4 posts categorized "News"

July 12, 2018

Leading study confirms that ongoing LPM training and support significantly improves performance

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

If you work at a law firm and care about its future, you must find the time to download Altman Weil’s free report of findings from its 2018 Law Firms in Transition survey.

For the last ten years, this survey “has tracked a continual shift in awareness, acceptance – and some persistent resistance to – legal market change” (p. i). This year’s report by Thomas S. Clay and Eric A. Seeger provides the best available data on law firm efficiency, profitability, pricing, staffing, productivity, and much more. 

To collect the data, Altman Weil sent questionnaires to 801 managing partners and chairs at US firms with 50 lawyers or more.  In other professions, questionnaire surveys like this typically “average [a] 10-15% response rate.”  One might assume that the response rate for a survey sent to law firm managing partners and chairs would be much lower, since they are often too busy to respond to anything that is not on fire.  But Altman Weil received an astonishing 49.7% response rate (398 firms).

The resulting report summarizes the experience and opinions of managing partners and chairs from nearly half of the 500 largest firms in the United States.  It provides information about what law firms have tried, what’s worked, and what hasn’t.  There is simply no better source for this type of up-to-the-minute insight into a rapidly changing profession. 

The findings that caught our eyes first, not surprisingly, were the ones most closely related to our interest in legal project management (LPM), starting with the fact that “Nearly unanimously, law firm leaders see a need to focus on improved practice efficiency” (p. xii).

So, what are law firms doing to meet this need?  Not nearly enough.

One survey question asked, “How serious are law firms about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients?” on a scale from 0 (not at all serious) to 10 (doing all they can).  Less than half of firms (43%) gave themselves a rating of 6 or higher, and only 2.6% answered 9 or 10

But wait, it gets even worse.  In its most recent 2017 Chief Legal Officers survey,  Altman Weil asked the exact same question of clients.  Only 9% of clients (vs 43% of firms) rated this commitment at 6 or higher, and not one single client gave law firms a 9 or a 10.  Obviously, a huge discrepancy exists in how law firms perceive themselves vs how clients perceive law firms. Viewing these results optimistically, law firms that are committed to changing their legal service delivery model could have a significant business opportunity. 

From our perspective, the single most important graph in the 2018 Law Firms in Transition report (p. 55) is reproduced below:LFiT_EfficiencyTactics_2018B“Rewarding efficiency and profitability in compensation decisions” was the most effective tactic for improving performance, as almost anyone could have predicted.  You get what you pay for. 

Much to our surprise, however, more than half of law firms say they are already using this tactic.  Of course, the other law firms may not want to engage in the difficult process of re-evaluating compensation policies, particularly when they know how difficult those conversations can be.  And if this is the only tactic a law firm takes, it could derail significant progress for several months, if not years.  Unfortunately, in today’s market, time may not be a luxury that law firms can afford.

In addition, law firms have historically had trouble measuring and rewarding profitability.  A few years ago, when we interviewed AmLaw 200 managing partners and senior executives for our book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, we reported that many firms are struggling with measurement, like the participant who admitted:

We don’t calculate profitability by formula.  It’s really seat of the pants. (p. 52)

As more and more firms improve the ways they measure and reward profitability, we predict that the impact of compensation on performance will increase far beyond the 47% figure in the graph above.  But again, this type of approach will likely take a few more years to fully materialize in many firms and is definitely not a “magic bullet” solution for any firm.

So, what exactly should law firms be doing now to help lawyers increase efficiency?  They should engage in “ongoing project management training and support,” because:

  • It is the highest-rated tactic for obtaining significant improvement in performance (other than changing compensation policies, as discussed above),
  • It is grossly underutilized with only one-third of law firms actually using this tactic, and
  • It is the easiest and most cost-effective way to significantly improve performance, especially when compared to other less effective tactics like systematically reengineering work processes or using technology tools to replace human resources.

Whatever tactics law firms decide to pursue, Altman Weil’s report (p. viii) concludes that law firm leaders must “pick up the pace:”

The challenge for leaders is to enlist a small cohort to start the innovation process with urgency and pace and begin to educate and bring others into the fold as rapidly as possible.  Leaders should focus daily on supporting the continued efforts of early adopters by providing encouragement, resources, time, and staff support.

We couldn’t agree more. 

For details of exactly how several leading firms have engaged this process, and the successes they have achieved to date, see the case studies section of our web page.

Full disclosure:  Altman Weil is a strategic partner of LegalBizDev, but not a single word of this post would be different if they weren’t.

 

May 18, 2011

Announcing the first Certified Legal Project Managers™

Last December, we announced that Squire Sanders, Stewart McKelvey, and Harris Cost Lawyers were the first three firms to sign up for our new Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program.  

Lawyers from all three firms have now completed their final case studies and been awarded certification.  We have also begun certifying additional lawyers in the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Germany.  The smallest firm to sign up has eight lawyers, the largest has over 3,000. 

The first certification group has provided an important proof of concept that busy senior partners can indeed complete this program within a few months, build a solid foundation of project management knowledge, and apply this knowledge to develop and implement new procedures that improve client service and increase profitability.

Over the course of the program, each participant studied over 300 pages of assigned readings from six textbooks and answered 17 essay questions about how the concepts applied to their practice.  Then, in three phone conversations and numerous emails, we discussed their “low hanging fruit”: which of the concepts could be most efficiently applied to achieve immediate and practical results?

The first to finish was Fraser MacFadyen, a partner at Stewart McKelvey, a 220-lawyer firm in Atlantic Canada.  Fraser decided to focus on improving practice-wide procedures for handling certain types of secured financings, starting with representing borrowers on a loan secured by real property and related personal property. 

For his final project, Fraser developed several templates to increase efficiency:

  • Standardized spreadsheets for estimating the cost of easy, moderate, and difficult transactions
  • A standardized cost estimate letter to clients that explains what is included in the price and what is not
  • A working agenda summarizing key tasks, who is responsible for each, and deadlines
  • A closing agenda and checklist

We also discussed sustainable tactics to use these templates to maximize benefits to clients, and then to implement them throughout the firm.  We agreed on minimum success criteria for the next 90 days, including using the forms in at least two of Fraser’s matters, getting in-depth feedback from at least two partners on how to improve the forms for their practices, and holding at least one client meeting to discuss how to work together to increase efficiency.  Again, these are the minimum goals.  We both hope he can achieve much more in 90 days, including having other partners actually use the templates. 

Although the program has technically ended, I will be calling Fraser after 30 days and after 90 days to check on his progress.  I want to know what works and what doesn’t.

The second to complete the program was Liz Harris, the founder of Harris Cost Lawyers, an eight-lawyer firm in Melbourne, Australia.  Timing is everything in life, and Liz read about our program on the internet at exactly the right moment.  She had just completed the first module in a program to become certified through the Project Management Institute (PMI) and concluded that while “the PMI program was extremely interesting, much of the content was not relevant to my practice.” So when she saw an announcement that explained how our certification program was specifically designed for lawyers, she signed up right away. 

For Liz’s final project, she created over 25 pages of checklists and templates to enable her firm to better define scope for four types of fixed price matters, and to complete them within budget.  For example, one of Liz’s templates will help her firm to complete particular stages of litigation under Australian law.  One of her checklists lists 12 issues to take into account when estimating the extent of work a matter will require, built around practical details and hard-won wisdom, including “Who is instructing us…a client with little litigation experience will need a more detailed explanation of concepts like instructions for experience offers of compromise" and, “Which court are we in – federal court objections need to be much more detailed and reference case law.” 

Harris Cost Lawyers has been using the templates for the last month, and has already started seeing results.  The templates have “resulted in a clear change in focus on the part of the lawyers in planning matters upfront.”  The firm is planning to increase its percentage of fixed price work, measure the results, and continue to improve their processes.  According to Liz, “the materials developed in this program give us a clear competitive advantage.”

The third to finish was Stacy Ballin, a partner at Squire Sanders, which has over 1,200 lawyers.  Stacy is co-chair of Squire Sanders’ Project Management Committee, so she came to the program with a very strong interest and background in this area.  She is also one of the people who convinced me to start the program, along with her partners Mitch Thompson and Howard Nicols.  We met last fall after I gave a speech at the Squire Sanders Partners meeting, and we talked about the lack of standards in this rapidly growing field.  After they convinced me that the profession needed to establish standards as quickly as possible, I went back to the office and started designing our Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program.

Stacy’s final project is likely to produce immediate results that go straight to the bottom line.  As the Litigation Group Business Partner, she is responsible for approving discretionary write-downs, where a relationship partner decides not to bill a client for some of the time charged to a case and writes down a portion of the bill before it is sent to the client.  According to data reported in the 2011 Hildebrandt Client Advisory, the average large law firm write-down rate – also called billing realization - has been increasing for the last few years, and currently exceeds 11% (p. 13).  (Firms also write off an additional 13% of the bills they send as uncollectible, but that is another story.)

Squire Sanders has not revealed its billing realization rate, but with annual revenues over $500 million, a reduction of 1% would mean an immediate increase in profits of $5 million.

When Stacy reviewed all 2010 litigation write-downs over $10K as part of this program, she saw that a few young partners had unusually high write-down rates, which they explained as simply costs beyond budget or caused by a pattern of inefficiency.  Inefficiency reduces the value clients receive and discretionary write-downs have an immediate negative impact on the bottom line.   So Stacy decided to interview six of these young partners and explore with them how the firm could help them reduce inefficiency and write-downs in the future. 

For her certification case study, Stacy developed a phone interview survey questionnaire based in part on the 17 questions she answered in the first part of our certification program.  In the next few weeks she will conduct these interviews and “develop a plan as to how to use the results to reduce write-downs in the future, and to measure the financial impact of my recommendations.”  Depending on what Stacy finds, her initiative may include future project management training to help key partners manage their teams more efficiently.

All three of these lawyers have been awarded certification and their programs are now officially over.  However, I have planned additional follow-up with all three over the next few months.  I want to hear exactly what happens next.  And when I do, I will let you know.

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?

November 10, 2010

Questions and answers about Certified Legal Project Managers™ (Part 1)

The day after we published our press release announcing the first certification program for legal project managers, I got an email from Paul Easton, author of the influential blog Legal Project Management, with a long list of interesting and insightful questions about our program.  Indeed, the list was so long and so insightful that it is going to take me several posts to answer all the questions Paul sent.

Some must wait until December, when the program is officially launched.  But this week I want to immediately answer a few of the most critical questions.

Paul’s question: What does this certification represent? How will program participants, their employers, and their clients benefit from this certificate?

The Certified Legal Project Manager™ program is designed to help lawyers apply proven best practices from other law firms and other professions to: 

• Reduce or eliminate surprises
• Reduce write-offs
• Protect profitability
• Improve process control
• Improve communication with clients
• Deliver greater value to clients
• Focus on clients’ true needs
• Increase new business

The program aims to set standards for legal project management and to give clients confidence in their lawyers’ fundamental knowledge of this new field, and in their ability to apply the concepts to the practice of law.

To earn certification, each lawyer must pass tests on core concepts and terminology, and also demonstrate the ability to apply the ideas to real-world legal matters.  The certification process also includes practice using a reference library supplied with the program to look up just the information they need, exactly when they need it.

This month, the LegalBizDev Certification Advisory Board is reviewing the details of our approach to assure that it meets these goals.  The Board currently includes six lawyers and four project managers from ten firms with a total of over 6,000 lawyers. 

Board member Howard Kaufman of Fasken Martineau explained why lawyers could find a program like this useful:

As a lawyer my primary reason for wanting this type of program is to learn how to use project management in the practice of law. What I will learn about project management is only of interest to me if I can do something with it in my practice. To be able to "broadcast" a third party’s evaluation of my project management skill in the practice of law is great for marketing/business development purposes, but that is a secondary reason for taking the program.

In the program summary that I sent to Board members, I wrote that “Legal project management certification is not necessary, or even desirable, for every lawyer.”  We offer several programs that require less time, including training workshops to increase knowledge, and coaching programs to practice on the job skills. (Note: If you look for details of our training and coaching programs on the web you won’t find them, because we don’t want to reveal the details of our proprietary approach to competitors.  However, if you work for a law firm or in-house law department we would be happy to send them to you if you email info@legalbizdev.com.)  

In our opinion, our training and coaching programs are more than enough to meet the needs of most lawyers.  Certification is designed for those who want to go a step further, and guarantee a solid foundation in both knowledge and skills.

However, the term certification also comes with a lot of baggage which does not apply to our program.  And that leads to a more technical question on the list.

Paul’s question: If lawyers want to be project managers, why not obtain a PMP or CAPM? Doesn’t JD+PMP=LPM?

While every project manager in the world knows what a PMP is, it is a rare lawyer who knows that PMP stands for Project Management Professional.  This is the best known of five certifications offered  by the Project Management Institute (PMI), which is described on its web page as “The world’s leading not-for-profit membership association for the project management profession, with more than half a million members and credential holders in 185 countries”

PMP is widely considered the gold standard certification for project managers.  According to Wikipedia, 393,413 people held this certificate as of last July.  By contrast, the CAPM – Certified Associate in Project Management – is an entry level program, with, according to one recent count fewer than 10,000 certificate holders. Both deal with the same basic approach and content (summarized in PMI’s Project Management Book of Knowledge, which is one of the books we include in our program’s reference library), so I will focus this discussion on the PMP.

Requirements for the PMP include 4,500 hours of project management experience, 35 contact hours of project management education, and passing a 200-item test which can take many additional hours to study for.  How many lawyers do you know who have time for that, especially if much of the content is clearly not relevant to their practice?

The sixth edition of the PMP Exam Prep guide by Rita Mulcahy includes a list of key concepts you should have mastered in your 4,500 hours of experience before you start studying for the exam, including Monte Carlo analysis, schedule compression, managing float, and how to manually create a network diagram (p. 3).  Perhaps even more off-putting from a lawyers’ point of view is Mulcahy’s observation that “The exam tests from the perspective of…a large project that involves 200 people from many countries, takes at least a year, has never been done before in the organization, and has a budget of US $100 million dollars or more” (p. 17).  Hardly the profile of a typical legal matter.

Somewhere in the world, there are lawyers who can benefit from a PMP.  But we believe that there is a much larger number who, like Mr. Kaufman, are looking for something that can help them manage legal projects quickly and efficiently, without spending time on concepts that are clearly not relevant. 

Paul’s question: Will the program provide participants with MCLE credits? 

We are currently exploring the possibility providing MCLE credits.  But given the fact that so much about legal project management is new, and that the process for getting MCLE credits approved in many jurisdictions is time consuming, it may take time to provide a definitive answer.

Paul’s question: Where can those interested go for more information and application materials? 

We will post information and applications on our web page after the program is officially underway in December.  If you’d like to consider joining the first group that begins the certification process on December 1, email info@legalbizdev.com for more information.