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3 posts from November 2017

November 29, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

4. Use Just-in-Time Training Materials

All examples in this case study reflect LegalBizDev’s emphasis on “just in time” training, which addresses individual problems as they arise.  This can be contrasted to a traditional approach to LPM training which relies on workshops to educate people about the entire field, and then hoping they remember to apply the relevant concepts months or years later.

The just-in-time approach is most effective when it is supported by an extensive library of tools and templates that people can use when they need them.  In most professions, just-in-time training materials have become the standard way to teach new skills. For example, when people need to use an unfamiliar feature of Microsoft Word, very few would consider taking a class or looking it up in a book. They simply find the exact information they need in online help, precisely when they need it.

Until this year, LegalBizDev’s library of tools and templates appeared only in a printed book: the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, now in its fourth edition.

In 2017 we began offering firms licenses to the fifth edition, an evolving electronic library that can be accessed by any lawyer at any time whether they are in their office, in a hotel room, or on an airplane.  This approach also makes it easier to update new tools every few months, and allows firms to customize our tools to their needs, and add their own templates to the library.  Lathrop Gage was the first firm to license this online library.  Since then, five other firms ranging in size from 100 to 800 lawyers have licensed the electronic fifth edition.

Even before these templates were placed on Lathrop Gage’s intranet, Dave Clark used the library in his coaching by emailing lawyers just the tools they needed in the form of short pdfs. For example, when Stephen Dexter, a lawyer on the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights team, started a new bankruptcy matter for an existing client, the client wanted a phased budget which took into account the estimated costs of various litigation tracks the case might take.  Clark emailed Dexter relevant tools from the library on planning and managing a budget and that made it easier for him to send the client the type of budget they requested, and to track costs as the matter proceeds.

In addition, Clark says, “One of the things that I do on a regular basis is to speak with team leaders and executive committee members to get an idea of what efficiency tools and templates we need.  We have already developed some Lathrop-specific tools, and included them in the online library, and plan to develop many more.”  Given that LegalBizDev is also developing new tools every few months, this online library has become a living resource that gives every Lathrop Gage lawyer instant access to the latest advances in the field

5. Assure Continuous Improvement by Following Up Relentlessly

LPM is not a simple set of procedures that law firms can put into place, and then move on to the next challenge.  Instead, it is an ever-evolving set of techniques that requires consistent attention and support.  In 2016, the firm decided to hire a full-time LPM Director, and consulted with LegalBizDev about the most effective way to conduct a search.

They ultimately agreed with the approach we outlined on our recent posts on “How to hire LPM staff,”  including our recommendation that “It takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM… [Therefore], the best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant....”

According to LPM Partner Dave Clark: “The firm decided to put the program in the hands of a partner who was already here, one who knows how our firm thinks.  They asked me and I agreed. I set aside my full-time IP practice in order to implement LPM here at the firm. We felt it was very important to change lawyer behavior, and what better way to do that than to put someone in charge of the program who has been here more than 30 years and who knows all the lawyers and the pressures that they face on a daily basis?  My partners know that I understand their needs and practices. My daily role is to help the lawyers provide value and increase efficiency. My previous role as an IP partner helps open doors.”

An LPM director drawn from the partner ranks is much more likely to visualize the possibility of immediate efficiency gains in particular cases and practice groups on an ad hoc basis, tailoring solutions to specific matters rather than developing a top-down approach to LPM.

One of the first things Clark did after completing certification was to set up individual meetings with more than a dozen practice leaders and members of firm management.  From these interviews, “It became clear that budgeting and pricing tools and practices are a priority with virtually every practice team,” he says. “Creating practice-specific checklists and improving work flow and processes were also important to many teams. In addition, some teams, particularly litigation teams, have a need for improved practices and tools related to setting objectives and defining the scope of a matter with the client.”

Clark sees a major part of his job as “identifying possible inefficiencies in our client work and correcting them to bring value to our clients.” Accordingly, he is looking to train and work with lawyers who not only can help him identify such areas of improvement, but also are open to follow up and implement new systems.

Clark recently reviewed the characteristics of those lawyers who had previously gotten the most out of past LPM programs with LegalBizDev. He then created a profile for the most promising future participants, in the interest of identifying people who were likely to succeed with LPM. He discussed with the task force which practice groups and individuals would be the best ones to focus on.  Before accepting any candidates into the next round of coaching he will conduct, he is verifying that each one is motivated and has adequate time to work on the program.

Clark expects his role to continue to evolve.  “In LPM, the bar is always being raised. A firm that was an innovator in this area just a couple of years ago can now be easily overtaken by other firms that begin to focus on LPM. Now that so many firms have LPM programs, what was good enough to win new business last year in a competitive market may not be good enough this year.”


To download a pdf with all three parts of this case study, go to https://tinyurl.com/LPM-Lathrop

November 15, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner


2.    Aim for Quick Wins to Create Internal Champions

The successes listed in Part 1 of this series, and many others, have begun to create a cadre of internal champions who are continuing to spread LPM within Lathrop Gage.

One broad example emerged from coaching several members of the firm’s Banking and Creditors’ Rights Practice Team.  Several leading members of the team saw the benefits of using task codes to organize their work, convey the details of the work effectively to clients, and improve budgets.

Following Clark’s recommendation, the group implemented a task code pilot project in June 2017, requiring the use of firm task codes on all new litigation matters opened by that group. Clark worked with the firm’s accounting department to design and implement the task code project, created training materials on the proper use of the task codes by all attorneys and paralegals in the group, gave presentations on the pilot project at team meetings, and had a special training session for secretaries on the correct use of these task codes. In conjunction with this pilot project, Clark’s LPM team created an in-house spreadsheet tool to assist lawyers with creating and monitoring budgets utilizing litigation task codes.  In addition, Clark and his team are working closely with a global business intelligence company specializing in legal and professional services firms to help it develop a robust matter planning and budgeting software program that will serve the firm’s long-term needs.

Throughout this coaching program, each lawyer focused on their “low hanging fruit,” the changes that would have the most immediate benefit to their practice.   For example, Rick Bien, Co-chair of the Business Litigation Team and leader of the firm’s ERISA, Life, Health, and Disability Insurance Group, created a personal docket for keeping track of all matters – a single document to see the interrelationships between matters.  For one large matter, he also created a RACI matrix, a simple chart that will increase efficiency and communications by clarifying the roles of team members in completing tasks and deliverables. It establishes the level of communications each team member should receive. RACI is an acronym for who’s Responsible, who’s Accountable, who should be Consulted, and who should simply be Informed. (For details, see page 217 in the Fourth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.) The result of thinking through that matrix was that it helped Bien decide when and how to communicate with the client’s GC and its business executive as the matter progressed.  

Banking & Creditors’ Rights Litigation Co-Chair Wendi Alper-Pressman focused on delegating work more effectively so that each team member understands exactly what she expects, when it is due, and the estimated hours in the budget. Employment partner Bridget Romero focused on tactics to better use Statements of Work and Matter Planning Templates to clarify understanding of the client’s objectives at the start of a matter.  Jill Waldman, another Employment attorney, is standardizing her procedures to set baseline budgets upfront for all significant matters, and tracking and monitoring costs as the matter proceeds.

Wealth Strategies partner Gretchen Gold drafted new procedures for vault usage, and had them reviewed and edited by a team of Lathrop paralegals.  Then she met with Lathrop’s Records Department personnel and coached them on the scanning and indexing of documents in the vault, including naming conventions and sequencing. She also has begun drafting instructions to non-timekeepers who will be responsible for a quality checking process for scanning and bar coding documents in the vault.

In another example of her work as an internal champion, Gold successfully coached another partner how a task done at her higher rates could generate a client cost that was lower than the combination of that partner’s time/rates plus inexperienced associates/rates doing the same work.


3.    Publicize Successes Within the Firm

Even in a firm that is as well attuned to LPM as Lathrop Gage, there will be some resistance by attorneys to the adoption of any new practice concept, including LPM. Internal publicity is one way of countering that resistance.

“There are always obstacles,” Clark says. “There are lawyers who say that they don’t need it or that clients don’t want it or that there’s not enough time to do it. There’s always going to be some resistance, and part of my job is to understand, for each lawyer and practice group, what problems they have in their practice, and what LPM tools or templates will help them. Lawyers have started to notice that LPM is being mentioned more and more by clients, and that has helped to encourage them to start adopting LPM principles and practices.”

To date, internal publicity has largely been informal, as lawyers have shared tactics that have worked. 

For example, when Douglas Link completed coaching he began developing a standard checklist for each patent-application project that can be accessed by all members of the team and by in-house counsel for the client.

“The checklist is simply a list of all possible tasks for the project. It’s basically a shared Word document. We start with a basic checklist and then we develop an individualized checklist for each client,” Link says. “It happens that this is a very repetitive practice area, without a lot of unexpected events, so checklists work very well. You can use checklists and task codes to estimate costs and make the cost estimates more accurate. This is especially advantageous when the firm is working on a flat-rate basis.”  As a result of Link and others acting as internal champions, the entire Boulder office, which is devoted to IP matters, is now using this checklist.

Similarly, Travis McCallon reports that “Anyone on my team and anyone on the client’s team can find out where any matter stands and can generate a monthly report.  Because we share this with the client, the spreadsheet is straightforward, professional and comprehensive.”

Over the next few months, one of Clark’s key goals is to help build further momentum for LPM by setting up formal mechanisms and a regular schedule to publicize LPM successes, focusing on the benefits both to clients and to the firm. This can be accomplished particularly well at partners’ meetings or through individual face-to-face or telephone conversations with partners.

November 01, 2017

Case Study:  LPM initiatives at Lathrop Gage (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

A few weeks ago, Lathrop Gage CEO Mark Bluhm emailed everyone in the firm to announce the release of an online library of LPM tools as part of its multi-year initiative “to enhance LPM capabilities within the firm… to deliver greater value to clients, increase new business, and improve efficiencies and therefore profitability.” 

Many law firms are earning an “A for effort” in LPM these days, so initiatives in this area are no longer a cause for headlines. But a much smaller number of firms would get an “A for results,” because it is so difficult to get lawyers to change their behavior. Lathrop Gage is emerging as a national LPM leader by being among the very few that are taking the right steps to meet client needs as efficiently as possible.

The firm has nearly 280 attorneys in 10 offices nationwide, from Los Angeles to Boston. Lathrop Gage was founded in 1873 in Kansas City and, according to its web page, provides “strategic guidance in litigation, business and intellectual property law, with deep knowledge and experience in the industries” it serves.

Its first major LPM initiative began in November 2015 when LegalBizDev began enrolling key lawyers in our two-month coaching program to identify and implement the most effective actions with active clients and matters.  Based on the results with six pilot group participants, they have since expanded the program to a total of 25 lawyers, with more planned for the future. 

One of the lawyers who participated in the first coaching group – IP litigator Dave Clark – became so convinced of the value of these techniques that he took on the newly created role of LPM Partner. 

Clark first deepened his LPM knowledge by completing LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program with Gary Richards.  As part of that program, he developed a firm-wide LPM implementation plan.  To support him as his role evolves, Clark has a telecon every other week with Richards, LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf, and founder Jim Hassett.

His responsibilities and progress to date are described below, including participating in a supplemental “LPM Coaching Certification” process so that Clark can personally continue to expand the coaching program without using LegalBizDev consultants.  He has been coaching individual lawyers on an ad hoc basis for months, and has begun a two-month formal coaching program for his first group of eight lawyers.

The LPM program was initiated by Jennifer Hannah, the Chair of the Litigation Division and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.  She is also a member of a new Client Value Task Force headed by COO Court Landon.  That group was started this year to periodically review LPM past accomplishments, future plans and related initiatives. LPM efficiencies are becoming a key part of the firm’s culture.

The approach Lathrop Gage is using is consistent with the concepts outlined in our white paper “The Top Five Ways to Increase Legal Project Management Results”

  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;
  5. Assure continuous improvement by following up relentlessly.

This case study describes how Lathrop Gage is applying each of these principles.   

  1. Focus on Changing Behavior and Solving Problems

This is the most important of the five principles because, as noted in our white paper:

The key to getting started in changing behavior throughout an organization is to help lawyers solve the problems they face, such as living within a fixed fee budget or increasing realization.  And the best way to do that is to first identify lawyers who are motivated to change, and then to coach them one-on-one to create quick wins.

The first steps that lawyers should take are often easy to identify.  The hard part is getting them to do it.

Since completing his coaching, Tedrick Housh III, Chair of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice group, has begun to use LPM in both client projects and litigation.  The LPM format is a natural fit for corporate clients who engage Lathrop Gage to assess their data security and privacy policies, regimens and incident response plans.  “We have spent a lot of time looking at all of our repetitive tasks,” he says, “to handle them more efficiently and make sure they are assigned to the right people.” 

For each new litigation matter, his team uses an electronic timeline with all deadlines and events coming up, along with a detailed list of tasks for each pleading, discovery item or witness. This format, says Housh, “prompts regular meetings of our trial team and forces us to continually evaluate whether certain tasks have been done, and sometimes whether they are still worth doing.” As trial approaches, the form suggests more frequent points at which to engage the client in the case.  “It’s certainly true that litigation is unpredictable,” Housh says, “but these tools have helped us even though we know that there will always be surprises.”

In another example, Douglas Link, an IP associate in the firm’s Boulder, Colorado, office worked with his coach to identify immediate ways in to improve his communication with clients. They developed a new engagement letter that spells out all possible steps that the firm might need to take in connection with a patent application. The new engagement letter defines the scope of representation by using task codes and provides future cost projections for the various tasks.

A third example comes from Courtney Conrad, a Kansas City-based partner in Lathrop Gage’s Wealth Strategies group.  She and her group have been informally using LPM for years by creating standard forms that help it serve its estate-planning clients, saving time and money. 

“We have a checklist, basically an electronic binder, that is accessible to everyone in our group,” Conrad says. “It has all the elements that you need for most estate-planning matters. It’s now a Word document, but we will soon transition to a document assembly system that will be even better. Once an attorney enters the necessary names, amounts, addresses and so on, that system will produce the document. This approach can be used not just in estate planning, but in many other groups firm-wide.”

The final example in this section comes not from a program that was started by a LegalBizDev coach, but rather from coaching Dave Clark conducted with LegalBizDev’s support.  Clark’s assumption of his new role as LPM partner coincided neatly with the firm’s being retained by a major auto manufacturer to handle a large series of trademark matters.  Travis McCallon, an IP team leader in the firm’s Kansas City, Missouri office, consulted with Clark during the early stages of this work, and together they worked on efficiency techniques to keep this new client happy and in the fold.

“This kind of trademark work has a lot of volume. Most individual cases are not too sophisticated, but there’s a lot to keep track of,” McCallon says. “We created an in-house matrix that gives us all the information in a spreadsheet – what has happened so far in the case and what will happen next. The spreadsheet includes the name of the alleged infringer, and it even includes a link to the content that constitutes the possible online infringement itself.”

McCallon says the Excel spreadsheet also spells out what the firm’s proposed next steps are in each case and contains a requirement for client approval before each step can take place. The client has full access to the spreadsheet and can “populate” the box for client approval, thus triggering correspondence from McCallon to the alleged infringer.

In addition, McCallon, with Clark’s input, has devised an internal checklist that his team uses to ensure that all key steps are being taken in any of these trademark infringement cases so the data is “right at our fingertips.”

As Clark summed it up, “Through the use of LPM principles, we developed a way to keep the client informed on a regular basis of what’s going on in the large number of trademark cases that we are handling at any one time.  This permits the client to see the status of all the matters practically at a glance. It has made it easy for the client to understand what’s going on in each case and what the recommended courses of action are.  The client has been extremely happy with this approach.”