Livia Kiser is a Chicago-based partner at Loeb & Loeb who represents defendants in consumer class actions, primarily those that relate to claims by consumers of a defect or a false claim about a product. She also reviews product advertising in advance to counsel clients on their advertising and what is likely to be a “red flag” for plaintiffs’ counsel.
Her LPM coaching, with Michelle Stein, focused on the litigation side of her practice.
“This training has made me more cognizant of how to create and implement a realistic budget on every matter, even one that can seem historically hard to quantify or to control, such as a class action brought by a plaintiff,” Livia says. “Even for cases which are hard to predict, I have learned how to provide more accurate budgets, not only because it is important for internal business reasons, but these days clients understandably expect it.”
“I am very interested in strategies for how we can stick to a budget. Will this particular task really take ten hours? Should we budget it for that amount of time? These are the kinds of questions LPM causes you to consider,” Livia says.
Livia says that as a partner and lead counsel, she is also required to get involved in planning the time of other attorneys such as associates. She says many associates don’t think about these issues until they become partners. When the issues become relevant to them, they’re not prepared. LPM, Livia says, is not only about numbers and budgets; it’s about human beings.
Livia uses Excel to prepare budget documents – just garden-variety Excel that she’s already familiar with. She receives weekly updates on her projects from Stephanie Flitcroft and also speaks with Stephanie at least once a week, if not more often.
Stephanie reports that “We provide many ad hoc reports so that lawyers can compare budgets to actuals along the way. If there is a variance, they can determine if it was caused by a change of scope or whether some timekeeper simply didn’t understand the requested task. This allows them to deal with issues before they get too far off course.”
Livia says Stephanie and her team are involved both in ongoing client matters and in pitching new matters. They are also extremely helpful in working on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs). “We cost out all the scenarios that make sense before we propose an AFA,” Livia says, “and Stephanie helps provide the assumptions and ideas that we need.”
The more lawyers take this approach, the easier it gets. As Andrea Danziger explained, “We endeavor to share the actual tools and templates that have come out of the coaching program, as well as others that we’ve developed for proposal bids. This has been a grass roots effort. We’ve tripled the number of people in the program since you first wrote about it, and we want to keep going, because the more lawyers incorporate LPM into their matters, the more the ideas spread.”
What does the future hold? According to Deputy Chairman David Schaefer, “I think legal project management is going to become one of the core business skills of running a law firm. Even in situations where we still bill hourly, every client wants to know: How much is this going to cost? How long is it going to take? What’s involved? It may take a few years, but it will become part and parcel of how we do business. Lawyers will be comfortable having those discussions. They will expect it. And I think that you’ll see an increasing growth within our firm, and other firms, of non-legal professionals who will take a bigger and bigger portion of these tasks under their wing.”
Schaefer has also seen that the benefits of LPM go not just to clients, but also directly to the firm’s bottom line: “LPM has already protected our profitability in very significant ways. These days, lawyers are more prepared to provide accurate bids. We have better data and more reliable information. In the past, when we looked at a class of cases or of deals, and there was a fairly significant range between the high and the low, we really didn’t know why we had such a wide spread. Now we understand what the key considerations are. We can look for those at the outset of a matter, and try to address that with the client, rather than letting it catch everybody by surprise. And so I think that LPM has made our processes much, much better.”