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2 posts from September 2018

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.