December 12, 2018

LPM success at Lathrop Gage (Part 2 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

In November 2017, we published a case study entitled “LPM Initiatives at Lathrop Gage” describing the steps this 260 lawyer firm had taken to maximize LPM’s impact, and the results they’d achieved through our Master Certified LPM Coach™ program, and the use of LegalBizDev’s proprietary tools and templates.  This post provides an update, based on an interview LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf recently conducted with David Clark, Lathrop Gage’s LPM partner. 

LegalBizDev:  Several of the examples discussed earlier sounded like areas where our tools and templates on developing checklists would be especially helpful.

Clark:  They were.  Having a comprehensive checklist makes the process more efficient.   A checklist ensures that all steps are being taken, and that the appropriate people are doing the appropriate tasks.  A checklist also improves the process because as you think through the steps, you must determine who should take each step, what documents are associated with each step, and who needs to do it.  Without the systematic approach of LPM, many checklists are developed “catch-as-catch-can.”  One result of not having a checklist (or having a poor one) is inconsistency in who performs certain tasks.  Attorneys perform tasks at times, while paralegals do the same tasks at other times.  In addition, the person performing the task would have to try to find forms.  The net result often was a wasteful and inefficient effort.

In fact, developing more effective checklists was the key focus of my LPM coaching for a number of lawyers.

A good example is the LPM coaching experience of Courtney Conrad, the head of our Wealth Strategies group.  In our coaching program, Courtney developed a “checklist on steroids” to be used in both basic estate planning and more complex situations.  Then she made that checklist accessible to the rest of the Wealth Strategies group.  It has made a number of lawyers in her group more efficient – since they don’t have to reinvent the wheel – and also assures that all the things that need to be done in a particular situation actually get done.

LegalBizDev:  Do you think that in some cases lawyers would have created checklists and other systems like this even if they had not gone through the LPM coaching process?

Clark:  Yes, in some cases.  In estate planning, checklists are pretty standard.  And when lawyers plan fixed price retainers, of course they look at some past bills and talk to people on their team.  The difference with LPM coaching is that lawyers attack the problem more systematically and more effectively, thus  increasing their impact.

LegalBizDev:  How often do you use the LPM tools and templates Lathrop purchased when they designed this program? 

Clark:  All the time.  It’s been very useful to have the latest tools in a form that allows me to send each lawyer exactly the information they need, just when they need it, whether it’s a list of 15 questions to help lawyers define scope, a checklist for personal time management, or advice about how to deal with difficult clients and situations.  Having the details available in a short written form saves significant time for me, and makes it easy for lawyers to refer back to the details when they need them.

A lot of lawyers just get stuck because they don't know what to do or what the next step is.  The online library supports the coaching in that it gives some concrete examples of how some of these principles and techniques and tools are being used by lawyers at other firms.  The result is not necessarily “I’m going to do it exactly like that.”  Instead, they say: “OK, I see how they set this up.  I could do something similar with the checklist that I have in mind.”  The tools give them ideas and samples that they can work off.

These online tools also help push them to develop a spreadsheet or a checklist that they've been thinking about – but never got around to completing – and to develop a better version more quickly than what they could have done without examples.

LegalBizDev:  You said the online tools “help push” the lawyers.  Does coaching also provide a push?

Clark:  Absolutely. I often hear that “I've always wanted to do this, but coaching gave me the push to actually do it.”  For many lawyers, LPM is just “white noise” until they engage in LPM coaching and experience its benefits firsthand.  After LPM coaching, lawyers begin to put all the dots together.

LegalBizDev:  When we wrote the original case study last year, this type of one to one coaching was one of the most important elements of your firm’s LPM initiative.  Is that still the case?

Clark:  Yes, more than ever.  In my role as LPM Partner, I spend much of my time applying the techniques I learned when I became a Master Certified LPM Coach™.  The certification program highlighted for me what some of the more important principles in each of the eight key issues of LPM are.

More importantly, the program recognizes that lawyers are busy, so you need to tailor coaching to each lawyer, and focus on what their specific issues and challenges are. With the next step then being to direct them to the online library of tools that best address the issues each lawyer cares about.

It’s one thing to understand LPM at a theoretical level, and another to know how to apply it or coach it as a practical matter.  The coaching certification program made me much more cognizant of what actually works than I would have been if you had just handed me the book and said: “Knock yourself out.”

LegalBizDev: How many lawyers have you coached since you were certified as an LPM coach?

Clark:  In the past year, I have completed one to one LPM coaching with 17 lawyers, and am now coaching 11 more, for a total of 28 lawyers so far.   The feedback has been extremely positive.  More and more of our lawyers are volunteering and seeking me out for coaching.  For example, when numbers come out, lawyers now approach me and ask for my help in reducing write-offs.

LegalBizDev: When you include the lawyers that we previously coached, approximately 60 of your lawyers have completed in-depth, one to one LPM coaching.  How has LPM coaching changed your firm’s culture?

Clark:  Many of the lawyers who have been coached have become internal champions of LPM.   They have informed other lawyers about certain tools and templates and have also encouraged them to participate in the coaching program.  Those lawyers who have completed the coaching program are also more likely to consider whether there might be an LPM solution to a problem or challenge they are facing.

LegalBizDev:  Can you sum up the benefits the firm has experienced so far?

Clark: Very simply, LPM is enabling us to increase client satisfaction.  We are communicating more effectively with clients, and providing more cost-effective service.  It is also increasing the firm’s profitability by ensuring that lawyers better plan and budget work, especially in cases where there are fixed fee arrangements or hourly arrangements with a firm cap.

LegalBizDev: Is the firm committed to continuing to focus on LPM?

Clark:  Yes, now more than ever.  I am currently working with a group of lawyers and other firm personnel who are focusing on a number of initiatives to improve service and value to clients through innovative approaches.  One key reason that LPM coaching has worked is that it has been consistently supported by the firm’s management.  And I expect this support will continue to increase.  When Cameron Garrison took over as managing partner this year, the American Lawyer post announcing his appointment was headlined:  “Lathrop Gage's New Leader Stresses Innovation, 'Re-Imagining Everything.'”

LegalBizDev:  Do you have any advice for other firms that would like to implement LPM?

Clark:  Yes.  If you fail to change lawyers’ behavior it will have no impact on client satisfaction or firm profitability. So I would recommend that other firms do what we’ve done.  Start small, perhaps with a pilot group of lawyers for coaching.  After that succeeds, and internal support increases for the concept, then look for the most cost-effective ways to get more lawyers onboard. 

November 28, 2018

LPM success at Lathrop Gage (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

In November 2017, we published a case study entitled “LPM Initiatives at Lathrop Gage” describing the steps this 260 lawyer firm had taken to maximize LPM’s impact, and the results they’d achieved through our Master Certified LPM Coach™ program, and the use of LegalBizDev’s proprietary tools and templates.  This post provides an update, based on an interview LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf recently conducted with David Clark, Lathrop Gage’s LPM partner. 

 

LegalBizDev:  How would you describe LPM’s progress at Lathrop Gage in the year since we published our case study?

Clark:  LPM is continuing to change our firm’s culture and the way our lawyers practice law.  More and more lawyers are applying its principles every day, and clients are reaping the benefits. 

It’s always hard to know exactly how things like LPM progress compares across firms.   But when I listened to LPM leaders at the P3 conference in Chicago last spring, I got the sense that Lathrop Gage is far ahead of the curve.

LegalBizDev:  Why do you think you are ahead of many other firms?

Clark:  Because of our unrelenting focus on changing lawyers’ behavior through the one to one coaching I’ve been doing.

LegalBizDev:  Can you give me a few examples?

Clark:  Of course.  One of the issues that often comes up in my LPM coaching is how to improve delegation to the most cost-effective time keepers; getting paralegals, legal assistants, library folks, and so on involved in some of the tasks appropriate for them to handle in order to lower the costs to clients.  In our one to one coaching, several lawyers have increased not only the amount of delegation they do, but also its effectiveness.

Process improvement is another interesting example.  Some firms have developed complex and time consuming approaches to process improvement.  Using the much simpler approach summarized in several recent posts in your blog, several lawyers I coached have very quickly found areas for improvement.  For example, one lawyer I coached simplified a tracking spreadsheet so that it quickly communicates the information necessary to other team members without being too complicated.

Budget planning and tracking is at the heart of LPM, and several lawyers I’ve coached have also begun to implement task codes to get better financial information.  For example, our new business litigation practice group leader recently completed a one to one coaching program with me and is now in the process of improving budgeting by requiring his group to use mandatory task codes.

LegalBizDev:  Have any practice groups implemented task codes yet as a result of your coaching?  If so, how did it impact the way they practice law?

Clark:  Yes, several groups have begun to implement task codes.  Of course, to use them effectively you need to have a budget and you need to track that budget against actual expenses.  A number of partners are now using that information to determine ‘OK to make this matter profitable for us and cost effective for the client we need to delegate some work down and we need to leverage more of it.’ Or ‘This is taking longer than we budgeted for this phase, so we need to get more efficient.’

Task codes are not a panacea. Frankly, entering them can be a pain in the neck.  But they allow us to harness the financial data we have, and a lot of other things flow from that.

LegalBizDev:  With other clients, we’ve found that task codes produce the fastest benefits with fixed price arrangements.  Has that been your experience? 

Clark:  Yes, the most immediate benefits to the firm are usually seen in fixed price deals.  For example, one of my partners, Chris Feldmeir, works with our franchisor clients on monthly retainers.  When I coached Chris, one of his clients was paying the firm on a monthly retainer basis.  Working together, we set up a set of task codes to analyze how much time and effort was being spent on discrete tasks included within the retainer arrangement.  The result is that Chris is now better able to fully meet the client’s needs, while also ensuring that it remains profitable for the firm.

LegalBizDev:  Can you give me another example of the benefits of LPM coaching?

Clark:  Of course.  The case study published last year discussed my initial work with partner Travis McCallon for an automobile manufacturer client that wanted to come up with an enforcement system to protect their trademarks from infringers.  Things like tire wheels and hood ornaments are distinctive, and lots of mom and pop type operations try to copy them, create knock offs, and sell them out of garages and small shops.

Travis was engaged to focus on these small infringers with the goal of stopping the infringing conduct.  Most of these infringers had few assets you could collect upon even if you could prove infringement.  However, these trademark enforcement efforts are still important because if manufacturers know of infringements, but take no action to stop them, they could be accused of waiving their trademark rights. 

There were a large number of potential infringements which Travis had to identify and track.  Then for each, he had to work with the client to determine what kind of action, if any, was required.  The project included efficiently sending out cease and desist letters and other communications, monitoring these enforcement efforts, and keeping the client fully informed.  

Since it didn’t make economic sense to take formal legal action against most of these infringers, it was very important that this effort be sustainable and cost effective.  I helped Travis apply LPM principles to think through the options and refine some of the details, and he did the rest.

 

 

November 14, 2018

A one minute self-assessment:  Could legal project management help you?  

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

Question 1:  Could you increase client satisfaction?

Question 2:  Could you increase realization or profitability?

If you answer YES to either question, legal project management (LPM) could definitely help you. 

If your firm has begun an LPM initiative, first determine whether there is an LPM team at your firm that can  meet your needs.  If you’d like to learn more about our one-to-one LPM coaching, see https://tinyurl.com/LPM-Coach18J.

If you answer NO to both questions, you may not need to devote time to LPM.  But are you sure you’re right?

Regarding client satisfaction (Question 1):  Research has consistently shown that many lawyers overrate client satisfaction.  For example, in a survey published by Inside Counsel  magazine in July 2008, 43% of lawyers thought clients would give them an “A” for their work, but only 17% of their clients agreed.

Regarding realization and profitability (Question 2):  Have you checked with your financial department to determine how your personal realization or profitability compares to firm goals, and to other lawyers in your group?  If not, it might be worthwhile to see how you compare before answering this question.

October 31, 2018

Four approaches to business process improvement (part 2 of 2)

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 the UTBMS website. 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.

Process_Table

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 ten 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:

  • 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. Be sure to include handoffs to other 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, 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.”

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.

 

Implementing your improved business process

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 ways to combat typical objections, see “Overcoming Resistance to Legal Project Management: A List of Suggestions for Law Firm Project Management Champions.”

Reproduced with permission from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, Fourth Edition (© LegalBizDev, 2017).

October 17, 2018

Four approaches to business process improvement (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane

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.

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, supporting what Susan Page called “the myth that business process improvement must be time consuming and complex” in her book The Power of Business Process Improvement.

This two-part blog series describes four approaches to business process improvement that we have developed with lawyers to increase legal efficiency quickly, 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, consider this longer list of questions.

Approach #2: 10 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?
  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?

Part 2 of this series will describe two additional approaches.

October 03, 2018

Personal time management

By Jim Hassett

The simplest way to increase productivity is to manage your time better. While many time management techniques sound like common sense, that does not mean they are easy to implement.

In his widely used textbook on Project Management, Harold Kerzner suggests that you start by focusing on four key questions:

  • “What am I doing that I don’t have to do at all?
  • What am I doing that can be done better by someone else?
  • What am I doing that could be done as well by someone else?
  • Am I establishing the right priorities for my activities?”

If you need work in this area, identify troublesome areas:

  • How often are you interrupted?
  • How do you manage disruptions?
  • Can you section off blocks of solid work time?
  • Do you make “to do” lists and prioritize them?
  • Do you have a flexible work schedule?
  • Do you complete your work during regular work hours?
  • Do you micromanage?
  • Do you take on all tasks yourself?
  • Can you say “no?”

Plan how to avoid situations that can waste your time, including:

  • Poorly completed work that must be re-done
  • Phone calls, email, mail, casual office talk
  • Lack of delegation or improper delegation
  • Information that is not easy to find or use
  • Too many review cycles or layers of approval
  • Multiple meetings that aren’t useful
  • Postponing your work
  • Unclear goals or objectives
  • Excessive paperwork
  • Too little time and too much work
  • Lack of authority to make decisions or too many levels of decision making
  • Only dealing with crises
  • Perfectionism
  • Poor organization

Identify the time management techniques that will work best for you, including:

  • Manage your stress
  • Prioritize your tasks
  • Organize
  • Follow your schedule
  • Avoid useless memos, travel, conversations, emails
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Do the hard parts first
  • Start as soon as possible
  • Carve out blocks of time for important things
  • Delegate wisely
  • Give attention only to items that need it
  • Don’t let others give up and pass off tasks on to you. Help them to figure out how to accomplish their own tasks, if necessary.

Effective time management begins with taking a single step. Identify one or two action items from the list above, and start today.

 

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

September 19, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

What benefits should a lawyer expect from LPM coaching?

LPM coaching enables lawyers to efficiently review dozens of management tactics that have proven valuable for others, and coaching helps lawyers decide which LPM tactics will work best in their practice.

LPM was initially adopted by firms to protect profits in fixed-fee arrangements. But then firms saw its benefits in hourly rate matters, including increased client satisfaction and decreased write-offs, as well as more accurate budgeting and tracking. LPM has also allowed firms to take on more work without adding headcount or cost. A survey by American Lawyer Media Legal Intelligence found that firms that use legal project management also report more productive client relationships, improved communication, greater cost predictability, and other benefits.

A number of case studies can be found on our website that describe the results of firms that have participated in our coaching programs.  The table below lists specific examples from various coaching programs we have conducted.

LPM behavior change

Benefits

For every matter over $50K, the lawyer shared a description of project scope and assumptions with everyone on the project team

Team members became more familiar with what each budget included and excluded, which improved cost predictability and client satisfaction

Required lawyers to use a special task code to identify any work that was performed despite the fact that it was technically beyond scope

Kept lawyers more aware of the scope of the agreement and enabled relationship partner to negotiate increased fee with the client, where appropriate

A lawyer established a procedure to provide written summaries of strategic objectives to clients for their review at the beginning of every new matter; this was later adopted by his entire firm

Improved client satisfaction and led to more accurate budgets and increased realization

At the start of a large matter, one lawyer used our matter planning template to create a list of key sub-tasks and assignments, then asked team members to estimate how many hours each sub-task would take them

Team members completed most tasks within the time estimates they provided, which led to more accurate bids, increased realization, and new business

A litigator explained our risk analysis template to a key client and then used it to assess their budget in an early case assessment

The client loved the template and used it to structure their discussion of risks vs. costs. The result was increased client satisfaction and cost control.

The lawyer developed a new fixed fee product for consultations in a specialized area by working with a coach to identify all sub-tasks required and the range of possible time to complete each

Increased new business by offering a fixed price product in a specialized area before competitors did

One lawyer added a cover memo to monthly invoices with a bullet point summary of the progress of each matter on the invoice and the expected remaining costs

By explaining the rationale for each fee and what to expect, the lawyer avoided surprises and increased realization

A litigator developed a checklist of questions to ask at the beginning of each case to better define scope and assign lawyers to cases

More accurate bids, better team assignments, and lower costs to clients

A lawyer arranged to have the accounting department send “tickler” emails automatically when certain financial milestones were reached, such as when 50% of the budget was spent

Improved budget tracking led to cost control and avoided surprises to clients by enabling early discussions of possible scope changes

For a multi-million-dollar flat fee for handling a large number of litigation matters, the relationship partner designed spreadsheets showing cost-to-date and cost-to-estimated completion for each case. This made it easier to quickly spot where there were significant overages in attorney time spent above the flat fee for a given month.

Early identification of possible problems improved discussions of why any cost overruns may have occurred in a particular case and ways to control overruns in the future. Ultimately, this led to the fixed fee arrangement becoming more profitable.

An IP lawyer used our matter planning template to simplify the steps required to complete patent applications for a key client. The lawyer identified 12 steps that were required for every patent application and a likely range of hours for completing each step.

Team members were able to easily compare their effort on each phase against expectations and increase efficiency. This improved client satisfaction and increased new business.

At the end of a matter, the relationship partner conducted a short “lessons learned” review with the client

The discussion led not only to ideas for increasing efficiency, but also to being assigned similar matters in the future

Senior partner who had to approve write downs identified a few key partners with high write-down rates and interviewed them about the causes and possible cures

Each lawyer developed a personal action plan to reduce write-downs, and the firm improved realization

A practice group required team leaders to hold weekly internal team status meetings for each matter over $100,000

Avoided duplication of effort and led to early identification of issues that could increase scope

In today’s increasingly competitive environment, most lawyers can expect LPM to continue to change the way they practice law long after the coaching ends. In other words, lawyers should NOT expect to be finished with LPM when this brief program is completed. Our goal is to help lawyers get started on a long-term process that will continue to evolve and strengthen their competitive position for years to come.

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

September 05, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

 

How does a firm identify the best lawyers for LPM coaching?

We recommend starting with the motivated: lawyers who are open to new ideas and who have the most to gain. They could be key partners who are responsible for new alternative fee arrangements. Or they might be relationship partners who are worried about protecting business with clients who are looking for greater efficiency. Or maybe an entire practice group is considering new checklists, templates, and processes to improve its competitive position.

The exact individuals and groups will vary from firm to firm. But in every case, the best pilot group consists of those lawyers who are open-minded about change and efficiency, in a position to benefit when it works, and influential enough to quickly spread the word of their success. 

Here are three questions you might consider asking your lawyers to determine the best candidates for LPM coaching:

  1. Are you willing and able to commit one to two hours per week to participate in a coaching program?
  2. Have your clients or prospects asked for greater efficiency or for LPM?
  3. Have you used any flat fee or other alternative fee arrangements, or been asked for greater efficiency on hourly matters, or had clients refuse to pay a bill?

 

How much time does LPM coaching take?

The answer depends on the lawyer. Our program generally requires eight 30-minute calls. Most lawyers spend at least another hour or two after each call following up on their action items. Note that if a lawyer chooses to work on an active matter, that time may be billable, since they will be performing tasks required by the matter, just in a different, more efficient way.

Among other things, we ask lawyers to think about, and sometimes change, how they define objectives and determine the scope of a matter, how they plan matters to be more efficient, and how they organize their communications to better communicate with clients. The suggestions we make are based on best practices that other lawyers have used successfully.

As Aristotle famously said, “You get out what you put in.”  The more time a lawyer dedicates to coaching, the more benefits they will see as a result.

 

What topics will be covered?

Once again, the answer depends on the lawyer. Our coaching is organized around eight key LPM issues listed in the table below. Note that while many lawyers think of LPM as a way to organize schedules and budgets, our view is much broader. In a study of AmLaw 200 managing partners and law firm leaders, we found that the two most important issues for most firms were improving how the scope of matters were defined and communicating better with clients.  The amount of time a lawyer spends on each of the eight issues will be totally customized, so each lawyer can focus on the issues that will have the greatest impact for their practice.

 

What happens on the first LPM coaching call?

Before the first call, we provide each lawyer with a copy of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (4th Ed.). The only thing lawyers are required to do before the first call is to make sure they have their copy handy during the call.  However, lawyers receive more benefit from the first call if they spend a little time thinking about the following two questions (which we ask on the call):

  • What would have to happen for you to consider this coaching a success?
  • What client or matter should you focus on first?

After the lawyer considers these questions, we suggest that they take a little time to look through the table of contents of our book to see which tools and templates are most likely to help them.  The table below provides examples of typical action items for each of the eight key LPM issues.  Each lawyer then works with their coach to identity LPM action items that will create “quick wins” – immediate benefits to the lawyer’s practice.


Legal project management issue

Typical action item

Benefit

1. Set objectives and define scope

Improve an engagement letter

Avoid misunderstandings

2. Identify and schedule activities

Create a matter plan listing all key tasks

Maximize efficiency and organization

3. Assign tasks and manage the team

Improve delegation

Better manage valuable time

4. Plan and manage the budget

Improve budgets, including tracking and controlling spending

Increase realization

5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule

Complete a risk analysis template for a new matter

Prevent problems before they occur

6. Manage quality

Develop a formal process to assure quality while improving efficiency

No compromises on work quality

7. Manage client communication and expectations

Improve communication with clients through monthly reports or weekly calls

Avoid surprises and increase client satisfaction

8. Negotiate changes of scope

When assumptions change, negotiate fee adjustments at an appropriate time

Protect profitability

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.

August 22, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

As explained in our white paper, The Keys to Legal Project Management Success, the five most effective ways to increase legal project management (LPM) results are to: (1) focus on changing behavior and solving problems, (2) aim for quick wins to create internal champions, (3) publicize successes within the firm, (4) use just-in-time training materials, and (5) take action now and follow up relentlessly. 

In over a decade of research and consulting with hundreds of law firms, we’ve seen that one-to-one LPM coaching is the most effective way to change behavior and achieve quick wins. 

There are a number of ways that LPM coaching programs can be structured by internal staff or external consultants.  Our own approach has evolved over the last ten years, as we found that some tactics worked better than others.  This series of posts explains how our approach works, what lawyers can expect if they sign up, and actual successes that typical participants have achieved.

 

What is the goal of LPM coaching?

Project management has been used for decades in fields like engineering, construction, information technology, and aerospace.  It is only in the last ten years that lawyers have begun to apply these systematic and disciplined tactics to the unique challenges of the profession, and best practices have begun to emerge.  A primary goal of LPM coaching is to help lawyers apply the latest findings about best practices, so they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

From the start, the primary goal of our coaching programs has been to help lawyers apply LPM quickly to find “low hanging fruit” and directly experience such immediate benefits as: 

  • Increasing realization and profitability
  • Reducing risk
  • Protecting current business
  • Increasing new business

We have repeatedly seen that once individual lawyers achieve success, they become internal champions who help spread LPM best practices to others within their firm.  (Our web page includes several case studies showing how this has worked at a number of firms.)

 

How does our LPM coaching work?

A certified LegalBizDev coach provides one-to-one advice on the best ways to apply LPM over a period of several months. LPM coaching is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. What works best for one practice team or one individual lawyer might not be best for another practice team or individual. Therefore, the precise content and approach of coaching is customized to each lawyer’s needs and personality. But for every lawyer, each call provides an opportunity to brainstorm with an LPM expert.  And the very fact that a lawyer has a call scheduled helps that individual find the time for LPM in an otherwise busy schedule.

The program typically includes unlimited phone calls and emails for two months from the date of the lawyer’s first call. Most lawyers schedule a 30-minute phone call at the same time every week, such as every Tuesday at 10 AM.  If the lawyer is unable to complete at least eight calls within two months, the program is extended for up to two additional months or until eight calls have been completed, whichever comes first.

Most lawyers begin the coaching process by selecting an active client or matter, then identifying which of eight key LPM issues are most critical to meet their goals. Each participant receives a copy our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (4th Ed.), which is a toolbox of templates and best practices. During the coaching program, the LPM coach helps the lawyer quickly select the tools that are most likely to result in immediate benefits for their immediate situation. During the coaching, the lawyer also becomes aware of all the other LPM tools that may be helpful to them in the future, and when to use those tools.

A few lawyers prefer to start the coaching program by analyzing a past matter that went over budget to better understand how LPM could prevent that problem in the future.  Some use the coaching program as a CLE-type course to understand the big picture of LPM.  Although these theoretical approaches offer value, we prefer to engage lawyers in an active matter so that LPM is immediately real and relevant to their practice.  But the bottom line is that our approach is entirely customized, and whatever works best for the lawyer works for us.

 

Is LPM coaching just for lawyers?

To maximize the benefits of LPM coaching, we believe it is best if lawyers participate in our LPM coaching program.  However, we have coached paralegals, legal assistants, project management professionals, and LPM staff members with success.  The reason we recommend coaching lawyers is obvious to anyone who has ever worked in a law firm:  lawyers are in charge, and if they don’t buy into LPM, it simply will not be applied as effectively.  We have found it can be unproductive and frustrating for a legal assistant to learn new LPM concepts, and then be limited in his or her ability to implement that new knowledge because they lack the authority to introduce important changes into the LPM process. 

In addition, lawyers are principally involved in many of the key LPM issues.  Lawyers work with clients to set objectives and define scope and negotiate changes of scope.  The same holds true for other key LPM issues such as managing client communications, assigning tasks, managing the team, assessing risks, and managing quality. 

While many lawyers would prefer not to set aside time for coaching, as we often say, “You can’t pay someone else to do your pushups.”  It is the lawyer who must learn LPM concepts if LPM is to be fully implemented in ongoing client matters. 

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide

 

August 08, 2018

AFA pricing best practices

By Jonathan Groner

At the recent conference of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), Matthew Beekhuizen, chief pricing officer of Greenberg Traurig, was a member of a panel titled “How to Build an AFA Program: Best Practices in Design, Implementation, and Management.”  Beekhuizen recently discussed the panel and various aspects of pricing and alternative fee arrangements with us in the following interview.

LegalBizDev: Based on your personal experience, what approach do you take in dealing with pricing issues?

Beekhuizen: Earlier in my career, I worked in commercial banking, and I became accustomed to analyzing financial statements and profit and loss statements, particularly for the purpose of assessing the amount of risk for commercial loans. That work was highly data-based, and I still use a data perspective in developing prices in my present position.

I use data as a starting point. For example, in developing a budget for a piece of litigation, we look first at the costs of various tasks, such as depositions, motions to dismiss, etc., in similar matters. We also ask: What is the possible range of costs? This historical data paints a picture, and then I sit down with the attorneys on the matter and I ask them how the present case is different, if at all, from previous cases that were similar. We can go from there.

LegalBizDev: Are firms like yours becoming more data-driven?

Beekhuizen: Yes, firms are much savvier now, for example, about why and how they should use task codes to capture data in a meaningful way. In addition to the well-known ABA litigation codes that have existed since the 1990s, many firms are developing their own coding systems for all types of matters, not just litigation. And Hilarie Bass (current ABA president and a co-president of Greenberg Traurig) has initiated an ABA working group with the goal of creating broader code sets for a variety of practice types, as well as revisions of the litigation code set, aimed at capturing better data and being more useful in AFAs.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between task codes and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: The array of data that can be gathered from completed matters by the use of task codes helps a firm develop detailed projections of the cost of an upcoming matter. These projections can then be used to develop a fee proposal that the firm, with a greater degree of confidence, expects will be a valuable arrangement for the client and the firm.  The use of task codes also enhances legal project management efforts once the matter is under way, so firms can monitor what work has been done, by whom and when in comparison to the fee agreement.

One type of AFA that firms are using more frequently when they are truly data-driven, is task-based pricing. An example of this type of pricing would be that the firm and the client agree on a certain price per deposition, regardless of the number of depositions, or on a certain price for the review of, say, each set of 5,000 documents.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between legal project management and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: AFAs can really set the stage for legal project management. Say the work is being done for a fixed fee, which is a common type of AFA. That means that when the firm agreed on the fee with the client, the firm had based the arrangement upon specific staffing (how many people would be used for each aspect of the matter, where they are based, experience level) and expected scope (activity such as number of depositions, number of documents to review, etc.).  The firm needs to staff the matter in the way it had planned and monitor that the work is within scope. So the fee agreement becomes, or should become, a work plan to which the firm must manage. That requires regular reporting and assessing of where things stand, which of course involves project management. Project management becomes indispensable in making AFAs work well.

LegalBizDev: What is the relationship between the growth of legal operations within client corporations and AFAs?

Beekhuizen: Because of the growth of legal ops, more sophisticated clients have set benchmarks for what they want to pay for certain specific legal services, just the same way as firms’ use of data has helped firms come up with benchmarks for the prices that offer the most value to all involved. This is actually very good because it makes the relationship and the negotiation between the law firm and the client more transparent in many ways. Now, if the client and the firm have different expectations about the potential costs for a matter, both can review the data behind the expected cost. This helps firms have a more substantial and fact-based discussion with clients about price. When our clients are trying to implement AFAs for the first time, I always tell them to start with data. Having a legal operations professional on the client side helps with this process.

As legal operations continues to grow by leaps and bounds, as it has, we will be seeing a lot more data-driven requests from clients, and I think that’s a great development.

LegalBizDev: Do you deal with aspects of pricing that are not necessarily reducible to data?

Beekhuizen: Yes. Pricing is both a science and an art, and it ultimately is all about understanding your clients’ needs. Sometimes you may come up with an initial cost estimate that you know is beyond what the client is expecting. For example, a price estimate may represent what the firm believes will be required to win a certain litigation, but that cost is greater than the client’s monetary exposure. At that point, you can explore other alternatives that reduce the cost and create value for the client.

In another situation, the client may want to develop a fee arrangement that has the law firm sharing risk with the client, so that the law firm incentives and client objectives are aligned.

In yet another situation, the value for the client is not so much in cost reduction as in predictability of its legal expenses over a period of time.

In all these instances, our job is to develop an understanding of what the client is really trying to achieve. AFAs and data-driven analysis set the stage for the most important part – talking to the client about what they expect and what they consider value.