6 posts categorized "Books"

October 31, 2018

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

By Jim Hassett and Tom Kane, LegalBizDev

Approach #3: Five steps to improve any business process

Step 1: Make a very quick list of the most critical processes that you want to consider.

If you don’t know where to begin, use the standard task codes described on the UTBMS website. For example, a litigator focused on the discovery phase of cases could begin with these six tasks:

  • Written discovery
  • Document production
  • Depositions
  • Expert discovery
  • Discovery motions
  • Other discovery

 Step 2: Pick one process to focus on first.

It is important to begin with the process that is most likely to allow you to meet your goals, which of course means that you have to be very clear about what your goals are. When you have several goals in mind, you could start by constructing a “process selection matrix” like the one below to make your choice.

Process_Table

In this example, there are three different goals, all are rated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high), and the lawyer considers them equally important in selecting a process. Therefore, the last column, the total rating, can be used to determine that your process improvement should begin with the deposition process because it has the highest total rating.

Step 3: Define exactly what is included in the process. Where does it begin and end? Then break it down into five to ten high level parts.

Step 4: Decide which step to redesign first.

Again, the step you choose depends on your goals. The following questions from Improving Business Processes may help you to make your choice:

  • At which points does this process break down or experience delays?
  • At which points do people typically experience frustration with the process?
  • Which parts of the process seem to consume an inordinate amount of time?
  • Which parts of the process lead to low-quality outcomes?
  • Which parts of the process incur unacceptable costs?

Step 5: Think through the details of the step you will redesign, and look for ways to increase efficiency, e.g. by simplifying the process, creating a checklist, and/or focusing more clearly on the factors that the client values most highly. Define action items and implement them.

 

Approach #4: 10 steps to improve critical business processes

These 10 steps are explained in detail in Susan Page’s book, The Power of Business Process Improvement. Here, they have been adapted and simplified for legal matters.

Step 1: Develop the process inventory. List all the big picture processes within a particular legal area, establish criteria for prioritizing them, and pick the one you want to start with. (The discovery tasks in the table above provide a good example.)

Step 2: Establish the foundation. Write a scope definition document that defines the problem you need to solve and provides a blueprint for the start and the end of your process improvement.

Step 3: Draw the process map. Identify each activity with a specific action word (e.g. create, review, develop, approve, update, or communicate), and then diagram the steps in a form that can be communicated to everyone involved. Be sure to include handoffs to other lawyers, staff, clients, and others.

Step 4: Estimate time and cost. Specify what is involved in each stage or activity in the process, how long it usually takes, and what it costs.

Step 5: Verify the process map. Ask other stakeholders to review the process map for accuracy. This provides a baseline to begin improvement.

Step 6: Apply improvement techniques. This is where the rubber meets the road. Eliminate bureaucracy, evaluate value added activities, eliminate duplication and redundancy, simplify processes, reports, and forms, reduce cycle time, and more.

Step 7: Create internal controls, tools, and metrics. Create controls to avoid errors, tools to support the new business process, and metrics to quantify improvements.

Step 8: Test and rework. Pilot test the new process, identify any issues, and rework them before introducing the new, improved process on a wide scale.

Step 9: Implement the change. Just as businesses develop marketing plans before they introduce a new product, they must plan how to implement business process changes, including “who has to know about the change, what they need to know, and how to communicate the right information to the right people.”

Step 10: Drive continuous improvement. After the change succeeds, you will still need to invest in maintenance. Evaluate, test, assess, and execute to sustain any required change.

 

Implementing your improved business process

All four approaches have value in different situations, and all take advantage of the 80/20 rule to maximize the benefits you will receive while minimizing the time it will take.

If you want to use these approaches in your own personal practice, you should be able to identify improvements quickly. But if you want to get other lawyers in your group to do the same thing, that’s a lot harder.

Whether you use approach 1, 2, 3, or 4, or you go out and buy Page’s book for more detail, or you hire an outside consultant, figuring out how to improve legal business processes is not the hard part.

The hard part is getting lawyers to do it. For ways to combat typical objections, see “Overcoming Resistance to Legal Project Management: A List of Suggestions for Law Firm Project Management Champions.”

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

September 20, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

Based on our LPM work with over 100 law firms, LegalBizDev recommends that candidates should be evaluated based on the five criteria below, which are listed in order of importance: 

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

In a 2006 American Lawyer article, David Maister published a classic article entitled “Are Law Firms Manageable?”  Maister’s article opened with these words: “After spending 25 years saying that all professions are similar and can learn from each other, I’m now ready to make a concession: Law firms are different.” He went on to describe four major differences at length: “problems with trust; difficulties with ideology, values, and principles; professional detachment; and unusual approaches to decision making.”

The most fundamental challenge in hiring legal project managers comes from this fact: they must learn how to work effectively with lawyers. More than a few law firms have made the mistake of hiring somebody with a traditional approach to project management and no experience with law firms.  The results include lots of wasted time developing plans, frustrated attorneys, LPM staff who move from firm to firm, and firms that think LPM doesn’t work. 

The best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant, who is interested in being trained in LPM.  We believe that it takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM.  Internal candidates already know how things really work behind the scenes at your firm and who the key players are. In addition, the people making the hiring decision also know the candidate well.

2.  A flexible approach to project management that fits the needs of law firms.

Traditional “waterfall” project management works best in an environment where requirements can be well defined at the start of a project and are relatively stable.  However, in the legal environment, that is rarely the case.  The result is that Agile project management techniques designed for rapidly changing environments are most valuable to lawyers, and in many cases the traditional approach may actually be counter-productive. According to the article quoted in Part 1 from two Seyfarth Shaw project managers (“Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services,” in The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), one of the qualities that Seyfarth looks for when it hires new project managers is:

Are [they] flexible in their approach to projects?  How well do they respond to fluid situations?  If they have only practiced the traditional waterfall project management methodology… we would have to consider whether they have the ability to adapt to our environment. (p. 91)

We have seen many cases in which law firms first tried to find people with legal experience and failed.  Then they decided to focus on credentials designed for other businesses, such as people who have been certified as Project Management Professionals (PMPs).  This can be exactly the wrong way to go, if the certification came in one of the many professions in which project managers devote an enormous amount of time and energy to defining requirements and making a complete plan at the start of a project.

In the legal environment, needs can change suddenly, and all of those expensive plans may have to get tossed out the window the instant an adversary changes its tactics.

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

When Seyfarth hires LPM staff, another requirement is that candidates:

Possess a mature sense of confidence and ability to influence a team of high-performing individuals to achieve success.  Could we see them sitting alongside attorneys or across the table from our clients?  (p. 91)

Successful legal project managers are both diplomatic and credible, with the gravitas to be accepted by senior partners.  Many firms have hired individuals with great technical facility, but none of these personal qualities.  They tend to sit in their offices developing elaborate plans for a small number of like-minded partners, while everyone else ignores them.  They also tend to last only a year or two in the position, before moving to a different law firm, or out of the legal field.

Obviously, personal qualities such as flexibility and gravitas will be much easier to observe and assess if one hires internal candidates rather than relying on impressions from interviews.

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

By its very nature, LPM requires a high degree of organization, discipline and tracking details.  This is another factor that will be easier to assess for internal candidates than for external ones.

5.  Project management knowledge

Note that this is last in our list, because in our experience, it is the easiest to train.  A number of our clients who have promoted from within have used our LegalBizDev Certified Legal Project Manager® program to develop the appropriate knowledge base.

In our opinion, it is unfortunate that many firms put project management knowledge first on their list of requirements, instead of last. We have seen many cases in which firms have hired LPM Directors based on their project management experience in construction, government contracting, or other areas where traditional techniques are used and agile techniques are not.  This has led to many stories of LPM Directors who could not or would not adapt to a legal environment, and ended up working with the very small group of partners who were interested in project charters, Gantt charts, and tools like Microsoft Project software.

Seyfarth faced these exact problems with their own first LPM hires:

The rigors of traditional project management, with its detailed documentation, waterfall-based phases, change control, and paperwork, were interfering with delivery in the fast-paced and often unpredictable world of legal service delivery. (p. 87)

Once Seyfarth switched to an Agile-based approach, legal project managers gained widespread acceptance among lawyers and “three day planning meetings were replaced with one hour kickoff meetings.” (p. 87)

This 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.

 

 

 

September 06, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

When firms decide to make a serious commitment to LPM by hiring internal LPM staff, they must answer two questions:

  1. How should we define the job of the LPM Manager?
  2. Who is the best person to fill the job?

The position of LPM Manager is so new that both questions are much more difficult to answer than you might expect.

Some LPM Managers have been much more successful than others, due to a combination of management support, firm culture, and the background and personal characteristics of the individual who fills the position.  For an overview of how some of the most widely known LPM directors have defined the job, see the results of our research on the evolving role of LPM directors in this blog.

Quite frankly, in our survey of LPM directors at 15 large firms, it appeared that even within this group there are wide differences of opinion on how to define the job.  For example, some LPM Directors spent an enormous amount of time on evaluating and implementing new software, while others focused on more effectively using the software the firm already owned.  (We recommend the second approach.) 

Perhaps these differences of opinion are related to the high turnover rate for LPM Directors.  A year and a half after we published our research, we went back to LinkedIn to see how many had moved into different jobs.  33% of the people we had interviewed – 5 out of 15 – had changed employers in this 18 month period. (Three of the five had moved to different law firms, and two had gone to in-house law departments.)

In any case, the titles of two thirds of the people we interviewed included both pricing and LPM, but the vast majority of these 15 people spent most or all of their time on pricing.  One reason for this emphasis is that most groups were understaffed, and senior management often mandated an emphasis on pricing first.  It is much easier to get lawyers to agree to bid a particular fee than it is to convince them to change the way they practice law so that they actually deliver services within that amount.

In our view, both pricing and LPM are extremely important for long-term financial success.  To remain profitable, firms must both charge the right price and get lawyers to deliver services within that price. 

However, we also believe that if limited resources force one to choose between the two, LPM is ultimately more important than pricing.  These days, the fees that firms are able to charge are often determined more by competitive bidding than by thoughtful analysis.  And the best pricing function in the world does little good if lawyers consistently exceed the amounts they bid.

Once the job description is defined, the next question is how to identify the best candidate. 

Seyfarth Shaw has probably been hiring project managers for longer than any other law firm.  In the article “Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services” (which appears in Ark’s recently published book  The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), Seyfarth senior managers Karen Dalton and John Duggan have noted that “One of the biggest challenges can be finding people with the right skill set to perform the role of Legal Project Manager.”

The fundamental problem in finding qualified candidates is that as the demand for LPM has increased in the last few years, so has the demand for LPM staff.  Almost every firm starts their search by looking for people with prior LPM success at other law firms, which makes perfect sense.  The difficulty here is that the LPM Director position is so new that only a very small number of candidates meet this criterion.  And people in this group also tend to be highly compensated due to high demand and low supply.

In Part 2 of this series, we will recommend five criteria for evaluating potential LPM staff.

This 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 09, 2017

How to increase new business through active listening (Part 1 of 2)

Over the years, I’ve written quite a few times in this blog about the importance of listening. But in my opinion, this topic cannot be emphasized enough, whether you are focused on legal project management, business development, or just relating to your own family.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “If I were to summarize the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relationships, listening is the key.”

In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman explains that effective leaders must be good listeners so that they can sense how employees feel, and then channel that energy into the most productive directions.

In the book Advanced Selling Strategies, sales guru Brian Tracy explains four reasons why “Active sincere listening leads to easier sales”:

  1. Listening builds trust. In a survey of professional purchasers, the single biggest complaint was that salespeople talk too much. If you show that you are interested in understanding what people really need, they are more likely to believe that you will provide it.
  2. Listening lowers resistance. It helps to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable instead of tense and defensive.
  3. Listening builds self-esteem. Everyone wants his or her views to be heard. So when you listen to a client, it shows that you respect their opinions.
  4. Listening builds character and self-discipline. Hopefully, this fourth point won’t come up very often. But from time to time, you may sell to a client who is, shall we say, not overly dynamic. As they keep talking, it’s easy to start daydreaming about which type of salad you should order for lunch. But the more boring your client is, the more character you will build by listening. And the better you understand what the client wants, the more likely you are to get a new engagement.

Why is listening hard for so many lawyers? Because you have to talk less. (One of the reasons I am a bit of a fanatic on this topic is that, like many lawyers, I would rather talk than listen.)

Many experts say that when you are building business relationships, you should spend 80% or more of your time listening. But when lawyers meet potential clients, many think that they should spend all of their time listing the wonderful things they can do. This is a mistake.

The client is a lot more interested in her own problems than in your capabilities. If she did not think you were good, you wouldn’t be meeting. So you need to devote most of your time to focusing on what she wants, needs, and feels. As the old saying goes, that’s why you have two ears and one mouth.

Great listeners don’t argue. That’s another reason many lawyers find it difficult. To listen effectively, you must give up the need to be right.

Improved listening is not only helpful in finding new clients, it will also strengthen relationships with existing clients. From a project management perspective, this may include not just communicating about the details of a particular matter, but also asking general questions about a client’s perception of value.

This brief series lists over 60 questions that will be helpful in preparing for client discussions. Just pick a few key questions that fit your  situation, schedule a meeting, and let the client talk 80% of the time. Do not argue or object to criticism, just listen.

You could start with these very direct questions:

  • How could we increase the value of the services we provide?
  • How satisfied are you with our services, on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • What could we do to increase our rating?
  • What do other law firms do that you really like?

For many additional questions, you could review the online resources published by the Association of Corporate Counsel.  For example, see their one page introduction to getting started with the ACC Value Challenge entitled “Meet.  Talk.  Act.”   It recommends that law firms begin by arranging “a two-hour bag lunch” with top clients “with a single question for discussion:  Working together, how do we improve the value of legal services?”

They then list seven issues that may be particularly relevant in the discussion:

  • How can we reestablish trust and improve our relationship, on both sides?
  • How can we assure an adequate flow of work so that outside lawyers understand the client better and can be more efficient in what they do?
  • How can we get junior lawyers better trained, priced at more reasonable levels, practicing law more on the front line, and less likely to leave?
  • How can we better budget and manage costs and staffing?
  • How can we better institutionalize the relationship?
  • How can we evaluate progress and performance?
  • How can we create a culture of continuous improvement, on both sides?

Part 2 of this series will list over 50 additional questions lawyers could use to improve active listening.

This 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.

December 08, 2010

Questions and answers about Certified Legal Project Managers™ (Part 3 of 3)

This post concludes my answers to the questions from Paul Easton, author of the Legal Project Management blogFor an update on the certification program’s status, see today’s press release on BusinessWire.

 

Paul’s question: I find it interesting that the program is customized to the individual attorney. The certification process begins with “an initial assessment telecon interview to determine each lawyer’s background and needs” and the study materials are selected based upon this interview. In short, this is not a standardized course. This seems like a great program from the learner’s perspective, but doesn’t the lack of standardization make it more difficult for the industry and legal employers to understand what skills this certification represents its holders as having?

The Certified Legal Project Manager™ Program is designed first and foremost to guarantee mastery of a baseline level of knowledge, which will be the same for every lawyer who completes the program.

However, lawyers will come into this program with different expectations and backgrounds, so it is important that the program also be tailored to fit each participant’s needs.  This will be accomplished in three main ways:

  1. In Module 1, questions are framed in terms of each specific practice.  For example, when defining a statement of work, participants are asked “What are the most important elements for your practice?” not “What are the most important elements in general?”
  2. The list of readings in Module 1 includes many suggestions for “supplementary readings” useful for lawyers who want to go beyond the minimum, including those who come to the program with a higher level of basic knowledge
  3. All of Module 2 is devoted to applying key concepts to an actual matter from each lawyer’s practice

The idea of also creating a unique reading list for each individual is an element of the program that appeared in the preliminary outline you reviewed, but which was changed as a result of discussions with the Certification Advisory Board.  Everyone will work from the same basic reading list.  It will include many options, enabling each lawyer to customize readings for themselves.

Paul’s question: Tell me more about the reference library that program participants use in their studies. What does it include? Is it all original material? 

Each participant will receive a library of six widely respected project management texts with a total of more than 2,500 pages, including my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) by the Project Management Institute. 

In Module 1 of the program, lawyers will be sent a list of open-book essay questions, along with a reading list suggesting exactly which sections of these books will be most useful.  In Module 2 and beyond, they will continue to use these books whenever they need access to more advanced information.

Paul’s question: What impact do you think or hope that this certificate program will have on legal-project management as a discipline and on the legal industry as a whole? 

Of course we hope that this program will help raise standards so lawyers can better meet client needs.  However, in all honesty, we do not believe that legal project management certification is necessary, or even desirable, for every lawyer.  LegalBizDev offers a number of other programs which we think would be a better fit for most lawyers, including several types of "just in time training" and an Introduction to Legal Project Management course.  Certification is designed for those who want to go a step further and guarantee a solid foundation in both knowledge and skills. 

Paul’s question: Where do you see demand for your certificate program in ten years? 

To be honest, I have trouble predicting ten months from now, so I am reluctant to try to predict ten years.  But I do feel safe in predicting that the marketplace will make some lawyers winners and some losers over the next ten years, and that lawyers who master legal project management are far more likely to be among the winners.  That does not mean they have to be certified, but it does mean they will have to pick up these basic skills somewhere, somehow.

December 01, 2010

Questions and answers about Certified Legal Project Managers™ (Part 2 of 3)

A few weeks ago, I posted the first answers to a series of questions Paul Easton, author of the Legal Project Management blog, had asked when we announced our new certification program.  I postponed the next installment until today, when the first group begins the certification process. 


Paul’s question: You designed this program in response to a request from “an 800-lawyer firm [who] asked [you] to design a formal certification program for two senior partners.” Is your program targeted exclusively at large firms?  Would a small firm or solo practitioner benefit from your program?

The principles apply to firms of any size.  The first two people to sign up were the two senior partners from Squire Sanders who requested the program.  (As a result of its recent merger with Hammonds, it now has over 1,200 lawyers.)  But the third person to sign up was a lawyer from a nine-lawyer firm in Australia that learned of the program over the web.  And the fourth and fifth people were from Stewart McKelvey, a Canadian firm with over 200 lawyers. So we already have evidence that the program meets a need in firms of all sizes. 

Paul’s question: One of the eligibility requirements is that you must be a practicing lawyer with 10 years experience. Why not legal-support professionals (e.g., paralegal, litigation support, and legal IT staff)?  Aren’t they more likely to fill the legal-project manager role than lawyers?

In November, the LegalBizDev Certification Advisory Board reviewed the preliminary outline which you saw, and modified a few of the details, including eliminating the ten-year requirement. Our program’s prerequisite is now defined as “practicing lawyers who have at least three years of experience managing large legal matters.”  We are currently working with a small group of paralegals to determine the best way to adapt our program to meet their needs, and will announce the results early next year.

Paul’s question: Who sits on LegalBizDev’s Certification Advisory Board? 

The board has fourteen members from firms with a total of over 10,000 lawyers, including:

Borden Ladner Gervais – Andrew Terrett
Fasken Martineau – Howard Kaufman
Ford & Harrison – Kay Wolf
McDermott Will & Emery – Byron Kalogerou
Stewart McKelvey – James Dickson
Miles & Stockbridge – David Eberhardt
Morgan Lewis – Richard Rosenblatt
O’Melveny & Myers – Stacie McLean
Squire Sanders – Stacy D. Ballin
Williams Mullen – John Paris

The remaining board members have chosen to remain anonymous.

Paul’s question: How do you determine if the experiential requirement is met? For example, I passed my first bar exam in late 2001, but for the past six years I’ve worked in legal staffing and project management, primarily for large electronic-discovery projects. At the end of 2011, would I qualify for this certification?

Decisions will be made case by case.  Based on what you wrote here, I am guessing that the “practicing lawyer” part of the requirement does not fit you.  However, as I noted, we are currently exploring the idea of parallel programs that fit the needs of other audiences.

Paul’s question: Do you plan to eventually design an entry level certification for lawyers who want to learn project management and differentiate themselves from their competition, but who do not have the requisite legal experience for your professional certification?

We are not planning an entry level certification at this time, but as Nobel prize winning physicist Neils Bohr famously said, “It is hard to predict, especially the future.”

Paul’s question: Why do lawyers need more initials after their names? After all, obtaining a JD and passing a bar exam qualifies a lawyer to practice law. Also, shouldn’t experienced lawyers know how to manage their cases?

Lawyers certainly don't need more initials.  But many do need the knowledge and skills this program will provide.  While experienced lawyers typically do know how to manage matters the old way, the “new normal” demands new management skills.  Until recently, generations of lawyers were never asked to be more efficient, so it is not surprising that they could use some help. 

Paul’s question: What is your certification’s formal title and initials? 

The program title is Certified Legal Project Manager™.  We do not expect people to use the initials.

Paul’s question: Two years ago, almost no one was talking about legal-project management. Has awareness of and demand for legal-project management grown so much in a couple of years to create the demand needed to support a certificate program? 

Absolutely yes.

Paul’s question: Is legal-project management just another management fad? 

We believe that clients are making this paradigm shift permanent.  Once law firms learn to deliver the same high quality more efficiently, why would clients ever want to go back?