Last December I wrote in this blog that “no law firm on the planet has achieved more LPM behavior change, more quickly or more efficiently” than Miami firm Bilzin Sumberg. Since then, the firm’s LPM success has been featured by others in books and at conferences.
As explained in my book Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements, their breakthroughs were built on a foundation of providing LegalBizDev’s individual coaching program to the majority of their partners (26 out of 51). That coaching was completed in May 2013. By then, the LPM had reached critical mass and had developed enough momentum that no more coaching was needed. The partners themselves and Bilzin’s internal staff took ownership of moving the effort forward.
No one at Bilzin Sumberg would say that their LPM work is done. As the chair of one AmLaw 200 firm put it in my new book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability: “It’s an evolving process. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point at which you can say: ‘Now I’ve arrived.’” But Bilzin Sumberg’s continuing experience provides valuable lessons in the best and most cost-effective ways to get started, and what happens next, so we will continue to update their results from time to time in posts like this.
Jon Chassen, a partner in the real estate group at Bilzin Sumberg, was one of the three lawyers in the firm’s original pilot test of LPM coaching at the beginning of 2012 with LegalBizDev principal Steve Barrett, and his success encouraged other partners to give it a try. Jon’s practice focuses on complex real estate deals and on real estate deals with unusual twists. He often works closely with litigators to solve his clients’ problems, although he is not a litigator himself.
Jon says that a lot of things that he learned in the LegalBizDev coaching were similar to techniques that he had been trying to implement throughout his career. The coaching crystallized and formalized these methods and techniques.
In Jon’s practice, LPM works best for larger transactions, where at the very outset, you need to design an engagement letter that spells out what you will and will not do for the client. “This way, the engagement letter guides the entire project. It establishes the scope of the project so that everyone in the transaction, outside lawyer and client, knows what role they will play. Then, as the transaction changes in unexpected ways, the engagement letter can be modified to reflect changing expectations.”
“Sometimes it’s relatively easy to anticipate that the scope of work will change and that the project will become larger or smaller than originally anticipated,” Jon says. “Sometimes, the changes are completely unanticipated. Either way, LPM techniques permit the lawyer and client to make changes pretty much on the run. I can now see at a glance who needs to be added to the team, who is dropping off the team, and so on. I see immediately when we’re at a fork in the road, and what the possible choices are at that decision point.”
“LPM also permits me to delegate more effectively. Since all the assignments to attorneys are made well in advance and carefully specified, I don’t need to be the funnel point on everything. If I have a lawyer working on a particular set of documents, I can trust that he or she will complete that assignment.”
“I am a bit technologically challenged in terms of creating charts and work flows. But with the use of LPM techniques and with people in the firm who can help me, I can now create these charts in a very useful manner. The chart will tell me what happens next. Who needs to get involved? LPM helps me come up with answers to those questions.”
Carter McDowell’s practice as a Bilzin Sumberg partner involves land use, zoning, environmental, and other regulatory approvals for major building projects, including regional malls, resort hotels, industrial complexes, professional buildings and marinas. Carter completed LegalBizDev’s three month coaching program in its second wave, after the pilot test.
“At the end of the day,” Carter says, “LPM is mostly about organization.”
“It enables you to step back and look at the process and compartmentalize it. It also enables you to look at it in the largest possible sense, from the very beginning.”
For one major project on South Beach that Carter has worked on, he made a very specific LPM outline of all the aspects of the project and of the budget associated with each aspect.
“We separated the project into several parts,” Carter says, “and we made several updates to each part as we went along. The government, after all, doesn’t take a linear path in granting approvals, so this LPM document has helped us plan each step. Our client used the LPM document on an ongoing basis.”
“In the South Beach project, there have already been seven hearings at which some sort of approval was granted, and two more approvals remain to be granted,” says Carter. “Each hearing is before a separate board. So the LPM document was helpful in documenting and managing the whole process.”
“We actually prepared the LPM document as soon as our client acquired the property. It was that long ago. The client had asked us to put together a list of the most likely tasks that needed to be accomplished. So we used the LPM document to prepare that and we have updated and expanded it on an ongoing basis.”
“The firm now has sophisticated budget software (ENGAGE). On this project, the financial department staff at the firm established the outline of the document before the current software was available. So in this case, I don’t manipulate the software myself. I do receive reports from the financial people. They have been very helpful and responsive.”
“The document has led us on more than one occasion to go back to the client and to say, Here’ s a hearing that we hadn’t anticipated, so we updated the budget to include that process.”
“The LPM process is working well to enable us to provide our clients with better service at a lower cost. Some of the procedures that we documented repeat themselves in other projects, so I can reuse this outline for other clients and efficiently tailor it to fit their needs.”