague hire us?
  • How well did we understand and meet your legal objectives?
  • How well did we understand your business strategy and help you meet business objectives?
  • Did we provide practical real-world advice and solutions?
  • How would you describe our substantive legal knowledge and expertise?
  • Did we use the best team to meet your needs?
  • Were all deadlines met?
  • Did we handle changes in your needs promptly and effectively?
  • Were team members available when you needed them?
  • Did we proactively take the lead when needed?
  • How well did we communicate?
  • Did we do a good job of explaining risks?
  • Did we keep you informed and avoid surprises?
  • Did we manage fees and expenses well?
  • Were our original budgets and estimates as accurate as possible?
  • Was the total project cost fair and appropriate?
  • How could we do a better job of delivering value?
  • Did our work meet or exceed your expectations?
  • How would you rate our overall performance?

Internal review meetings

In addition to your lessons learned discussion with clients, it can also be helpful to have a meeting strictly of your internal team to increase team efficiency and morale. For firms that have a formal knowledge management system in place, meetings like this can be especially helpful in capturing insights and experiences that can be of great value to the firm in the future.

Obviously, some of the questions you ask in an internal meeting will be different from those you would ask a client. In the book, Implementing Value Pricing, Ron Baker provided a long list of questions for such meetings (p. 317), including:

  • What could we do better next time?
  • Did we add value for this customer?
  • Did we have the right team on this engagement?
  • Did this engagement enhance our relationship with this customer?
  • What other needs does this customer have and are we addressing them?
  • Did we learn any new intellectual capital that we could leverage across other customers?
  • Should we communicate the lessons on this engagement to our colleagues and how?

The last two questions can yield important knowledge management results, including exhibit formats, checklists, briefs, innovative arguments, and more. And, as noted on the web page Knowledge Management Online:

Effective knowledge management should dramatically reduce costs. Most individuals, teams and organizations are today continually “reinventing the wheel.” This is often because they simply do not know… what is already known, or they do not know where to access the knowledge. Continually reinventing the wheel is… a costly and inefficient activity.… Knowledge management… should also dramatically increase our speed of response as a direct result of better knowledge access and application.

A final thought

Given the potential benefits of a lessons learned discussion at the end of every important matter and at critical junctures in large matters, why would anyone ever skip this step?

Because you are already too busy on the next matter? Because you hate to put time into non-billable activity? Because you feel awkward about discussions like this?

In the long run, these are terrible answers. As the legal profession becomes ever more competitive, lawyers who fail to find time to understand what clients want and need today may find themselves with a whole lot of free time tomorrow.

This post was adapted from LegalBizDev’s new LPM Tools and Templates.

March 15, 2017

Lessons learned reviews – Part 1 of 2

By Jim Hassett and Gary Richards

Some lawyers hold meetings at the end of every significant matter to review what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done better the next time. In large matters, they also conduct these “lessons learned” reviews after completing each significant milestone or phase.

These discussions are a learning opportunity and a marketing opportunity. Such a discussion can 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. Could you possibly think of a better way to develop new business?

The lessons learned review could be long or short. You could hold a formal group meeting and send the questions in advance, or you can simply ask your client some of the questions below. If you think of this as marketing, it will be obvious that it is better to have the discussion in person, maybe even over lunch. The phone can be a good second choice, but email is a distant third. You want to get people to open up and speak freely, and that is unlikely to happen via email.

The length and formality of the process should depend on the size and significance of the matter, your relationship with the client, and on how much work they are likely to have for you in the future. This section lists a number of different questions you might ask. In many cases, the first two will be enough.

The two most important questions

Unless there is a major open issue requiring an immediate joint review, or a client requests a lengthy discussion, we recommend that you assume that clients have little time to spare. This may mean limiting the debrief to two simple questions:

  1. What did you like about the way we handled this matter?
  2. What could we do better?

The first question is a classic “easy to answer” opening. Ask this one first, because it will get people talking freely.

The second question is the one you really care about, since you are likely to learn far more from criticism than from praise. No matter how much clients like your work, they can always like it more. And in today’s highly competitive environment, it is in your interest to turn every client into a raving fan.

If the second question opens the door to a laundry list of complaints, do not get defensive. Do not argue, disagree or explain your position. In fact, at most lessons learned meetings you should say very little and listen more than 90% of the time. Keep probing for more information. These meetings are designed not to understand reality, but rather to understand the client’s perception of reality. Because when it comes to client satisfaction and new business, perception is everything.

When clients raise problems, you need to reassure them that things will be better in the future. But in most cases you should not get into the details at the initial discussion. You need time to think about the best way to solve the problem, and to assure client satisfaction. So be prepared to say something like, “That is an important issue. Let me talk to a few people about the best way of preventing that from happening again, and then I will get back to you.”

Of course, if you do promise to get back to your client with a solution, you must put a high priority on completing follow-up as soon as possible.

If your time is limited, and your clients’ time is too, you can stop here. But if you want to consider more questions, read on.

Two more questions you could ask

If you have time to probe deeper, you can also add one or both of these optional questions:

  1. Working together, how can we improve the value you receive in the future on matters like this?
  2. On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with our firm?

The first question is optional and focuses on the issue which is most likely to lead to new business: how to increase perceived value. This is a slight rephrasing of a key question suggested in the ACC Value Challenge Briefing Package (p. 7). Note the phrase “working together,” which stresses the need to align interests and collaborate more closely.

The second question is also optional. There are many ways to phrase effective questions about client satisfaction, but the best way is to ask for a numerical rating, because it forces clarity and frankness.

We ask our own clients this question at the end of every program we deliver, and to be honest, many shy away from giving a number. The client is always right, so if they don’t want to be pinned down with a number, we go with the flow. The important thing is to begin a genuine conversation about satisfaction, and to encourage clients to talk about the things you really need to hear, rather than more comfortable vague praise.

If clients do give you a number, there’s a good chance it will be lower than you expected. The reason is that most people overrate themselves. Psychologists call this the Lake Wobegon effect, named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional community in which “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

The best place to see this effect in the legal community is in a series of surveys published in Inside Counsel magazine comparing ratings of satisfaction from clients and the law firms who serve them. In one such survey, 43% of lawyers thought they were earning an A for their work, but only 17% of their clients agreed. So if you think you deserve an A, you’re probably wrong.

Another way to get at this fundamental issue is to ask, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?”

In his business bestseller, The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld argues that companies should focus more attention on loyalty by measuring the response to this one simple question. Reichheld and his colleagues at Bain have published several books and many studies showing that companies with high customer loyalty rates grow revenues twice as fast as their competitors. They have also shown that companies can increase profits by 25% to 100% simply by increasing customer retention by 5%.

Clients who rate the likelihood at 9 or 10 out of 10 are called “promoters” and are responsible for generating sustainable growth. You might think 7 or 8 on this 10-point scale would also be pretty good, but Reichheld has found that these people are motivated more by inertia than by enthusiasm. He calls this middle group “passives” and notes that they will often jump to another company at the first sign of a better deal.

The most serious business risk comes from “detractors,” people who rate the likelihood of referrals at 0 to 6 on that 10-point scale. From a strict financial view, many of these detractors may be profitable in the short term, but Reichheld notes that, “Customers who feel ignored or mistreated find ways to get even. They drive up service costs by reporting numerous problems. They demoralize frontline employees with their complaints and demands” (p. 6). 

Eighty percent of negative comments come from this detractor group, and in this age of email and internet ratings, a single complaint can reach hundreds of potential clients in the time it takes to hit the send button. In short, detractors “suck the life out of a firm” (p. 30).

This post was adapted from LegalBizDev’s new LPM Tools and Templates.

March 08, 2017

Value questions to ask top clients

Improved communication can strengthen relationships with top 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. The questions in this list will be helpful in preparing for these discussions. The idea is to pick a few key questions that fit this situation, schedule a meeting, and let the client talk 80% of the time. Do not argue or object to criticism, just listen.

Direct questions about value

  • 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 firms do that you really like that we don’t do?

Questions from the ACC Value Challenge

Background: The ACC Value Challenge is an initiative of the Association of Corporate Counsel, “The world’s largest community of in-house counsel, with more than 30,000 members in over 75 countries.” Its goal is to promote “value-driven, high quality legal services that deliver solutions for a reasonable cost.” The questions below were reproduced from ACC’s web page discussion of “How to talk with outside counsel (or clients).”

  • “How can we re-establish 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?”

More questions about client satisfaction

  • 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 ways we could help clients like you, or 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?

Note: Many of these questions address your service and could easily be reworded to ask how clients perceive other law firms they have worked with in the past. That can be an excellent way to get insights into where competitors are vulnerable.

Questions about client satisfaction

  • In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with law firms, both our firm and others?
  • 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 the 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?

Big picture business questions

  • 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?

Active listening questions

These simple prompts can help assure that you let your client talk at least 80% of the time:

  • 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?

For a more open-ended discussion of current trends

If you would like to create more specific questions to fit your client’s precise interests, begin by reviewing 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 one or more of the trends Lippe discusses: alternate staffing, predictable pricing, defined quality, client intimacy, technology, and process innovation.


This post was adapted from LegalBizDev’s new LPM Tools and Templates.

March 01, 2017

Tip of the month: Fit your reporting style to each client

Make sure you report results regularly to each client in their preferred style, whether that means by email, by phone, or in person. And be sure to determine what level of information each client wants. If you are perceived as reporting too little, clients will see you as secretive, but if you report more than they want, you may be perceived as needy or even incompetent.

February 22, 2017

Key questions project managers should ask

By Jim Hassett and Natasha Chetty, LegalBizDev

Effective project management starts by asking the right questions. While there are hundreds of questions managers can ask, this list summarizes the most critical ones. It is organized in terms of the eight key issues discussed in our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

Set objectives and define scope

  • What business problem does the client want to solve?
  • How does this affect the client’s organizational goals and reputation?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • What deadlines matter to the client?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker?
  • How does the client define success?
  • How will you know when you are done?

Identify and schedule activities

  • How can large matters be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?
  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
  • What external and internal scheduling constraints do we need to be aware of?

Assign tasks and manage the team

  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • How long do they think the tasks will take?
  • What help, resources, or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?

Plan and manage the budget

  • How much should be budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
  • How much was actually spent?
  • If at any point actual spending exceeds the planned budget, what can be done to get back on track?
  • Can savings on one activity be applied to compensate for overspending on another, within the overall budget total(s)?
  • Who are the relevant contacts regarding budget at the client’s organization and what are their needs or priorities?

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the project, or decrease client satisfaction?
  • How likely is this to happen?
  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?
  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

Manage quality

  • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
  • How should I monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?

Manage client communication and expectations

  • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
  • What does the decision maker care most about?
  • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
  • Should brief standard reports be submitted every week or month?
  • Which stakeholders does the decision maker need to communicate with in general or on this matter?

Negotiate changes of scope

  • How should I track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
  • What criteria should I use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?

 

This post was adapted from the recently published fourth edition of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

February 08, 2017

How to write a statement of work

By Mike Egnatchik and Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev

Legal cases and transactions can have unpredictable aspects, sometimes beyond the control of the best managers and planners. Therefore, flexibility is key. Legal project management is all about tradeoffs, and efficient project managers must be ready to adjust scope, time, and budget as the case or matter evolves. This factor underscores the importance of the primary task at the start of any project: setting your objectives and carefully defining the project scope with the client. Doing so will align mutual expectations and prepare the stage for developing an activity schedule and budget.

A statement of work must fix the boundaries of what is within the reasonably expected scope for the matter and what is not. This is particularly critical if the work is to be performed for a fixed price. The details of contents and format will vary depending on the circumstances, but could include:

  • The client’s objectives
  • Detailed deliverables such as the number of depositions
  • Deadlines or expected timelines
  • Teams and roles, if relevant
  • Assumptions and exclusions
  • Risks
  • Budget or fee as well as payment terms

The first draft of the SOW should be shared with both the client and the anticipated team members for their review and input. You need to understand the client’s goals and expectations and align them with the team’s approach, focusing on the business problem or dispute from which the matter arises and on acceptable outcomes and deadlines for the client.

As the team comes to an understanding of your client’s wants and needs, team members should keep in mind how much each want or need will cost, and whether there is any waste or excess in these expectations. These budgetary considerations may eventually affect the steps and actions taken to complete the matter. Of course the budget is extremely important, so you must be sure to carefully define in writing the anticipated assumptions of your budget and any “carve-outs,” that is, work that will not be included within the fixed price for the agreed scope. And, obviously, the SOW is simply a draft until the client approves it.

Some other helpful steps at this stage are common-sense items such as ensuring that every member of your team is familiar with the final project objective. It can be posted prominently on a bulletin board or online. Also, it does not hurt to remind team members of the client’s objective in regular memos and meetings.

The better your initial statement of work, the more likely you are to meet the client’s objectives. And if things change, the approved SOW will provide a solid basis for negotiating with key client decision-makers before performing work that may require additional funding.

However, remember that the SOW should be as short and simple as possible for managing the process. According to Michael Roster, steering committee co-chair of ACC’s Value Challenge, “When I was general counsel at Stanford, our multi-million dollar arrangements with law firms were covered by a two-page business letter combined with a one-page exhibit describing the carve-outs.”

The SOW is not a deposition or an adverse negotiation, so make sure you don’t over-lawyer it.

 

This post was adapted from the recently published fourth edition of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.