December 04, 2019

Case study: Building a successful LPM initiative with online tools (Part 2 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

This post concludes our interview with Steve Flaks, the Director of Pricing & Project Management, and Sarah Alford, Manager of Pricing and Project Management at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Q:  In Part 1 of this interview, you mentioned a pilot test program coaching six lawyers in LPM.  Did that initial success help lead to the decision to purchase a license to make our LPM tools available to every lawyer in your firm?

A:  Yes.  We had seen how the tools and templates could be used to speed the implementation of LPM, and we wanted to have them available for all 400 of our lawyers.  Our IT department created an LPM page on our intranet that is very slick and intuitive to use.  Lawyers can see all the different tools and easily identify the ones they need and download them, anytime anywhere.

I don't want to lie to myself and assume that lawyers are spontaneously going to go there all the time.  But it makes it very easy for us to provide each lawyer with the exact tool they need, whether it’s for defining scope, planning a budget, improving client communication, or increasing efficiency some other way.  This LPM home page, backed by over 150 templates, also gives us more presence and credibility within the firm. 

Q:  And recently you both decided to go one step further by enrolling in our Master Certified LPM Coach™ Program.

A:  That’s right.  We wanted to maximize the effects of our own coaching.   One of the challenges in coaching lawyers is quickly being able to identify and access the right documents at the right time.  We both have a high level of understanding of the enormous amount of information that's out there, but we need to get more intimately familiar with the details so that we can access it on demand.

We began by studying your LPM Coaching Guide which is only available to people who enroll in the certification program and to LegalBizDev employees.  In accordance with this program, we’ve been conducting role plays of typical LPM coaching sessions and are now applying our learning by coaching lawyers at our firm.  An LPM expert from LegalBizDev listens to our coaching sessions and then later provides feedback to help us fine-tune our LPM coaching approach.

Q:  I know that you are both in the middle of that certification program, but have you seen any successes yet?

A:  Yes, we have.  The attorney that I (Steve) have been coaching has bought into the concepts, and he has invited us to his Public Finance practice group meeting to discuss LPM. A lot of their work is fixed fee, and now we're starting to formulate how to use task codes to plan and track their budgets.  This will make it easier for everyone to be aware of the run rates and how we are tracking against the budget, so each lawyer on the team can see how they’re doing against the plan. In the future, we expect that much more budget information will be shared with the client so they, too, can track progress.

In addition, when we complete the program, it will be helpful to have the certification behind our names.  It helps the entire effort have more credibility, and it contributes to LPM being woven into the fabric of the firm.

Q:  What else are you doing to make attorneys more aware of your efforts?

A:  Probably the most effective communication was a roadshow we conducted last year in which we went to each of our offices in a kind of educational tour focused on “what is LPM?” and “what does it mean to you?”  We put together a PowerPoint deck that included screenshots of our web page, including some of our favorite checklists.  Then we logged into a live connection and navigated around. 

It was so well received that we are now considering a follow-up roadshow with fresh content.  But before we do, we need to improve the way we document and communicate our own LPM wins.  We’ve also been talking about maybe sending out a quarterly LPM wins report.  

Q:  Have you thought of any other ways to keep LPM and your role top of mind on a regular basis?

A:  I really like the idea of “LPM tips of the month,” because it's an excuse to send out a message and stay in touch and remind them of LPM.  Of course, we started with the 12 tips that are included with the LegalBizDev license, each of which illustrates how a particular template could be useful.  When necessary, we customize them to fit our audience and add new ones.

Q:  To date, do you think LPM has helped your firm develop new business?

A:  Absolutely.  The most obvious impact on new business is when LPM increases client satisfaction.  This in turn increases the probability of new business.  For both existing clients and new ones, we also work closely with the marketing business development teams on RFP responses.   We are seeing a lot more mention of LPM -- project management, budgeting, monitoring, all that kind of stuff -- as requirements in RFPs.  So, in many of our responses, we are talking more and more comprehensively about our LPM team, who we are, what we do, and how we can help.  It is no secret that many law firm RFP responses just give lip service to LPM.  But we are actually doing it, and we have the examples and the infrastructure to back it up.

Q:  Finally, do you have any advice for firms that are just beginning to implement LPM?

A:  Set realistic expectations and get the buy-in of senior management.  Start by finding just a handful of attorneys that you can use as your cheerleaders, attorneys that you think are in the right practice areas and have the right sort of influence within the firm. 

But don’t expect huge results in a very short period of time.  Be patient, and don’t try to do too much too soon.  And when you get good results, don’t be shy about shouting them from the rooftops.

November 20, 2019

Case study: Building a successful LPM initiative with online tools (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr is a full-service firm with about 400 lawyers in Philadelphia, Chicago and 14 other offices.  The firm offers clients the national reach and sophisticated experience of a large firm with the local connections and value of a boutique firm. This post is based on recent discussions with Steve Flaks, the Director of Pricing & Project Management, and Sarah Alford, Manager of Pricing and Project Management. 

Q: Why did Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr initially decide to implement LPM?

A: As explained on our web page, “Value has never been more important to sophisticated legal organizations. We use LPM to achieve greater cost certainty and unwavering client service.”

Our initiative has developed gradually over the last several years, based on high level buy-in by senior management.  Even before Saul Ewing merged with Arnstein & Lehr in September 2017, Saul Ewing’s CFO, Paul Levy, began researching LPM vendors.  Paul’s interest was strongly supported by both our managing partner, Barry Levin, and our COO, Jennifer Peterson.  These days, LPM has become one of the key client service initiatives named in our strategic plan, and it has become more and more a part of the firm’s DNA.

Q:  Could you give me the 50,000-foot view of your key LPM initiatives to date?

A:  In 2016, I (Steve) was brought in initially with multiple roles, including billing, collections, and LPM.  It soon became clear that LPM needed more resources.  So, I focused almost exclusively on LPM and pricing.  A couple of years later, we added a second person to the team. 

We have made a lot of strides. We started with a pilot test program in which LegalBizDev coached six of our lawyers.  This produced significant results and generated enthusiasm for LPM.  We then subscribed to the digital online version of your LPM Quick Reference Guide and began using those templates in our own internal coaching. We held a roadshow in which we visited each of our offices to explain the basics, then increased our visibility by sending out LPM tips of the month and more.  Most recently, of course, both Sarah and I have enrolled in your Master Certified LPM Coach™ Program to learn more about how to adapt your proprietary coaching process to the unique needs of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Q:  What benefits have you seen from this?

A:  Quite a few.  We have rolled out various matter management tools used to monitor the progress of matters across a wide spectrum of practice areas and at different levels of granularity (e.g., matter or task-code level).  These tools keep the teams informed on spending, so that if budget issues arise, they can be proactively dealt with and communicated both internally and to the client. 

An example of a specific practice area where we have made significant progress is working with the M&A team on data mining and task code management.  We have created a large catalogue of historical M&A matters that we can refer to when preparing fee estimates for future proposals.  Using task codes, we can look at the number of hours and the fees for transactions with specific characteristics (transaction size, buy vs sell side, etc.) and also relative levels of effort for various phases of transactions.  This has provided M&A attorneys with more information and ultimately more accurate fee estimates.  We have done this type of analysis for other practice areas as well, and we continue to add this capability to more practice areas all the time.

Q:  It sounds like the M&A team has made a significant commitment to LPM.  What other examples of LPM benefits do you have?

A:  We have quite a few.  For example, we have worked closely with a Litigation attorney and his team to prepare and monitor a $2 million litigation budget.  We met on several occasions with all team members during the planning phase to refine the budget and monthly forecasting process.  All timekeepers are familiar with their roles and responsibilities and their share of the budget for all Phases and Tasks.  We have set up budget monitoring alerts that go to all team members as milestones are reached, so everyone is aware of our progress against budget.  We are also providing the client with monthly budget status reports and fee projections.  This exercise has provided the tools to more effectively manage the team and set expectations with a demanding client.

Another example was when a client asked one of our Real Estate lawyers to provide a budget estimate on a land purchase transaction.  The lawyer created a high-level guesstimate and called me (Steve) for a reaction.  While we were on the phone, I sent him a Real Estate Budget Template from our online LPM library, showing all the typical tasks and activities involved in real estate transactions.  We then spent about 30 minutes going through the exercise of identifying the team and assigning rates and hours for each activity.  Going through this exercise was a real eye-opening experience for the attorney, and it allowed him to present his proposal to the client with far more confidence (less stress) and more transparency, because he could support the budget estimate with detailed, documented assumptions.  It showed the client that he had put a lot of thought into the proposal and therefore increased his credibility.  While the attorney had not typically used this approach in the past, I believe he will do so more often in the future, having seen the benefits.

Q:  Let’s back up and briefly discuss each of the initiatives you listed at the start, starting with the pilot test of coaching.

A:  We identified six volunteers from several practice groups for coaching, based on their need for LPM, their open-mindedness to trying new approaches, and their influence within the firm.  We started with a brief kickoff session to introduce everybody to LPM and give them a roadmap of how the program would work.  Each one then held about eight phone calls with a LegalBizDev coach over the next few months to improve client satisfaction with current clients.

For example, one participant was the relationship partner and team leader for a multimillion-dollar matter that included over a dozen lawyers.  Over the course of several months of coaching, she instituted a number of changes, including the development of a comprehensive task checklist based on handling hundreds of eminent domain suits, and a “lessons learned” meeting with the client in which we discussed simple ways to increase efficiency, such as assuring that each condemnation document was titled with property owners’ names.

But the biggest effect of this pilot test was to provide a “proof of concept,” showing that LPM could indeed make an important difference in efficiency and client satisfaction.  This began to build momentum within the firm.  Since these key attorneys had directly experienced immediate benefits, they became credible internal champions who spread the word.

Additional examples will appear in Part 2 of this post.

November 06, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 3 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In the first two parts of this blog series, we discussed the best ways to prepare for scope change discussions with a client and how to engage in those discussions.  In the third and final part of this series, we explore how to ensure these discussions are successful.  This blog article is largely based on the third recommendation from Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Work from their interests, not their positions

Before entering the discussion or meeting with your client contact, try to answer the questions below to get at their true interests that may be driving their position of resistance. Also, prepare to tactfully ask these questions during your discussion if they seem to be resisting your proposed new approach:

Other than the client’s desire to minimize spending, what are their concerns about addressing increased fees and making scope changes during the course of an active matter?  How can I address those concerns?

Consider the difference between “positions” and “interests” in order to understand why focusing on your contact’s interests will usually be more productive than focusing just on their positions. Here is the difference in this situation, if your contact keeps the same position as in the past.

Their position: A “position” is what they want, as in the scenario presented in part 1 of this blog series:

“Don’t worry about it… you may find some savings in the remaining work… we’ll just settle up on all those scope change adjustments when you are done with the complete matter.”

Consider their position as the tip of the iceberg. You need to get beneath the surface to learn what is driving their position/want.

Their interest: An “interest” is the “why” underneath that motivates them to hold their position. Several possible reasons why are given as examples, below, which you could try to address as shown after each reason:

  1. They feel that they have the upper hand if they wait to discuss fees for scope changes after you have already incurred the time to perform the extra work because they have the power to just say “yes” or “no” to any or all of the additional fees you incurred. In the past, you have given in, so that is what they have been taught as the likely outcome.

Could be addressed this way: Describe very clearly what their approach has cost your firm in write-offs, and appeal to their fairness. If the standard of fairness does not appeal to them, you may want to reassess the desirability of keeping this client.

  1. They don’t want to be nickel and dimed with several smallish fee increases.

Could be addressed this way: That is an understandable interest. Suggest agreeing to a threshold dollar amount of scope change fees that must be reached before you come to them with a request for approval. For example, a $5,000 threshold could mean that you would aggregate four instances requiring scope increase fees of $800, $1,200, $2,400, and $800 into one discussion of $5,200. This avoids the nickel and dime perception and allows discussion of all fee changes more closely to when they are identified rather than waiting to the end of the entire matter.

  1. They have committed to this year’s legal spend to their management and must stick with it.

Could be addressed this way: You could ask, “Could I track any scope increases and submit them to you next calendar quarter?”

By knowing the client contact’s interests, you increase the likelihood of coming up with an approach that addresses their interests and satisfies yours as well. One of the best ways to learn your client contact’s actual interests is to ask the following two questions:

If you were to say “yes” and agree to address increased fees for scope changes as they are identified, what would your concerns be beyond your desire to minimize spending? How could I address those concerns?

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

October 23, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 2 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In part 1 of this series, we discussed how to prepare for discussions with clients to obtain approval of additional fees due to a scope change: Know your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).  In part 2 of this series, we explore how to engage in the actual negotiation discussions.  This blog article is largely based on the second recommendation from Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Use objective, external criteria

Assuming your client contact agrees to discuss/negotiate with you, the following question can help you prepare to be persuasive:

What documents or events could I refer to that my contact would find authoritative and could help make my case and de-polarize our discussion?

The idea here is to introduce some external criteria separate from your assertions and your client contact’s assertions. In other words, it takes the “me-vs-you” element down a notch.

Some possibilities are:

  • Refer to the engagement letter/statement of work language that covers what has been agreed to regarding the process for encountering increased scope of work. If the engagement letter has such language, then referring to it in this circumstance can be seen as a reminder of what was earlier agreed to, and therefore your contact is put in the position of honoring a prior agreement rather than making a new concession.
  • Refer to relevant precedent. If there has ever in the past been a matter for which they agreed to scope change fee increases as they occurred during the work on their matter, remind them of this, in specifics. Again, you are asking them to honor precedent instead of making a new concession.
  • Refer to their written statement of objectives for the matter, if one exists. Describe your rationale for the importance/necessity of the out-of-scope work in reaching the client’s objective, and/or how much more difficult it would be to reach the client’s objective without it. Again, this use of external criteria invites the client to see it in terms of reaching their objective, rather than just protecting your fee.
  • Invoke the external standard of fairness by asking “How is that fair?” Be prepared to explain why you think your approach is fairer for all, such as, “You would get the chance to approve or deny the work before it incurs the time, and you can more effectively evaluate the value of the increased work as the need for it arises than you can at the end of the engagement.”
  • Refer to industry standards, regulations, or laws if the matter has issues where compliance with them is relevant.

In part 3, the final part of this blog series, we will discuss how working from the client’s interests, not their positions, can help scope change negotiations succeed.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

October 09, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 1 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

The most challenging type of scope change involves increasing the fee from the original estimate. Increasing the fee requires a possibly difficult conversation with the client and raises the question of how best to approach the client to obtain their approval of this additional work and fees. Consider this scenario:

  1. You know it is best practice to contact the client as soon as you detect a material scope change that will increase their fee.
  2. But your client resists agreeing to scope changes that you request as they occur, saying things like:

“Don’t worry about it… you may find some savings in the remaining work… we’ll just settle up on all those scope change adjustments when you are done with the complete matter.”

  1. But when you reached the end of the last three matters for this client, having taken the “we’ll just settle up when you are done” approach, there were serious disagreements about the fees that were over and above your original estimate.
  2. You ended up writing off a few thousand dollars each time. This is affecting your realization on their work and dampens your enthusiasm for doing more work for this client, even though they bring you a lot of business.
  3. Accordingly, you have decided to ask your client contact to agree to deal with scope changes and resulting fee increases as they occur for future matters and not to postpone the discussion until final billing.

Three very helpful ways to prepare for such discussions are recommended in Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. The first of these is:

 

Know your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

Start your preparation by addressing this question:

What could I do if they either don’t agree or they refuse to discuss my suggested new approach for handling scope increases as they occur?

To answer that question, try to list every step you could take to meet your/the firm’s needs without their agreement. Such a list would contain a range of steps from “very desirable” to “very undesirable.” That way, you can select the most desirable one on the list to become your BATNA. For example, you might come up with a list of steps that you could take like those below and then analyze each for its relative desirability based on how the business decision question is answered.

  1. Have our managing partner negotiate with my client contact’s boss.

Desirability: Could work, but to accomplish effectively, I would have to inform my client contact in advance to avoid a surprise, including explaining my reasons for doing so. That client contact’s reaction is hard to predict, but I think that my contact may have the final say as to where that client’s legal business goes.

Business decision questions: Can we risk the tension in the client relationship this would cause if they agree? Could we afford to lose this client?

  1. Decide to continue without a change, accepting the write-offs as usual if they occur.

Desirability: This would be the easiest step to take because it would require taking no risk in the client relationship beyond what occurs at the end of our work on the matter if they again resist the additional fees associated with legitimate scope changes. We would remain at risk for those associated write-offs.

Business decision question: Is a good client relationship here worth the possible continued write-offs?

  1. Suggest to my client contact that we can accept no further similar work from them unless we can agree to this new approach.

Desirability: This is the hardest step, since even if they react by agreeing to adjust fee expectations from scope creep as it occurs in order to maintain access to our legal services, an ultimatum like this would assuredly create stress in our relationship. But we could probably manage the stress given the increase in realization we would experience by avoiding the write-offs. However, they could instead say, “OK, goodbye.”

Business decision question: Could we afford to lose this client in order to avoid future write-offs?

  1. For their next new matter, cut corners on our thoroughness.

Desirability: Very undesirable. Unethical. Could lead to malpractice issues.

  1. For their next new matter, add a 15% contingency in anticipation of changes in scope so that we don’t have to go back to them for approval of the associated fee increase.

Desirability: Could work nicely, unless they insisted on seeing the task list we used to set the budget. Not likely, since they never have asked for that before. Plus, if we had no scope changes that equaled or exceeded that 15%, we could charge them less than they expected, which is good for client relationships.

Business decision question: Can we easily defend this practice to the client and ourselves?

  1. Urge the responsible partner in another practice area to augment their fees on the work they are doing for the same client so that for the two matters, we don’t have to write off anything.

Desirability: Possible “padding?” Very undesirable. Unethical. Could lead to malpractice issues.

Based on your analysis and your internal discussions of the business decision questions with your management/higher level partners, you would select one of the six steps before you try to negotiate the desired change with your client contact.

Deciding this way what your BATNA is before trying to negotiate with your client contact means you enter the discussion knowing exactly what you will do if they won’t discuss or agree to your new preferred approach. Having the firm’s approval for your BATNA gives you confidence not to spend more time than it is worth on tough negotiations.

In part 2 of this blog series, we will discuss how using objective external criteria can be persuasive in any scope change discussions and negotiations.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

 

September 25, 2019

LMSS: New standards for analyzing legal matters

By Gary Richards, Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

Whenever you buy any product in a store these days – whether it’s a new computer, a book, or a box of frozen enchiladas – a scanner will be used to quickly read the 12-digit universal product code/ bar code on the package.  This allows an enormous amount of information to be instantly processed so that you pay the right price, and the store can track its inventory and analyze its sales. 

A new effort is now underway to bring this same sort of efficiency and standardization to legal matters.  Of course, no one expects complex legal matters to be reduced to 12 digits.  But a system to standardize coding for a database of experience would have enormous benefits to law firms.  It would help them analyze new matters and more quickly answer such questions as:

  • Should we bid on this type of work?
  • Which of our attorneys have the expertise we need on this matter?
  • How much will this work cost us?
  • Could we offer an alternative fee arrangement?

A standard system would also offer enormous advantages to clients, such as helping them assign and track the legal work being done by both in-house staff and outside firms.

Standards are being developed by the SALI (Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry) Alliance, which was formed in 2017.  As described on its home page:

SALI is a not-for-profit organization comprised of legal industry professionals from legal operations, law firms and solution providers with the goal of developing open, practical industry standards for efficient and innovative legal services.

Of course, it is much harder to come up with a system for coding legal matters than for classifying frozen enchiladas.  But in the last few months, SALI took two very large steps forward.  In June, they released LMSS 1.0 rev 2 (Legal Matter Specification Standard) codes.  The complete code set can be downloaded for free from their webpage.  In August, Microsoft signed on as the first official user.  As noted in a press release announcement:

At Microsoft, implementing a portion of SALI’s standard taxonomy for legal matters is seen as a way to help the tech giant better categorize its legal work… [according to] Rebecca Benavides, the company’s director of legal business. 

The press release went on to explain that one of the benefits of LMSS will be in helping Microsoft to analyze past and future matters.  This in turn will help the company to reach its goal of using “alternative fee agreements with 90 percent of its law firm engagement.”

To get a quick sense of the main elements of the codes, see the slide below which was copied from a six-minute video introduction to this new system. 

SALI Article_Image

LMSS currently includes over 5,000 codes/tags organized into 13 categories. The six Core Code categories are:

  • Area of Law
  • Industry
  • Legal Entity
  • Location
  • Player Role
  • Process

As an example, the “Area of Law” section has 118 codes, including codes for cybercrime, health law, election law, workers compensation, and many others.

In addition to the six categories above, there are seven “non-core” code areas including Court, Currency, and Government Body.

Some of the larger code sets are adaptations of already existing codes. For example, the SALI Location set contains 3,771 codes adapted from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and defines codes for principal subdivisions (e.g., provinces or states) of all countries coded in ISO 3166-1.

LMSS includes a lot more than just these codes, such as APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for database programmers that include routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications more efficiently.

How are these LMSS codes related to UTBMS – the Uniform Task-Based Management System – currently used at many firms? 

UTBMS task codes were first developed in the 1990s for use in e-billing.  For example, in UTBMS, all of the work lawyers perform in a litigation matter would be coded in five major phases:

  • Case Assessment (L100)
  • Pre-Trial Pleadings and Motions (L200)
  • Discovery (L300)
  • Trial Preparation and Trial (L400)
  • Appeal (L500)

Each phase is further broken down into a set of tasks, such as L110 Fact investigation, L120 Analysis, L130 Experts, and so on.  (For an overview of how the UTBMS system works and the way firms are currently using it, see our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, p. 164.)

The UTBMS codes track the actual tasks that attorneys are doing in the execution of the matter. In contrast, the LMSS codes are designed to describe the matter at a higher level:  What is the kind of case? What is the jurisdiction? Who are the players involved? In time, it is a goal of SALI to merge the LMSS categories with the descriptions of deliverables within each type of work.  

LMSS can help law firm staff and programmers to substantially increase efficiency by analyzing the data they already have for:

  • Pricing and staffing new matters
  • Client relationship management (CRM)
  • Knowledge management, and
  • Document management

The good news for the vast majority of lawyers is that although this system will help you meet client needs more efficiently, you don’t need to know the underlying details.  The fine points are aimed primarily at back office staff, including IT professionals and the pricing and marketing departments. 

At this point, the vast majority of lawyers only need to know what LMSS does, and how – or whether – your clients and firm should use it. 

 

September 10, 2019

Key questions project managers should ask

By Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev and Natasha Chetty, Bellwether Strategies

Effective project management starts by asking the right questions. While there are hundreds of questions managers can ask, this list summarizes the most critical ones. It is organized in terms of the eight key issues discussed throughout the LPM tools and templates that we have published.

Set objectives and define scope

  • What business problem does the client want to solve?
  • How does this affect the client’s organizational goals and reputation?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • What deadlines matter to the client?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker?
  • How does the client define success?
  • How will you know when you are done?

Identify and schedule activities

  • How can large matters be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?
  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
  • What external and internal scheduling constraints do we need to be aware of?

Assign tasks and manage the team

  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • How long do they think the tasks will take?
  • What help, resources, or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?

Plan and manage the budget

  • How much should be budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
  • How much was actually spent?
  • If at any point actual spending exceeds the planned budget, what can be done to get back on track?
  • Can savings on one activity be applied to compensate for overspending on another, within the overall budget total(s)?
  • Who are the relevant contacts regarding budget at the client’s organization and what are their needs or priorities?

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the project, or decrease client satisfaction?
  • How likely is this to happen?
  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?
  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

Manage quality

  • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
  • How should I monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?

Manage client communication and expectations

  • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
  • What does the decision maker care most about?
  • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
  • Should brief standard reports be submitted every week or month?
  • Which stakeholders does the decision maker need to communicate with in general or on this matter?

Negotiate changes of scope

  • How should I track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
  • What criteria should I use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?


Adapted from the
Fifth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide
, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates

September 04, 2019

The Delegation Checklist

By Gary Richards and Jim Hassett

The most effective tactics for delegating will vary depending on the assignment and the people involved. This checklist can help you select the best practices that will be most useful in each situation.

  • Does the person doing the work have a clear understanding of the desired results?
    • Describe the client’s objective
    • Describe the scope of the whole project so they can see where their part fits in
    • Define a clear picture of the specific results expected, including format (e.g., Word vs. Excel)
    • Estimate the number of hours you think it should require

  • Did you leave the method to the doer as much as possible?
    • Have the appointed worker explain ‘how’ they expect to proceed. If they ‘create’ the method/steps, they will ‘own’ them
    • You can then coach them if you prefer different steps/approach

  • Did you jointly set deadlines?
    • One good way is to say, “I’d like this completed by_____. Do you think that is reasonable?”
    • Then discuss and negotiate if needed. Deadlines are best when set through collaboration instead of command.
    • Agree on when they are expected to complete the work and when you will review it

  • Did you jointly set progress checks and then follow up to reinforce, not enforce?
    • Explain reasons for check points (“to be sure you have what you need…”)
    • Setting up those checks/interim reviews in advance lets the worker know what to expect. That’s better than a surprise visit to see “How they are doing,” which can seem threatening.
    • Checkpoints can be especially valuable if they help the worker keep the initiative for checking in

  • Did you negotiate priorities if the workers are already committed elsewhere or are overloaded?
    • When people lose their right to show the impact of the delegation on their other work, they will feel stressed and you won’t have the complete picture
    • This negotiation, when needed, helps you keep their work focused on the firm’s true priorities

  • Did you request that they notify you immediately if the deadline becomes jeopardized?
    • Willing workers are often reluctant to raise the flag on emerging delays, but instead want to get it back on track themselves so as not to look like they couldn’t handle it
    • But, if they notify you immediately, you can help them work out the best recovery plan, and maybe even command some resources not available to the worker for the fix

  • Are you available to help if needed?
    • You have as much interest in their successful work as they do
    • A request for help can be a coachable moment. Point out what they can do on their own next time, or assure them that you care about their success and will pitch in.

  • Did you lend authority where needed?
    • If a paralegal, an associate or a junior partner is going to need something from other senior partners, you should inform those senior partners that the worker is representing you, explain why they are being asked, and encourage them to cooperate. This “credentializes” the worker and removes roadblocks.

  • Are you using final reviews to teach better habits?
    • You must review work to ensure quality and value, especially if the worker is a paralegal and you are representing the work as legal work
    • The final review is also an ideal time for coaching or corrections if changes are needed. This is an investment in the professional development of the worker.
    • Have the worker do the corrections; don’t do them yourself. That way you save time, and they learn.

This blog series was adapted from the Fifth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 21, 2019

How to deal with difficult clients and situations (Part 2 of 2)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed one healthy option for dealing with clients and situations that are extremely demanding and/or require substantial write-offs:  Changing the Situation.  We outlined a script that can be used in discussions with clients and presented a sample of how that script might be used.

In this post, we will discuss options 2 and 3: Accept the Situation and Leave the Situation. Again, all three of these options involve financial risks which could negatively impact the individual lawyer or the entire firm. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the lawyer consult with appropriate colleagues and firm management and obtain their concurrence before taking any action.


Option 2: Accept the Situation

If you decide you need the work and are not in a position to negotiate a change in what your client is doing, or you try to change the situation and fail, then ask whether there are sufficient reasons to accept the situation.  Continuing the example from Part 1 of this blog series, the following reasons to accept the situation may be valid:

  • We have little chance to replace this loan business with more profitable loan business
  • We have little likelihood of getting more profitable non-loan business of this caliber or size
  • We need these partial payments to cover firm overhead
  • We need this low-realization revenue to keep our people busy

If you decide to accept the situation, keep these reasons in mind to help you cope better the next time a challenging situation occurs.


Option 3: Leave the Situation

If it is too costly to accept the situation and all your efforts to change it fail, then it may be appropriate to leave the situation.  In our example, the lawyer could notify the bank client that she will not be able to handle any further loan business from them if the adverse situation happens again. (According to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.16 DECLINING OR TERMINATING REPRESENTATION (b), “A lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if…(6) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.”)

Using any one of the three healthy options described in this blog series is better than the unhealthy alternative of suffering and complaining.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 07, 2019

How to deal with difficult clients and situations (Part 1 of 2)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

When clients are extremely demanding and/or require substantial write-offs, lawyers face difficult choices, especially in the current competitive marketplace. In many cases, lawyers choose the unhealthy option of simply suffering and complaining. This section outlines three healthier alternatives:

  1. Change the Situation
  2. Accept the Situation
  3. Leave the Situation

Obviously, all three of these choices involve financial risks which could negatively impact not only the individual lawyer, but also the entire firm. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the lawyer consult with appropriate colleagues and firm management and obtain their concurrence before taking any action.


Option 1: Change the Situation

If the situation is simply not acceptable, then the best first step could be to try to change it. The simplest and least controversial approaches are the ones that are strictly internal and do not require discussion with the client, such as applying legal project management to increase efficiency and client satisfaction, or brainstorming with others in your firm regarding steps you or your practice group could take.

If changing the situation requires negotiating with the client to change what they are doing, it is important to recognize that the simple act of talking to a client about how to improve things is not free of risk in the current marketplace, where competing firms are aggressively seeking new clients. Therefore, the way you pursue this option, or even whether you pursue it, depends on your relationship with the client and the business objectives of the firm. There are times when a large client with significant write-offs is far preferable to no client at all.

If you decide to pursue change with the client, you could consider calling in your firm’s managing partner or a practice group leader so that he or she can appeal directly to the client.  Obviously, however, that step must be taken very cautiously if at all, since escalating the problem could backfire.

If you wish to handle this yourself, you could begin from the script below. Even if the client does not agree to help, it will provide you with new information regarding how they value the relationship and your best next steps.

Create a script from this outline:
  • I need your help re: [state the topic]…
  • When [the recent, undesirable event (STATE SPECIFICS)] occurs…
  • The result is [SPECIFICALLY state the undesirable results]
  • And my concern about that is [state your negative situation, feelings, predicament, etc.]…
  • Can you commit to [SPECIFICALLY state the different, better actions you want the listener to take]…?
  • Thanks for agreeing to help me in this way…
  • I look forward to our next deal…
Sample script:

Note: the narrator in this scenario is an outside lawyer in a discussion with her bank client, “Bill,” regarding problems with borrowers applying for loans:

Bill, I need your help to avoid so many fee write-offs with your borrowers. I truly appreciate your business and want to continue working with you, but when a borrower like Anycorp, Inc. agrees upfront to reimburse our [standard/reasonable/ customary] fees and yet ends up requiring a substantial write-off, the result is that I find myself in a difficult position when our work is done. In the last year we had to write off over $50,000:

Blog_Table_AvoidDifficultClients
My concern about that is that I feel like no matter how well I keep you posted, and how good a job I do, I am often not paid in full. That puts me under pressure from my partners, who don’t expect me to work for free.

Can you commit to showing your borrowers my detailed budgets and work assumptions and get them to sign off on each material change in scope before I resume work, a procedure they can agree to in the term sheet?

Thanks, Bill. I really appreciate your strengthening these steps to help manage your borrower’s fee expectations so we can avoid ill will to your bank and protect my efforts. I really look forward to our next deal, when we can begin this new approach for our mutual benefit.

Of course, if Bill does not agree to this or some other mutually satisfactory solution, then you must reevaluate the relationship and whether it is worth the frustration and lost income. For instance, the bank may complain about your work or just show indifference to anything but low fees keeping their borrower happy. In any case, a business decision will be needed.

In Part 2 we will discuss options 2 and 3 (Accept the Situation and Leave the Situation).

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.