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2 posts from December 2018

December 26, 2018

LPM success at Baker McKenzie (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett


Baker McKenzie is one of the largest law firms in the world, with 78 offices in 46 countries.  This interview with Kevin O’Sullivan, Baker McKenzie’s Head of Legal Project Management in London, was conducted by LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf. 

LegalBizDev:  Could you briefly summarize the approach Baker McKenzie has taken to legal project management (LPM)?

O’Sullivan:  Our approach is evolving all the time.  We have global coverage, with members of our LPM team who are able to cover all of our offices.  Much of our work has evolved from our experiences in the London office, where I work and where we have hired a team of project managers to work directly with our lawyers in client-facing roles. Our success has been underpinned by our ability to be flexible in our deployment.  Tasks range from process improvement, to coaching our legal colleagues, providing “light touch” support to matters to a fully integrated role leading the process within a core matter team.

LegalBizDev:  What results have you seen to date?

O’Sullivan:  We have been able to measure dramatic impacts of LPM on improving the client experience, on efficiency, and on profitability.  The precise figures are proprietary, but I can describe the process and results in a general way.

LegalBizDev:  Great.  Let’s start with an example.

O’Sullivan:   One example of LPM success that has now become almost business-as-usual has been that project managers are now involved from day one in many M&A transactions.  The project manager focuses first on the due diligence aspects of each matter, ensuring that firstly the data is being controlled, whether we’re on the buy or the sell side.  Then we track progress on the matter to help ensure that work is being delegated down to the right level.  The project manager also monitors issues raised in client reviews.  Increasingly, we share through collaborative working platforms the emerging risks and issues identified through the due diligence process. These are highlighted through dashboards giving the client visibility in real time rather than at the end of the due diligence when a lot more documents have been reviewed and a lot more money has been spent.

In essence, the project managers control the process to enable useful information flow through, not just for the internal team, but often for client teams. 

LegalBizDev:  Is LPM used in a variety of practice groups?

O’Sullivan:  Yes, it is.  For example, in litigation a project manager’s impact could be as dramatic as saying ‘OK, we’re going to do a large document review.  Let’s consider using an AI (artificial intelligence) tool to do the first pass on this.  Then let’s engage the team in looking at results of the first pass from the AI tool.’  We’ve used this sort of AI preview on some very large projects and that’s quite a significant disruption to what would be a typical process. 

Many of the changes introduced by project managers are less dramatic, such as when information is being gathered for weekly progress reports to a client.  Traditionally, the approach might be that the lead person has a quick meeting or a call with each knowledgeable person within the team covering different regions.  Then they would pull something together.  Without this proactive approach, this could turn into a significant time-consuming task to get to the point that they were able to report back to the client. 

If a project manager is involved, they may disrupt that process and provide an alternative way of working.  The project manager could work with the client to agree on a template for the information that needs to be reported regularly, then put a process in place to gather and report the key information in a client-facing report.  The project manager would do some of the chasing which is required to make sure that people are aware of deadlines.  The task of actually updating the information, to indicate where they are against their designated task, would fall to the legal teams including lawyers and/or paralegals. 

So, the project manager plays a key role in creating and managing a centralized list of tasks, progress achieved each week, and any issues that may need to be resolved.  At that point you’ve got seamless sharing of task lists, progress, and risks.

LegalBizDev:  It sounds like one key LPM benefit is increased transparency.

O’Sullivan:  Exactly. The result is that at different stages of the matter, clients don’t have the feeling that lawyers are working on something and that they won’t know much until they’re finished.  There’s much more of a collaborative sense, that we’re one team, working on behalf of one another.

LegalBizDev:  How much influence do project managers have over budgets and costs?

O’Sullivan:  Of course, budgeting is key.  Typically, the project manager is involved from the start in creating a budget so there’s a mutual understanding of how much the matter is expected to cost, along with a resourcing plan to meet that budget.  So, once you’ve created that type of plan, you got something to track against.  You’ve got an aspirational plan and you’ve got the actual experience.  If you run one up against the other, you can see where they’re not aligned.  If you do that on a regular basis, rather than on a reactive basis, then you start to see trends.  At times, you might say, ‘OK, we need to address this in a different way.’  That may mean a conversation with the client to discuss the methodology or on issues with different pieces of work.  This may lead to some decisions to go to a different approach and avoid any surprises to the client.

LegalBizDev:  One obvious concern some firms have about hiring project managers is the potential expense.  Are these individuals billable or are they an overhead cost? 

O’Sullivan:  It depends.  Given that our legal project managers are performing key client-facing roles and providing added value to our clients, they are often fee earners whose time is charged to clients, although at a lower hourly rate than lawyers. We are positioning them to be the leaders on processes, controls, and communication, and many clients are willing to pay because they recognize them as crucial participants who can control the total cost of the matter.

That said, of course our teams are sensitive to client concerns about cost.  In cases where clients object, or we determine that management tasks do not have visible value to our clients (for example in standard financial reporting) time is recorded as non-billable, though the benefit to the matter is usually still significant.

LegalBizDev:  Do project managers talk directly to the client?

O’Sullivan:  Yes, we increasingly see clients who want a direct communication link so there can be instant communication on the financials or any process risks.  And the reason that works is because often on the client side there’s also a project manager so there’s a natural peer-to-peer conversation. In other cases, that isn’t the best arrangement for the client.  Then the project managers would provide the information to the partner or senior associate who leads the team. 

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. 

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