8 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

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.

September 16, 2015

Legal project management software (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett, Steve Barrett, and Jonathan Groner


In Part 1 of this series, we argued that when it comes to LPM, lawyers should start by using the software they already have.

However, there is a growing sub-group of technically sophisticated firms who would like to learn what other firms have found in using LPM and pricing software (as opposed to what sales people say when they demo them).  In some cases, lawyers may legitimately conclude that new project management software would be helpful, especially in large complex matters, where most of the day-to-day software work can be handled by staff members rather than by lawyers.

Jason Ross, a consultant at PLA put it this way:

In general, software can help a law firm formulate and present a competitive price in an RFP or similar situation.  Software can also be very useful in tracking budgets to stay on target, in creating experiential data that is invaluable in arriving at a fixed fee or similar alternative fee arrangement, in figuring out the best possible staffing for a matter, in tracking dates and milestones, and in many other ways.

As the demand for LPM has grown, new options are constantly being developed and improved by major legal accounting software vendors and others.  There are also a large number of software programs available on the web that could be of use to lawyers, some of them free to anyone who knows how to use Google.

Which of these many programs should your law firm choose?  The answer depends on many factors, and today’s answer may be different from the one you will get six months from now, since the market is changing so rapidly.  That’s one main reason we formed a strategic alliance with PLA.  Their business is technology, and when firms ask us what technology is best, instead of saying “technology is not our specialty,” we now say “call ___ at PLA.”

While we cannot recommend a “one-size-fits all” software solution in a blog post like this, we can offer this general observation:   Proceed with caution.

In his book Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit (p. 215)Stuart J.T. Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and LPM at Baker & McKenzie noted that:

Many of the initial LPM efforts failed … due [in part] to an initial focus on technology… [LPM software] was frequently difficult to learn and then apply to matters at hand, leading to lawyer frustration and limited adoption.

The kinds of problems that law firms have had with software are not surprising to IT professionals.  In other businesses, large and ambitious systems – such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software – have such a spotty history that a number of publications and bloggers have taken to compiling annual lists of the biggest ERP failures of the year.  (For example, see this list, and this one, and this one.)

An article in Information Week offered this explanation for the frequency of software failures:

No matter how you look at them, ERP and most other big application deployments are risky, difficult, and expensive. But much of the analysis on why these projects go awry misses the point. These are not technology projects; they're business transformation projects.

Similarly, an article focused on the failure of some CRM (Customer Management Relationship) software noted that one of the most common types of failure is that people simply don’t use the system.  Their proposed solution is quite similar to many of the ideas we have proposed for LPM:

Identify champions in each group, advertise success, and constantly reinforce your message in a long term campaign that doesn’t end when [the software] “goes live” in your company.

Still another article suggested that the best way to ensure success is to:  “Get users to focus on the What's In It For Me factor.”

These recommendations sound like common sense, but are often ignored.  Why?  I am reminded of what an editor told me decades ago when I was writing a psychology textbook.  I aimed it at students, but the editor said I needed to aim it at their professors:  “Textbook publishing is like selling dog food,” my editor told me.  “It doesn’t matter what the dog wants.  All that matters is what the dog owner wants.”  According to another article, similar cynicism is common among those who sell large software systems:  

Enterprise software still doesn't care about users. Its focus continues to be serving executives, rather than employees, because executives make buying decisions. 

So our advice to law firms on buying new software systems is simple:  take your time. 

For those who have already made a commitment to a new software system, according to another article, working with pilot groups to build acceptance is key:

Engage users early and often during the system planning and implementation phases, so they understand what's in it for them. When users do not adopt a system as planned, seek their honest feedback on how to make it more usable, helpful, and valuable.

Said another expert:

If you can't make your goal processes work with a test group of a few attorneys, secretaries and billing people, you clearly won't be able to make it work with the whole firm.

And once the pilot test is complete, consider this advice:

User education and training is necessary to overcome fear of change and prepare future users to take advantage of all the new system has to offer. Double your education and training budget (and make sure to spend it all)—it’s the best investment you will make in project success.

So if you are thinking about purchasing a new LPM software system but have not yet made a decision, first make sure that you are fully using the power of all the software the firm already owns, from advanced features of your accounting system to simple tools like Outlook.  Then proceed cautiously and spend time determining what your lawyers want and need. 

A law firm that invests in new software before partners ask for it is like a college that spends millions on a radical new type of gym equipment before learning what types of exercises students are most interested in, or even whether their students are likely to use the gym at all. 

Many software vendors are currently focused on developing new and better software for LPM and profitability analysis.  Every day that you delay the decision, your options will improve.

As PLA’s Jason Ross summed it up: 

You must put your needs before the software. You must first figure out what you need to do, and then ask, ‘What software fits this need?’ You will make a mistake if you go ahead and buy software and then try to force it into what you’re doing.

This post will be adapted for the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, which will be published next year.


September 09, 2015

Legal project management software (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett, Steve Barrett, and Jonathan Groner


In our experience, when lawyers get serious about legal project management (LPM), the first question many ask is, what software should I use?

For most lawyers, that is the wrong question. You should start by looking for low-hanging fruit, and instead ask, “What can I do today to provide clients with greater value and to protect profitability?” You can’t know what software would help until you first figure out exactly what you need to do.

In our recent survey of AmLaw 200 managing partners and other leaders, we asked “which of these LPM issues do you consider most critical for client value and/or profitability in the short term?”:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communication
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

As one managing partner summed it up:

There are two that I would rank the most critical: the setting of objectives and scope, and managing client communication and expectations. Those, to me, are linked at the hip. You really have to understand what the client’s expectation is, and you also have to have a good relationship to be able to tell them whether or not their expectation is real and achievable. A lot of things can happen in litigation that can change the scope of an engagement. You can run into difficult parties and unforeseen problems, and that’s where an understanding between you and the client has to be solid enough that you can have those kinds of conversations and work your way through it.

Most respondents agreed with him.  50% said defining scope was most critical and 38% named communication, making these the top two issues named in our survey.  Note that these two critical issues involve changing lawyers’ behavior, and buying new software will not help.

Scott Rosenberg is Corporate Counsel and Solution Group Leader at Project Leadership Associates (PLA), the largest US business and technology consulting provider focused on the legal market.  (Full disclosure:  PLA and LegalBizDev are strategic partners.)  One service they provide is helping law firms select and install software, but Scott does not recommend starting there with LPM:

The legal industry is undergoing change, and clients want law firms to have more formalized processes such as LPM. But law firms are just groups of individuals, and it’s much more important to start by changing individual behavior. That has proved very hard to do if the firm jumps right into new technology. You definitely need to learn to walk before you can run.

For any management problem, the solution will involve people, process and technology.  For LPM, process is the most critical element, not technology. Our approach is to view software as merely a tool to support best practices and behavioral changes by attorneys.

Indeed, focusing on software too soon can be a distraction.  Any law firm COO or head of IT will tell you that busy partners have a very limited bandwidth for learning new software or technology, as seen in past conversions of accounting systems, WordPerfect to Microsoft Word, GroupWise to Outlook, new voicemail systems, CRM, knowledge management, and other roll-outs. Most senior law firm administrators will also agree that partner appetites for the training and behavioral changes necessary with new technology fall somewhere between limited and non-existent.

The good news is that if you work at a large firm, you probably already have accounting software such as Elite, Aderant (formerly CMSOpen), or another system that has under-utilized capabilities to provide cost estimating aids, load matter budgets, task assignments and responsible parties, and provide periodic or ad hoc reporting on time/dollars worked/ billed/remaining/collected.  It may also have the ability to calendar and track matter sub-tasks and to generate budgetary or deadline alerts.

And let’s not forget the powerful calendaring, meeting scheduling, and individual or shared task and “To Do” tracking capabilities available even in the oldest versions of Outlook.

Once you master all the existing features, if your software is an older version, the firm may ultimately be required to upgrade or update the software at an additional cost or purchase add-ons to provide the scoping, budgeting, calendaring, tracking, and reporting you’ll need. But at least you won’t have to double-clutch when you want to integrate your project management approach with the firm’s existing accounting time and billing data.

These programs may not have the sophisticated critical path and dependency analysis capabilities that come with powerful project management packages, but they can output data and reports in formats usable in Excel or PowerPoint. In most cases, once the overall scope, detailed tasks, timeline, and responsibilities are delineated for a new matter, an experienced partner can quite easily see which tasks depend upon the completion of prior tasks and which do not.

Paula Uscian, director of quality assurance at PLA, offered this example:

One important step in LPM is simply to develop a checklist for all associates to do discovery in the same way, a way that ensures predictable results and saves considerable time, effort and money. But you can create this checklist in a Word document.  Similarly, Excel can do budgets and spreadsheets, and law firms already have those programs. In fact, some lawyers are becoming more aware of these capabilities, and using  Excel’s presentation and workflow tools.

When law firms were adopting knowledge management systems, we told them that the solution was not the technology. The technology was only a tool.  Precisely the same thing is true with LPM. There are very useful software programs available, but we advise clients to first look at the tools that they already have and to leverage the investments that they have already made in software, without buying anything new.

This series will be adapted for the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, which will be published next year.


May 23, 2012

Twenty ways to use Outlook in legal project management

By Steve Barrett, LegalBizDev Principal


About two years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog entitled “How Should Law Firms ‘Gear Up’ to Manage Projects Better? – A 50,000-foot View” which argued that law firms could derive significant benefits simply by better using the software they already owned.  Since then, in teaching a number of workshops and coaching many individual lawyers, I’ve often heard of the difficulty in creating a master schedule for use with internal teams and clients.  My answer has always been, “You already have the software you need,” in the form of Outlook.  

Most law firms use Microsoft Office as their "wheelhouse" technology for creating and editing documents and use Outlook for e-mail, calendars, and meeting scheduling.  Most lawyers are familiar with basic Outlook features like group e-mails for addressing committees, practice groups, and others.  Likewise, many firms use Outlook calendar features for conference room scheduling, arranging group meetings, or sharing firm management calendars.  Some lawyers also keep dual calendars, one for their business lives and another for their personal lives.  While these features are useful, they only scratch the surface of Outlook’s ability to support the collaborative functions so important to legal project management (LPM).

For example, you can create and share calendars, both with in-house teams (e.g. the “XYZ Corp. Litigation Team” calendar) and with outside organizations (e.g. clients, consultants, and experts).  

One way I have demonstrated this feature to clients who may be sports fans starts by asking them to name their favorite professional team.  For example, when I worked recently with a Miami Heat fan, I asked him to go to the team's web page, open the current schedule, and click on the provided icon to download that schedule to his PC.  (All NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL teams have this calendar download feature.)

He opened the team’s schedule in Outlook on his PC, viewed it as a separate calendar screen, and tiled it next to his Outlook work calendar.  Then we used Outlook’s calendar overlay feature, which merged the sports schedule with his main calendar and displayed them as a single calendar.  The team’s game dates automatically showed up in a different color.  

Once that was done – “presto!” – the lawyer had just learned what it would take to create and share a matter/project calendar with his own internal and external teams.  Sharing can either be done by e-mail attachment or use of shared settings in Outlook for internal teams, just as many already share their calendars with their assistants.

That got us over to assigning tasks and scheduling meetings using Outlook, both processes that closely resemble inviting people to conference calls or conference room meetings, which he already knew how to do.  The whole discussion took about five minutes.

Below is a list of 20 Outlook features our clients have found useful for managing legal matters and streamlining collaboration with internal and external team members, a critical function within LPM.

Calendar features:

  • Can create multiple calendars, both shared and unshared
  • Can be shared both within the organization (via Exchange server) or outside the organization (via e-mail or Outlook sharing to public or secured websites like icalshare.com or MicrosoftOffice.com)
  • Can import any calendars from others in either html or the common .ics file format (e.g. either a private project calendar, or a public calendar, such as a junior soccer league schedule or NFL team schedule)
  • Multiple calendars can be easily viewed as tiled frames (vertical or horizontal), separate screens, or in overlay mode, in which two or more calendars are combined and appointments and events appear in different colors on one compiled calendar screen
  • Room Finder can be used to schedule conference rooms and, depending on your firm’s configuration, ancillary services such as catering, A/V, etc.
  • Planning calendars can be set up and shared for long-term projects, such as annual events, budget planning, or software roll-outs, as well as more transitory projects, such as a major litigation case, regulatory investigation, securities offering, etc.
  • Can be used to schedule one-time or recurring meetings for individuals or teams, to send invitations, enclosures (such as agendas), reserve and manage conference rooms, and track group RSVPs
  • When distributing and sharing calendars, senders can control permission levels for recipients to view-only, revise, re-circulate, etc.
  • Items can be moved or copied between multiple calendars in tiled views simply by dragging and dropping 

Assigning tasks and managing team members is another function in which Outlook can play a critical role, with little or no advanced coursework necessary.  

Tasks and to-do features:

  • Can enter and update personal tasks, set deadlines, reminders, and flags, enter time allocation/actual info, and certain mileage and expense categories
  • Can delegate/assign tasks to others, along with setting deadlines and priority levels, reminders, and flags, and can enter time allocation/actual info for billable tasks, plus certain mileage and expense categories, and completion check boxes
  • When assigning tasks to others, users can retain copies of the tasks on their own calendars in order to set reminders for assignees’ status check-ins
  • Notes and documents can be attached to any task
  • Daily, weekly and other task lists can readily be set up
  • Task lists can be shown in the bottom pane of a calendar view

E-mail features:

  • Can establish custom distribution lists for internal distribution (using firm’s global address list), or external (using outside e-mail addresses) or combined usage
  • Can establish e-mail group addresses (e.g. the “Jones Company Acquisition” group), to simplify group addressing for communications, meeting scheduling, and task assignments
  • Can use “group/case” folders to collect e-mail messages in one location (e.g. “Jones Co. Acq.” e-mail folder)
  • Users can post their status for others to see (e.g. busy, available, away, not logged in), to ensure that messages or tasks are sent only to those in a position to respond or undertake the task
  • Can set up rules such that any e-mails sent to or received from a particular individual or group can be copied or directed to a specific e-mail folder

Permission and proxy features:

  • Users can grant permission for others to view your calendar and schedule and commit you to appointments.  This is typically assigned to one’s assistant or a case paralegal, to ease administration and access.
  • “Level of calendar detail” can vary as well, from full details to busy/free only, with no detailed information
  • Users can mark personal appointments “private,” so that only their non-availability is visible
  • In order for full exploitation of the calendar features within a firm, all users must allow their calendars to be seen over the Exchange server.  Some firms have found it frustrating to commit to using Outlook calendaring for scheduling meetings when even a few key people do not let their calendars be viewed by their colleagues.

Note:  For additional features and more details, see Microsoft Outlook 2010’s help function, guides on the Microsoft web site, or in one of the many books on the topic, such as “Microsoft Outlook 2010 Step by Step” by Joan Lambert and Joyce Cox, which includes an online edition, templates and practice files, and exercises.  The same authors have also published similar guides for Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007.


October 26, 2011

Should you use social networking to develop new business? – Part 2 of 2

The internet is full of testimonials and case studies from lawyers who have had marketing success with social media (online tools for sharing and discussing information) and social networking (groups of people with common interests mixing together on social networking sites to build relationships).  For example, in an article in Law Practice, Ernie Svenson (author of the widely read blog Ernie the Attorney) explained how he used internet tools connect with a large network of other lawyers:

Now I have at my disposal a very broad range of lawyers whom I can call on whenever I want to brainstorm an issue. In fact, my network of “colleagues” is bigger now in my solo practice than it was when I worked at a law firm. And a number of the clients that have come to me recently are people who would never have found me if I hadn’t had an online presence. I no longer think of my professional profile as something static that gets periodically updated, like a resume. My professional profile is now something highly dynamic and easily accessed by anyone in any part of the world. I think the online social networking tools that are freely available to everyone can do the same for other lawyers.

The questions to ask about case studies like this are:

  • How much time was invested in this activity, and how many sales did it produce?

  • If you invested the same amount of time, how many sales would it be likely to produce for your practice?

  • Is this the best, most effective use of marketing time? 

Only you can answer those questions.  And after you do, it will be important to measure your results every quarter or so, to see whether you are correct.

There are plenty of differences of opinion about marketing value.  When the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Young Lawyers Building Buzz Tweet by Tweet,” one of the people they quoted was criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield who has a blog and more than 1,500 Twitter followers. He said he loved the way it gave him an opportunity to “Say my piece,” but, “to be honest, I don’t think it’s done a damn thing for me.”

If you do decide to invest time in social networking, there are many excellent sources of additional information on the internet.  If you want an introductory overview, see Jayne Navarre’s book social.lawyers: Transforming Business Development

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Become a source for news and insight in your practice area

  • You will probably find that the best referrals and connections come from your network rather than followers

  • Remember the difference between sharing insights about cases and real legal advice (which is something you can’t post)

  • Find a good balance between sharing personal information and sharing too much

And whenever you use Twitter, write a blog, post on Facebook, or make connections on LinkedIn, be sure you understand the rules of each medium and most importantly, the privacy settings.

Don’t talk about specific cases, clients, or judges. And lawyers must adhere to the same advertising standards as they do when creating an ad for the newspaper. As NYU Law School legal ethics professor Stephen Gillers put it, “Many of the rules are at a high enough level that they can be applied to new technology without revision.”

Rules that prohibit law firms from advertising themselves as specialists in certain types of law also apply to lawyers’ blog posts and even LinkedIn profile pages.

And whatever you do, don’t friend the judge.

This post was adapted from my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.

October 19, 2011

Should you use social networking to develop new business? – Part 1 of 2

Of all the topics discussed in my new book on legal business development, the role of social networking in legal marketing is the most controversial.  Some experts believe that social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging and more are transforming the way lawyers develop new business, and that people who ignore the role of new media are making a huge mistake.  Others feel that the hype for these media far exceeds the evidence that they help lawyers to bring in new business. 

From a hard-headed marketing point of view, one of the biggest problems with social networking is that it is way too much fun.  It is easy to spend hour after hour catching up on the lives of old classmates and new online “friends” without ever coming close to closing a sale.

Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, there is one thing that almost every lawyer should do.  If you have not already signed up for a free subscription to LinkedIn, do it now.  This may not be as important as having a business card yet, but it is getting there.  Depending on the nature of your practice, people you know may look for you in LinkedIn and be surprised if you are not there or if your profile seems weak.  If you are not a fan of online tools, your marketing department may be able to do much of the basic work for you.

Being on LinkedIn will simplify staying connected with law school classmates and former colleagues, and that can be useful in marketing.  For example, at one social networking panel discussion, legal career coach Robin Hensley reported that:

One of her lawyer clients found out through LinkedIn that a law school classmate he’d thought was at a firm in Chicago had gone in-house at one of the companies on his target list. Another client, the local managing partner of a large law firm, discovered that the CEO of an Atlanta-based paperboard company he wanted to pitch was his old law school roommate. But her client hadn’t been in touch with his old friend in a decade and worried that attempting to reconnect would appear “cheesy.”  “He’s on LinkedIn, so he wants to connect,” Hensley told him. “Just send him an email…What’s the worst that could happen? Could you get less business?”

You may decide to limit your social networking activity to the simple step of creating a profile and using LinkedIn to keep in touch with people you know.  But if you decide to go further, there are a wide variety of resources available on the internet about how to use this tool more effectively, ranging from Amy Campbell’s LinkedIn for Lawyers: Top Ten Tips  to Five LinkedIn Tips for Lawyers,  and 100+ Smart Ways to Use LinkedIn  to How to use LinkedIn to build and expand your professional network.

An analysis of how to use social networking in your practice must always come back to three core questions:

  1. What is your marketing goal?
  2. How much time will you devote every week to pursuing that goal?
  3. Is social networking the best way to spend some or all of that marketing time?

If your primary goal is to enhance the business relationships you already have, you can stop reading about social networking and turn instead to the chapters in my book on Defensive Marketing  and Current Clients.  However, if you are looking for new clients, you have already read my book’s section on New Clients – Twelve steps to find them, and you have decided that social networking may play a role, read Part 2 of this series next week.

This post was adapted from my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.

July 07, 2010

How Should Law Firms “Gear Up” to Manage Projects Better? – A 50,000-foot View (Part 2 of 2)

This two-part series was written by LegalBizDev Principal Steve Barrett, former CMO at Drinker Biddle.

Steve_barrett You’ve decided that your firm needs to assess the need for or embark upon instituting project management as an efficiency improvement and margin protection discipline (see part one from last week). 

So here are your options:

1. Do nothing. Assume hourly rates are permanent and that clients will gladly relent in their pressure for efficiency, cost savings and predictability once the economy resumes its growth. Most think that won’t happen.

2. Train your lawyers in alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) and legal project management (LPM) to help them deal with AFA pricing, improve matter management, achieve efficiencies, and build more interactive relationships with major clients.

3. Hire a cadre of project managers and/or purchase and install sizable LPM software solutions. This may include (listed generally in order of increasing cost and support requirement):

a. “Cloud” web-based PM solutions, such as Basecamp, ProjectSpace, QuickBase (from Intuit), @task, ClientSpot, Teamwork Project Manager and the like, which are comparatively inexpensive (typically $25-$50 per month per user), support internal and client collaboration but are not specifically optimized to legal processes. Many law firm IT staffs use this type of project management/collaboration software themselves for internal firm systems roll-outs. One new cloud-based system, Onit, was developed for the legal industry by knowledgeable lawyer-programmers and is currently in beta testing at several major law firms. A number of other cloud-based collaboration systems are out there, such as Scrumy, ProjectSpaces (not to be confused with ProjectSpace, above), Collabtive, Gantter, and LiquidPlanner. Many are free to use, and one, Gantter, promotes its integration with and similar looks to Microsoft Project. These online cloud solutions can vary from the very basic – best for simple casual group projects only – up to more secure extranets for firm/client collaboration – which have good calendaring and task tracking capabilities – on to the more recent Onit legal-specific system.

b. Packaged desktop PC project management software, such as the omnipresent Microsoft Project or dozens of its competitors, most of which are rather complex and not tailored specifically for the legal environment. Microsoft Project is now but one entry in a suite of Service Delivery Management (SDM) solutions offered by the company as an applications ecosystem for professional services firms. Desktop PC solutions also may not generally support ready collaboration across networks or with clients, and law firm time entry and accounting information must be imported from separate firm systems. There are even freeware desktop alternatives to Microsoft Project, such as Open Workbench.

c. “Heavyweight,” integrated legal software solutions are arriving, such as Thomson Reuters Engage, developed in partnership with Hildebrandt Baker Robbins, a Thomson Reuters sibling company. The system is in beta test stages at several name law firms. LexisNexis’ Redwood AnalyticsTM also has software tools and processes available, as does Data Fusion Technologies' IntelliStat (for Elite accounting system users). We haven’t details, yet, on their pricing or capabilities, but since they are established legal vendors it is likely that their products and services are both comprehensive and expensive. Both offer training and consulting and, one can assume, do integrate with the major law firm accounting systems for data extraction. Also, the major legal accounting software vendors, such as Aderant, incorporate analytic tools and are planning more systems in matter management/AFA solutions in the months ahead.

d. Comprehensive Continuous Improvement/Process Improvement reengineering, such as Six Sigma, Lean and Deming-type continuous improvement/process improvement undertakings, aim at eliminating errors and extraneous steps in all legal processes, much like Toyota, Motorola and DuPont continuously improve their manufacturing processes to eliminate waste and errors, and to speed up production without sacrificing quality. Several law firms have undertaken such initiatives, such as Seyfarth Shaw and Eversheds, for example, at considerable expense and commitment.

4. While all of the above classes of software or process solutions may be expensive, they appear to ignore two important options that require little or no technology investment:

a. Go for the “low-hanging fruit,” by developing simple just in time, just enough process changes and by shifting attention of lawyers to the discipline of matter management efficiency improvement.  This often includes economical workshops or training to self-examine law firm operations and processes so that firms may formally or informally develop process and behavioral client service changes in order to better manage projects in the “new normal” of AFAs.  (Full disclosure: our firm offers such educational, interactive or consulting services.)

b. Fully exploit existing law firm accounting systems.  It’s been eye-opening to see the many features and benefits of the three major law firm accounting systems (Aderant (formerly CMSOpen) ExpertTM or Practice Manager, Thomson Reuters’ Elite 3E or ProLaw, and LexisNexis’ Juris or PCLaw).  These systems are just as prevalent in law firms as Microsoft Outlook, Office applications, and Exchange and SharePoint.  In fact, if your firm has one of these accounting/financial management systems, you likely can already do almost everything you need to do to better manage legal matters and projects.  If your system is an older version, you can either upgrade or update (which could be a significant cost, in some cases) or purchase modest add-ons to provide the scoping, budgeting, calendaring, tracking and reporting you’ll need.  Thus, you won’t have to “double-clutch” to integrate a new PM solution with your firm’s existing accounting package, where most of the salient time and billing data reside, anyway. 

With few exceptions, these systems provide cost estimating aids, budget loading on a matter basis, task assignments and responsible parties, periodic or ad hoc reporting on time/dollars worked/billed/remaining (and collected), as well as the ability to calendar and track matter sub-tasks and generate budgetary or deadline alerts.  Yes, they may not have the sophisticated critical path and dependency analysis capabilities that a fully configured PM package may have, but they can output data and reports in formats usable in Excel tables or PowerPoint outlines.  In most cases, though, once the overall scope, detailed tasks, timeline and responsibilities are delineated, an experienced partner can quite easily see which tasks depend upon the completion of prior tasks (sequential) and which do not (parallel).  Let’s also not forget Outlook’s underused but powerful calendaring, meeting scheduling, and individual or shared task/”to-do” list tracking capabilities, available even in the oldest versions of Outlook.

For those wishing comprehensive solutions akin to the integrated heavyweight systems above, the major legal accounting systems vendors either are already there or are well on their way.  Ask yourselves: do we want to be project management specialists exporting law firm accounting data into separate PM packages for analysis (with all the significant infrastructure reconfiguration required)?  Or do we want to do a better job of using what we already have, systems that are fully integrated and usually closer to “real time”?  The latter could cost far less, and has the added benefit that we know lawyers and administrators will use it, since they already do.  That will minimize the disruption or resistance met in rolling out whole new applications to busy timekeepers.

My thanks to the law firm accounting software systems representatives who explained the capabilities of their existing and future product offerings and reviewed our text for accuracy: Don Howren at Aderant; Amy Kosey at LexisNexisJuris; and Sabrina Wainio at ThomsonReutersElite.

June 30, 2010

How Should Law Firms “Gear Up” to Manage Projects Better? – A 50,000-foot View (Part 1 of 2)

This two-part series was written by LegalBizDev Principal Steve Barrett, former CMO at Drinker Biddle.  It is based on an article that will appear in Of Counsel: The Legal Practice and Management Report.

Steve_barrett Approaching the second anniversary of the September financial markets collapse, let’s look at the major changes that have impacted law firms, aside from drastic force reductions and a slowdown on previously annual rate increases.

Whether alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) will continue to spread is no longer an issue; how quickly they will spread might be.  Little energy is being devoted to defending the “old normal.”  In a period of dramatic transformation, a lot is up for grabs.  No defensible survey or study suggests that hourly fees are or will be 100% dead, yet none suggest, either, that AFAs will NOT continue to grow measurably.  The consensus cross-section of all recent polls agree that these “changes are permanent.”  In fact, the latest indicator, the 2010 Altman Weil Flash Survey, reported that:

Over 75% of firms surveyed indicate that they believe that more price competition, more non-hourly billing, and the use of project management to improve efficiency of service delivery will be permanent changes in the legal landscape.

All corporate clients are intensely focusing on cost reductions, be they paper clips, energy, raw materials, restructuring, manufacturing, or benefit plan revisions.  The only costs that have apparently NOT dropped over the past decade are healthcare, energy and outside legal (many have already shaved inside legal to the bone).  Corporate responses to healthcare cost growth has been simple: switch vendors or reduce available benefits.  Likewise, companies are stampeding to get green or reduce energy usage.  Outside legal costs are likely to follow such paths, and soon, if the industry’s response is ineffective. 

A disturbing comment in the same Altman Weil survey was that:

Less than a third of firms track profitability outcomes, feature fee options in marketing communications, provide project management training, or set annual targets for AFAs.

Likewise, many firms are under-prepared to competitively price their offerings, since few have effectively mined their legacy accounting data to discern what many standard types of legal tasks or matters cost.

Project management techniques can reduce costs and increase efficiency and profitability in any type of legal billing arrangement, though the results may be easiest to see with AFAs.  When a law firm agrees to handle a certain matter for a flat or constrained price, it must find a way to meet legal needs within a limited budget.  The less the firm spends, the more money it will make.  But, as one major law firm’s CFO explained in responding to our LegalBizDev Survey of Alternative Fees in 2009:

A large number of lawyers do not know how to manage. [In the past], the more hours that got charged, the more money [they] made, and so they’ve never really had to manage [costs].

The market for legal project management (LPM) training has recently exploded, and a number of vendors have proffered or announced LPM software systems.

Talk to any major law firm COO or IT head and they’ll agree that busy private firm partners, for whatever reason, have a VERY limited bandwidth for learning new software or technology – as seen in past conversions of accounting systems, WordPerfect to Word, Groupwise to Outlook, new voicemail systems, landlines to VoIP, time/billing, CRM, Knowledge Management, etc. roll-outs.  Most senior law firm administrators will agree that partner appetites for the training and behavioral changes necessary with new technology fall somewhere between limited and non-existent.  This should be remembered by firm leaders rushing to implement software PM solutions or comprehensive, Six Sigma-type process improvement initiatives.  User resistance is easily underestimated.

Nevertheless, there ARE early adopters of process improvement (Seyfarth Shaw, Eversheds, Foley & Lardner, to name a few), as well as those undertaking legal project management training and/or acquiring LPM software or staff specialists (such as Dechert, Orrick, Osler, McCarthy Tétreault).  Most agree that while hourly rates will never disappear, alternative fee arrangements are here to stay, and that LPM is a necessary firm skill to ensure that AFAs do not spell disaster going forward.  Yet, even if hourly rates remain dominant, many firms now realize that better understanding of what their services cost AND better matter management can make lasting efficiency changes that will improve client satisfaction and reduce costs, while protecting law firms’ margins and competitiveness.  The transition to new efficiency will make some law firms winners and some losers.  The sooner firms start, the more likely they are to be on the winning side.

With the introduction of UTBMS matter task tracking and LEDES electronic invoicing standards more than a decade ago, major American clients sought to push law firms toward a standardized method of task cost reporting, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the component costs of legal services (more or less a “parts list” of replicated tasks within large projects).  Unfortunately, more clients than law firms have developed a full understanding of these costs for future pricing purposes.  Indeed, one could argue that the forensic accounting analysis to develop the hi-median-low cost of, for example, an average deposition (UTBMS/LEDES task # L330) would be wasted, since it could be analyzing the cost of an obsolete, inefficient process.  But understanding such cost history can help firms avoid “shot-in-the-dark” AFA pricing.

Next week we’ll discuss the options now available for law firms to get started on project management efforts.