289 posts categorized "Legal Business Trends"

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.

January 25, 2017

Engagement letters and statements of work

At the beginning of a new matter, lawyers often specify its scope and fees in an engagement letter. The engagement letter is designed to clarify exactly what work and services are included, and excluded, from a particular matter.

Some states have specific requirements for what must be included in an engagement letter, and many firms have their own requirements as well. For example, in New York State, Part 1215 of the Joint Rules of the Appellate Division requires a letter of engagement in most matters, except for certain exceptions listed in the rule (i.e., an engagement letter is not required if the fee is expected to be $3,000 or less).

From a project management point of view, there is considerable room for improvement in many engagement letters. Consider, for example, this language from the sample letter of engagement published by New York State:

Scope of representation

A claim, dispute or dealings with relating to ______________.

All of our services in this matter will end, unless otherwise agreed upon in a writing signed by us, when there is a final agreement, settlement, decision or judgment by the court. Not included within the scope of our representation are appeals from any judgments or orders of the court. Appeals are subject to separate discussion and negotiation between our firm and you. Also not included in the scope of this agreement are services you may request of us in connection with any other matter, action, or proceeding.

The rest of New York’s two-page sample focuses on fees and client rights. Fee options for the sample include a flat fee, a contingency, or hourly rates.

If a law firm copied the New York State sample exactly and negotiated a fixed fee, they might end up being very sorry when the matter spiraled out of control. They would be better protected if the engagement letter specified timelines and deliverables, such as the maximum number of interviews, pleadings, interrogatories, opinions, and reports, the anticipated scope of travel and research, the use of outside consultants, and so on.

Could a lawyer possibly know in advance how many depositions would be required to settle or plead a particular case? Of course not. But he or she could specify the maximum number of depositions they expected and exactly what would be included within the fixed price.

This failure to provide sufficient detail is quite common. As the executive director of one AmLaw firm recently put it, “The scope of work often contained in our engagement letters is generally no more than one or two lines. Lawyers are missing an opportunity to clearly specify the scope of what is included in each matter and what is not.”

From the client perspective, better specifying the work up front could lead to more predictable costs and a more sophisticated understanding of what they are paying for. From the law firm’s point of view, it could reduce fee disputes, write-downs, and write-offs.

Entire textbooks have been written on how to develop what project managers call a statement of work (SOW), which specifies what a particular project includes and excludes. Lawyers may wish to adapt some of these ideas and write an SOW which could either be included in the engagement letter or be a separate document, depending on the nature of the matter, the lawyer-client relationship, and joint expectations.

 

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

January 18, 2017

How Agile is being used to increase legal marketing innovation at Fasken Martineau

Agile is a highly flexible approach to project management which law firms are just starting to use. I’ve written several posts in this blog about how Agile works and how some lawyers are applying it to improve legal efficiency by focusing on two key questions:

  • How can we deliver value more quickly to our clients?
  • How should we measure our progress?

So when I heard recently that one of our clients was using Agile techniques to increase innovation in their marketing and business development department, I immediately scheduled an interview with Brenda Plowman, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Fasken Martineau, an international business law and litigation firm with more than 700 lawyers.

The Fasken Martineau marketing and business development department includes people operating from eight offices, six in Canada, one in the UK, and one in South Africa. Plowman has worked in the department for more than 10 years. When she was promoted to the CMO position in July 2015, she noted that:

Over my history here I’d seen many underutilized talents with the potential to help us transform and offer better services to our lawyers. I wanted to reinvent our group. But how could I get people to change when I was coming to work at the same place and with the same people I’ve known for a long time?

We did a survey of the marketing and business development team because we wanted to see what they were thinking. One of the responses was, "The firm doesn’t ask us to innovate enough. It doesn’t expect us to be creative." People didn’t feel that they could bring their ideas forward and they felt that, frankly, they weren’t expected to bring their best game.

Plowman decided to start by adapting two Agile-related concepts: hackathons to creatively generate ideas for improvement and scrum to deliver them and “make sure we were actually accomplishing what we had set out to do.”

Hackathons originated in the software development world and consist of intense meetings in which groups of programmers and others collaborate intensively to solve a particular problem. With the help of a consultant, Plowman adapted the hackathon concept to legal marketing, and in June of 2016 they held their first three-hour hackathon with the team (two sessions with multiple locations involved in each) aimed at coming up with creative ideas to improve marketing efficiency and results on a specific topic. Candidly she admitted that:

At first people were saying, "I don’t know why I’m here." But when a second session was held in October, there was much more engagement and people began to focus on, "How can we go faster and get more done in the limited time we have?”

They created a list of key areas “in which we wanted to improve what we had been providing previously and increase the value we were delivering to lawyers.”

One of the unique aspects of these hackathons is that they were led by the Manager group. Historically, real opportunities for leadership and development were only handled by the Senior Marketing Team (the Director level). That team was committed to developing their Managers and creating opportunity for their growth and development. The Managers were empowered and did a great job working with the teams and bringing the recommendations forward to the Senior Marketing Team (SMT). This aspect is key in Plowman’s vision to leverage the talent on her team.

In addition, the marketing and business development team has started a significant transformation with many changes in place. The Directors have taken on pieces of this transformation and are leading this change with Plowman. There are a lot of moving parts and demands on the team. This led Plowman to adapt another Agile software development technique: scrum. Initially she provided the Directors (the SMT) a copy of the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time as part of the “book club” for this group. After the SMT read it and met on it during an in-person meeting, they then expanded to the Managers as a part of their development and a way to encourage them to innovate and drive their project forward. (This book is an excellent resource for law firms and I will write a separate blog soon describing its key concepts.)

This has now evolved into a 30-minute weekly telecon held every Monday by this group to discuss four substantial projects and several other key initiatives that the team is working on (including digital transformation and social media), in which Fasken’s marketing and business development department is concentrating its efforts to become best-in-class:

The group is using some of the techniques from the scrum book to establish and measure specific goals for the next 30, 60, and 90 days. The Monday meetings are organized around three key questions familiar to anyone who has ever been involved with scrum:

  1. What did we accomplish last week?
  2. What is planned for this week?
  3. Are there any obstacles to progress?

One result of the Monday meetings is that, “People collaborate to identify obstacles. It’s also been really helpful for me as the leader of the group because I learn how I can expedite what needs to get done this week.”

This initiative is very much a work-in-progress, but participants in the weekly meetings have already produced results. “Scrum has helped us to go faster, do more, and get obstacles out of our way. It’s increased transparency, which drives efficiency and effectiveness. And it’s created cultural change within our team. The learning is coming faster and faster.”

Plowman and her team would like to expand the program in the coming year to include lawyers. She predicts that the next steps will be even more exciting “when we get to working with our lawyers and going through the process together with them.”

January 04, 2017

Tip of the month: Develop a defensive marketing plan for 2017

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: As legal competition continues to get tougher, it’s more important than ever to focus on protecting relationships with the clients you already have. What will you do in 2017 to protect your top client relationships? In the current competitive environment, no client can be taken for granted, no matter how long you have worked for them. If they are already happy with your service, what could you do to make them even happier? If you’re not sure, ask them. And then do it.

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple reminder like this to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients, and/or develop new business.

November 09, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Approach #3: Five steps to improve any business process

Step 1: Make a very quick list of the most critical processes that you want to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, use the standard task codes described on page 183 for a starting point. For example, a litigator focused on the discovery phase of cases could begin with these six tasks:

  • Written discovery
  • Document production
  • Depositions
  • Expert discovery
  • Discovery motions
  • Other discovery

Step 2: Pick one process to focus on first.

It is important to begin with the process that is most likely to allow you to meet your goals, which of course means that you have to be very clear about what your goals are. When you have several goals in mind, you could start by constructing a “process selection matrix” like the one below to make your choice.

 

 

Easy to change

Impact on profitability/ realization

Cost saving to client

TOTAL

Written discovery

2

2

2

6

Document production

2

4

3

9

Depositions

3

4

5

12

Expert discovery

4

2

4

10

Discovery motions

2

2

3

7

Other discovery

2

1

2

5

 

(Note: The format of the table in this example is based on the book Improving Business Processes (page 22). The rows are from the Uniform Task Based Management System and the column values are for a hypothetical mid-sized law firm.)

In this example, there are three different goals, all are rated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high), and the lawyer considers them equally important in selecting a process. Therefore, the last column, the total rating, can be used to determine that your process improvement should begin with the deposition process because it has the highest total rating.

Step 3: Define exactly what is included in the process. Where does it begin and end? Then break it down into five to 10 high-level parts.

Step 4: Decide which step to redesign first.

Again, the step you choose depends on your goals. The following questions from Improving Business Processes may help you to make your choice (p. 32):

  • At which points does this process break down or experience delays?
  • At which points do people typically experience frustration with the process?
  • Which parts of the process seem to consume an inordinate amount of time?
  • Which parts of the process lead to low-quality outcomes?
  • Which parts of the process incur unacceptable costs?

Step 5: Think through the details of the step you will redesign and look for ways to increase efficiency, e.g. by simplifying the process, creating a checklist, and/or focusing more clearly on the factors that the client values most highly. Define action items and implement them.

Approach #4: 10 steps to improve critical business processes

These 10 steps are explained in detail in Susan Page’s book, The Power of Business Process Improvement. Here, they have been adapted and simplified for legal matters.

Step 1: Develop the process inventory. List all the big picture processes within a particular legal area, establish criteria for prioritizing them, and pick the one you want to start with. (The discovery tasks in the table above provide a good example.)

Step 2: Establish the foundation. Write a scope definition document that defines the problem you need to solve and provides a blueprint for the start and the end of your process improvement.

Step 3: Draw the process map. Identify each activity with a specific action word (e.g. create, review, develop, approve, update, or communicate) and then diagram the steps in a form that can be communicated to everyone involved. (Chapter 4 of The Power of Business Process Improvement includes standard flow charting symbols and several sample process maps.) Be sure to include handoffs to lawyers, staff, clients, and others.

Step 4: Estimate time and cost. Specify what is involved in each stage or activity in the process, how long it usually takes, and what it costs.

Step 5: Verify the process map. Ask other stakeholders to review the process map for accuracy. This provides a baseline to begin improvement.

Step 6: Apply improvement techniques. This is where the rubber meets the road. Eliminate bureaucracy, evaluate value added activities, eliminate duplication and redundancy, simplify processes, reports, and forms, reduce cycle time, and more.

Step 7: Create internal controls, tools, and metrics. Create controls to avoid errors, tools to support the new business process, and metrics to quantify improvements.

Step 8: Test and rework. Pilot test the new process, identify any issues, and rework them before introducing the new and improved process on a wide scale.

Step 9: Implement the change. Just as businesses develop marketing plans before they introduce a new product, they must plan how to implement business process changes, including “who has to know about the change, what they need to know, and how to communicate the right information to the right people.” (See page 14 of The Power of Business Process Improvement).

Step 10: Drive continuous improvement. After the change succeeds, you will still need to invest in maintenance. Evaluate, test, assess, and execute to sustain any required change.

Conclusion

All four approaches have value in different situations, and all take advantage of the 80/20 rule to maximize the benefits you will receive while minimizing the time it will take.

If you want to use these approaches in your own personal practice, you should be able to identify improvements quickly. But if you want to get other lawyers in your group to do the same thing, that’s a lot harder.

Whether you use approach 1, 2, 3, or 4, or you go out and buy Page’s book for more detail, or you hire an outside consultant, figuring out how to improve legal business processes is not the hard part.

The hard part is getting lawyers to do it. For more about that, see Chapter 9, “How to implement LPM throughout a firm,” in the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

 

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

October 26, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

There is no shortage of theories, tactics, or opinions about the best way to increase efficiency, and hundreds of books and articles have been written on business process improvement and related techniques. Many of these systems have become so complicated and demanding that you can earn an MBA in the field. As Susan Page has written in her award winning book  The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability  (p. 5) this supports “the myth that business process improvement must be time consuming and complex.”

(Although we use Page’s book in our Certified Legal Project Manager® program, her full process is too time consuming for most lawyers most of the time. For example, the last chapter of her book is a case study applying her 10 steps to a real world example for the human resources department of a large bank. That chapter includes 67 pages of text, charts, and diagrams, and the simplification project took one year. Lawyers don’t have a year.)

Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series describe four approaches to business process improvement that we have developed with lawyers to increase legal efficiency quickly. They are listed in order of ease of use. We recommend that most lawyers start with Approach #1, which is limited to two simple questions. For critical, time consuming, and repetitive processes, we outline three increasingly sophisticated options which require more time, but can be more effective in simplifying the way you handle legal matters.

Approach #1: Two questions to improve a business process

Ask yourself:

  1. Of all the things you do for clients, what legal work provides the biggest opportunity to deliver greater value quickly or to increase efficiency?
  2. What could you do to improve this process?

Then do it.

Yes, this is so simple that it sounds trivial. But if in fact you stop and think about where inefficiencies lie, and act on what you already know, chances are you can increase efficiency very quickly.

No, it isn’t brain surgery, but for some lawyers, Approach #1 is a great way to get started. If you prefer an approach that is a bit more detailed, read on.

Approach #2: Ten questions to improve a business process

  1. What steps and activities are typically included in this process?
  2. Which steps and activities does the client value most highly?
  3. Which steps and activities do not add value, and could be eliminated?
  4. Could you standardize and/or streamline the process?
  5. Could you reduce or eliminate repetition?
  6. Could you reduce or eliminate bottlenecks?
  7. Could you improve communication within the team and/or with clients?
  8. Could you reduce cost by delegating some tasks to junior staff who bill at lower rates?
  9. Could you reduce cost by “delegating up” some tasks, to senior staff who can complete a task quickly at a low total cost?
  10. Could you reduce cost through legal process outsourcing of selected tasks to another law firm or a legal support services company in the US or in another country?

The final post in this series will describe two more approaches that are a bit more complex than these, but still far simpler than traditional, orthodox process improvement.

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

October 19, 2016

Four ways to simplify legal process improvement (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Traditionally, lawyers have been trained to place enormous emphasis on avoiding risk, and little or no emphasis on increasing efficiency. As Ron Friedman put it:

Clients often want to know if there are any major risks: “Let me know if there are any boulders in this playing field.” Lawyers often hear that and think they need to find not just the boulders, but also the pebbles. The fear of being wrong—and of malpractice—runs deep. “Perfection thinking” makes it hard to approximate, to apply the 80-20 rule, [or] to guide in the right direction but with some imprecision.

But as in-house departments are increasingly pressured to control costs, they in turn are pressuring outside law firms to find ways to increase efficiency. Business process improvement is one path to the lower costs that many clients are demanding.

While there is widespread agreement that clients also want legal project management (LPM) and that it pays off for firms, the field is so new that experts still disagree about exactly what should be included and excluded from its definition. These arguments have slowed LPM’s progress.  For example, consider these remarks from one AmLaw 200 firm leader we interviewed for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability (p. 89):

We were just at a board meeting last week where we were talking about whether we should do formalized project management training. My answer to that is obviously yes, we absolutely should. But first we need to agree on what legal project management is.

We first became aware of the seriousness of this problem a few years ago when the director of professional development at an AmLaw 100 firm asked us to explain the differences between project management, process improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean. This was an extremely sophisticated client who had been researching this area for months, but she had heard so many different claims from competing consultants that she had trouble keeping them straight.

Process improvement, has gotten a lot of headlines in the legal world as a result of Seyfarth Shaw’s highly publicized success in using it to streamline work, along with Six Sigma and Lean. All three approaches originated in the world of manufacturing.

Six Sigma is built around techniques Motorola developed to eliminate the causes of manufacturing defects and errors. Lean was developed by Toyota to increase manufacturing efficiency by eliminating the “seven wastes” (excess inventory, excess processing, overproduction, transportation, motion, waiting, and defects).

Process improvement typically starts by defining the exact steps that are required to perform a legal process. This includes looking at every process from the client’s point of view, analyzing whether each step adds value for the client, and eliminating the steps that don’t.

Writing in Law Technology, Alan Cohen has noted that this traditional approach “can take weeks to create a map, but the result is a template that spells out the various phases of a matter—and an efficient way to do them.” If you consider the fact that Seyfarth has developed over 500 process maps, each of which took a team of lawyers and staff weeks to develop, you can see why Six Sigma for Dummies (p. 10) says the approach is “not for the faint of heart. It is intense and rigorous, and it entails a thorough inspection of the way everything is done.”

In my book, Legal Project Management, Pricing and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I described how Seyfarth has spent more than 10 years and millions of dollars refining its system. They have trademarked the term SeyfarthLean® and formed a separate company—SeyfarthLean® Consulting—as a wholly owned subsidiary which offers advice to law departments on how to work more efficiently.  However, the Seyfarth model has been so widely publicized that some law firms think that LPM equals process improvement.

We have frequently argued for a much broader definition of LPM, including any activity that increases client satisfaction and firm profitability by applying proven techniques to improve the management of legal matters. Thus, we see LPM as an umbrella term that embraces a very wide range of management techniques, including pricing, communication, process improvement, and much more.

Under this broad definition, process improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean are simply specialized approaches that fall under the more general umbrella term LPM. They are simply tools in the belt, to be used in some cases and ignored in others.

And when they are used, we recommend always looking for simpler and more efficient approaches, starting with the four approaches described in the next two parts of this series.

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

 

[1] http://www.prismlegal.com/wordpress/index.php?p=1026&c=1

[2] http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202566995546/How-six-big-law-firms-get-serious-about-legal-project-management

[3] Link to the book on Amazon

September 21, 2016

Tracking legal progress with Kanban

By Paul Saunders

In 2015, after working as a corporate lawyer for seven years at Stewart McKelvey in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I agreed to devote 100% of my time to the newly created position of Practice Innovation Partner. My role is to develop and implement innovative technologies and systems for the firm and its clients, to increase efficiency, profitability, and client value. One of the first things I did in this new role was to pilot-test several classic Agile techniques at our firm, starting with Kanban.

Kanban is a management tool that originated in Lean manufacturing. The term loosely translates to “signboard” or “billboard” in Japanese. As law firms focus on increasing efficiency, reducing their costs, and becoming more responsive to clients, it seems logical to adapt this technique to work closely with clients in charting the stages of each case or transaction and to track progress.

Kanban is a highly flexible tool for planning and scheduling tasks that creates a visual representation of project teamwork to facilitate transparency, accountability, and collaboration. Knowledge work, such as software development and law practice, isn’t inherently visual. Progress often becomes buried in countless emails, status reports, and complex tracking spreadsheets. It is difficult to identify opportunities for improvement and to gauge progress when there is no single place where progress is tracked. Kanban makes this non-visual work visual.

In its simplest form, Kanban relies on a physical or virtual whiteboard with three columns: to do, doing, and done. All tasks that make up the project are represented by cards or post-it notes on a board. The title of each task, when it’s due, who is responsible, and any other pertinent details are written on each card. Cards advance from left to right on the board to track progress and coordinate work.

The beauty of the approach is its flexibility. Rather than having to periodically overhaul detailed project plans and realign tasks when change inevitably occurs, team members can simply re-organize the cards on the board. The approach also better ensures clarity in who is working on what when and creates accountability for results since members are expected to regularly report back on progress on the tasks they are assigned. It also shines a significant light on bottlenecks and can thus motivate teams to remove barriers that impede progress. The board can be organized by a junior partner or an associate, which produces the added benefit of avoiding some of the awkwardness of “managing your manager” by increasing collaboration and transparency.

Another critical aspect of Kanban is its ability to limit the amount of inventory or work in progress. Capacity restrictions are sometimes placed on team members so that they can only be assigned a limited number of tasks or volumes of work in order to permit them to focus on completing tasks rather than being overburdened through multi-tasking.

Kanban boards can also be highly customized by expanding the various columns for different purposes in a specific context. For example, to coordinate a portfolio of related projects or matters, a law firm practice group may want to expand the “doing” column to include different phases of work. In litigation these columns could include: matter intake, pleadings, production and disclosure, discovery, pretrial, trial, appeal, billing, and matter closing. In a corporate transaction, the phases could be: letter of intent, principal agreement and schedules, conditions, pre-closing, closing, reporting, undertakings, billing, and matter closure.

One of our first pilot tests of Kanban was managed by Patti Mitchell, a litigation partner practicing in insurance defense at our office in Halifax and the lead lawyer for a major insurance client there. She worked closely with the law firm’s client service team to use Kanban techniques to organize and streamline assignments in a multitude of cases and to move the matters through the standard phases of insurance litigation more quickly. The firm used Kanban techniques in conjunction with Agile Scrum concepts, in which issues are quickly identified at brief and regular stand-up meetings among all staff.  (These will be described in a followup post in this blog next month.)

“The insurance defense practice,” Mitchell explained, “was identified as an area of practice that would benefit from Kanban because it tends to be work with consistent volume and repetitive processes, but the matters were not moving as quickly as they could and we wanted to improve that aspect of service delivery for our clients.”

In addition, Mitchell noted, the firm chose to use Kanban with this client as a pilot project because its contractual requirements for service delivery were quite strict and the firm wanted to “see if we could improve upon deliverables.” The results were exactly what they had hoped for:

With Kanban, visual representation of the matters and stages of litigation allows us to see the volume of work and where processes are getting held up. It allows us to modify traditional processes that bog us down and remove barriers to meeting timelines. For example, we were able to develop a system of more quickly producing pleadings and delivery of documents for the client.

More substantively, we are now able to ensure that all matters are properly staffed and to assign additional resources more quickly when issues are identified in the weekly stand-up meetings. The process fosters a sense of teamwork and personal responsibility that results in improved service for the clients. Spin-off benefits also include the development of new and more consistent precedents and task coding for billing purposes. That makes preparation for discovery and billings more efficient.

Like the underlying work itself, the tools used to manage that work must also be flexible. Since Kanban boards are so versatile, a team should start with an approach that makes sense at the outset. The goal should then be to learn from the experience, see what works and what doesn’t work with the tool, and incrementally evolve the approach over time based on feedback from the team.

In addition to using Kanban in its classic sense with physical whiteboards and post-it notes, we are also currently experimenting with “virtual Kanban.” The firm has a cloud-based system to track assignments, which a number of lawyers have on their phone as an app. The next step is to expand the use of digital or virtual Kanban so that clients can use it as well to track the progress of a matter. That will require a security audit before the firm can put it in place, and the firm plans to start small. Whether the virtual approach works well or not, we expect that our use of Kanban will grow substantially over the next few years.

This post was adapted from the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide which will be published next week.

 

September 14, 2016

Case Study:  LPM Certification at Tucker Ellis

By Tim Batdorf, Jim Hassett, and Jonathan Groner

In the November 2010 press release that announced the start of our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program, we called it “the first to award certification in this new discipline.”  Many other LPM certifications have been introduced since, but most offer simply a “certificate of attendance” a piece of paper you get for going to a workshop. In contrast, ours remains the most demanding program.  It is still the only LPM certification program designed for the small and select group of lawyers and staff who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others. 

To become a Certified Legal Project Manager™, participants must study over 300 pages of assigned readings, answer 18 essay questions about how these concepts apply to their situation, demonstrate their skills and knowledge with real-world applications in their practice, and pass a written essay test.  To determine its long-term impact, we recently went back and interviewed several participants who were certified years ago.  This is the first of several case studies that will appear in this blog addressing the progress they made during the program, and after it was complete.

Jonathan Cooper, a partner and trial attorney at Tucker Ellis in Cleveland Ohio, was awarded his certification in January 2012.  In his written project, he completed a “Mass Tort Litigation Checklist” which he has updated several times since.  The latest version is reproduced in the recently published fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. 

In the years since he completed certification, Jonathan has gone on to apply many other project management tactics to change the way he practices law.   For example, he continued to refine his checklist of all the steps necessary to defend against an asbestos claim.  The checklist is now in the form of a flow chart which shows what to do in a variety of scenarios to make sure that no key steps are missed.  The firm now uses this checklist/flowchart for all asbestos matters, and, according to Jonathan “This one simple step greatly improved our practice.”

Tucker Ellis is a relatively young law firm, founded in 2003.  It differentiates itself by creating a unique type of client experience – one that focuses on the client’s ideas of success.  Jonathan says, “After all, if you can define the benchmarks of success in advance with the client, you can be appropriately rewarded for achieving them.”

Tucker Ellis handles hundreds or even thousands of similar cases for its clients.  This requires a high level of sophistication in the way in which the firm processes cases and high efficiency from its lawyers if the firm hopes to successfully meet its clients’ objectives profitably.  

Tucker Ellis also offers a significant number of fixed fee arrangements.  With fixed fees, Jonathan says, “The only way to make any money is to reduce the number of timekeepers who touch the matter. That’s why our firm has become an expert at doing things efficiently, with fewer people getting involved in each matter.”

That is not to say that LPM, or Jonathan’s certification, provided a magic bullet that immediately addressed all of the firm’s challenges.  “The most challenging part,” Jonathan says, “was attempting to ‘preach the gospel’ of project management to other practice groups within the firm. It was not immediately obvious that project management would succeed because it’s not easy to get the typical lawyer to change the way in which he or she does things… It remains very hard for some lawyers to give up on the idea that every case is unique and that every rock needs to be turned over in a particular case, even though we’ve already repeatedly turned over that rock in other cases.”

The process of changing lawyers’ behavior is never as quick as LPM proponents would like, but at Tucker Ellis LPM has clearly paid off.  For example, after overcoming initial skepticism, the firms’ ERISA lawyers discovered that they could find commonalities in their employee benefit plans which allowed the practice group to regularize its processes and become more efficient and profitable.  Although it took a while, Jonathan says, “Adopting LPM has started a sea of change at the firm.”   

Tucker Ellis lawyers now realize that much of what they do can be boiled down into common elements that can be repeated.  As Jonathan summed it up: “The key to success in many areas, including our asbestos and medical products cases, is efficiency.  The firm has developed repeatable processes that give clients very high odds of success.” 

August 31, 2016

How pricing can affect legal practice

Guest post by Carl Herstein, Chief Value Partner, Honigman

Changes in pricing lead to changes in the way law is practiced. 

For example, the way contingency fee lawyers practice is different from the way most commercial full service business firms practice. At Honigman, we have a very big contingency fee segment of our practice in the real estate tax appeals area. So I’ve gotten to see how contingency practices work. They are enormously efficient. As a general rule, lawyers don’t do things until the last minute. That might be thought of as a vice, but call it “just-in-time management” and suddenly it becomes a virtue! 

Now, traditional commercial clients like to talk a lot about their cases, especially if they have in-house counsel. It’s their life, after all, and they are accountable for what happens in these cases. As a result, they often want frequent updates and strategy discussions. The biggest complaint one hears about contingency fee lawyers is “They don’t want to talk to me.”

That’s because for a lawyer on contingency, after communicating what is absolutely necessary, talking is a waste of time and therefore money. It’s a very different model: “We’ll tell you when we think you need to know something.” Now, I’m not suggesting that if you are on a contingency you shouldn’t talk to your clients, and I am exaggerating a bit for effect. But the point is that the billing arrangement changes the perception of the value of the interaction. If somebody wants to call you on the telephone and is willing to pay you $450 to $1,300 per hour to listen to them talk, you are happy to listen.  But, if it doesn’t make any difference to the fee you’re going to collect – or actually reduces it – maybe you will want to move that call along a little faster! 

Similarly, if you’ve got the billion-dollar case, it doesn’t matter how many interesting legal issues there are to chase down or how uncertain the law is. You’ll do the legwork, and the client will want you to. Otherwise, lawyers need to make judgments about what their clients can afford.

Clients will tell you, “Don’t bankrupt me by doing a perfect job,” which is really hard for the current generation of lawyers to deal with. Sometimes a client can talk to a lawyer and say, “We are going to have a problem with this case because fees are already $600,000, the most we can collect is a $1.8 million, and we haven’t even gotten to trial yet.”

And they’ll answer, “You’re not asking me to commit malpractice, are you?”

No one wants anyone to commit malpractice, but you have to make judgments. You can’t bankrupt your client while you worry about perfection. Younger lawyers are usually better able to grasp these dynamics. They are flexible and adaptable; they see the way the world is changing. People my age, my partners and many other lawyers whose world is different than it was when they were growing up – we’re the ones who have the hardest time with it.

This guest post is an excerpt from Carl Herstein’s thought provoking article “The Changing Legal Market: Some Thoughts for Law Students,” originally published in Of Counsel, Wolters Kluwer, August 2016.