28 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

January 15, 2020

Case Study: An Integrated Approach to Providing Clients with Greater Value (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

This post is based on a recent interview with Melissa Prince, the Chief Client Value and Innovation Officer at Ballard Spahr, a nationwide firm with more than 650 attorneys in 15 offices. She oversees the firm’s award-winning Client Value and Innovation Program, which focuses on creating a customized client experience centered on value, cost predictability, and efficiency. Under Melissa’s leadership, Ballard Spahr was named to the Financial Times’ “Most Innovative Law Firms: Business of Law” list, a BTI Consulting innovation “Mover and Shaker,” and a finalist for the American Lawyer Industry Awards for best law firm/client team and best business team.

Q: Let’s start with a 10,000-foot view of how your group is organized, and your role.

A: I head Ballard Spahr’s Client Value and Innovation Program, and oversee the pricing, matter management, practice technology, and data management teams at the firm. Our group includes more than 20 business professionals with legal, finance, technology, data science, and project management backgrounds and certifications.

Q: And how does the Client Value and Innovation Program fit into Ballard Spahr’s organizational chart?

A: We are a stand-alone department that reports to the Executive Director and works closely with the firm’s Chair, Managing Partner of Finance and Operations, Strategic Planning Partner, Board, and Executive Team. The degree of support we have at the top is a key factor in the department’s success. We engage in rigorous planning when we take on new clients and engagements. We perform detailed scoping exercises, select diverse team members to handle each matter, prepare budgets, and provide clients with fee arrangement options. Each new arrangement is reviewed and approved by our Managing Partner and legal department leadership. Since we started our program several years ago, the team has earned the respect and trust of our attorneys. They understand that the process has leadership support and is tied to the firm’s long-term goals and strategy. 

Q: Before we get into the details of how this works, let’s briefly jump to the bottom line: Has your group been able to produce clear evidence of financial success?

A: Absolutely. One of the easiest places to see this is in our role in growing existing and new client partnerships. For example, several years ago one of our clients—a Fortune 500 company that was working with several hundred law firms at the time—decided to increase efficiency and cost predictability by consolidating all of its legal work with just a few firms. It put out a request for proposal (RFP) to select the firms that would handle all its legal work.

Ballard Spahr was chosen as a finalist. The client selected us not only because of our legal experience but also because of our sophisticated capabilities in pricing, matter management, and client technology, which other firms did not have. Much of what we talked about in the client interview meetings was how we intended to price and manage matters, because that was incredibly important to the client. We made a commitment to budgeting and managing the client’s matters and thinking innovatively about the service we could deliver.

The client named Ballard Spahr to a panel of just three firms to handle all its legal work. At the time we responded to the RFP, we had done a limited amount of work with this client. Within the first year after the RFP, however, the work quadrupled. It is a huge success story for our group and the firm. And it is one of many success stories I can point to that demonstrate the value of what Client Value and Innovation is doing.

Q: Did the process of working with this client change your approach in any way?

A: We customize our approach to each client’s needs, and the experience with this client definitely helped us realize that we need to focus more heavily on managing client relationships for larger firm clients.

The problem with law firms is that administrative functions often are siloed, and it’s hard to get everyone to work together closely and communicate about what’s happening. When we started to onboard new matters for this client, we quickly realized that we needed a single point of contact at our firm to ensure that matters were set up properly, to develop budgets, report on monthly accruals, and to help with matter management.

Our matter management team stepped in and now plays a central role in overseeing this process. We understand what’s going on in every matter. We work with the lawyers to manage each matter to make sure we stay within budget, comply with the client’s outside counsel guidelines, and bill the matter the right way. We developed real-time budget-to-actual reporting so that the client can see exactly what's going on at all times, and can be proactively involved in making decisions about its matters. We also worked with the client to develop a quarterly financial report template used by all of the client’s law firms, which provides portfolio- and matter-level details and compares financial performance and cost savings. The client also can see the value-adds that firms are providing, such as secondments, CLEs, pro bono work, advice and counseling, and technology.

The matter management group has direct contact with the client and has, in essence, become the client relationship manager on the business side. We also work directly with the attorneys managing the legal work to ensure that we are doing everything we can to develop the client relationship.  

Q: Do you think that this kind of client-facing role for Legal Project Management (LPM) teams will grow at your firm and at others?

A: I do. In the world we live in, clients are driving change at law firms. Clients with larger legal departments now have legal operations people who expect law firms to have business people in similar roles who speak their language and help manage their matters. Clients with smaller legal departments or “teams of one” that don’t necessarily have a dedicated legal operations function also appreciate that firms like Ballard Spahr have invested in resources, like our team has, to provide support. Our team is much more client-facing than we were even a couple of years ago. I now meet with several clients a week to hear about their needs and work with them to develop pricing, matter management, and technology solutions. I think the importance and the client-facing nature of my role and others like mine will only continue to grow.

In part 2 of this blog series, we will spotlight how the matter management team and other teams at Ballard Spahr operate to provide award-winning client value and innovation.

January 01, 2020

Legal Project Management: 2019 Year-In-Review (Part 2 of 2)

According to law firm leaders, efficiency is here to stay.  86% say that a focus on practice efficiency is a permanent change in the legal marketplace.  Efficiency ranked number one among 18 different trends (p. 1, LFiT).  

So, what tactics do law firms use to increase efficiency?  It appears that the most effective tactic is rewarding efficiency and profitability in compensation decisions.  A solid majority (62%) report that they experienced a significant improvement in firm performance when using this tactic (p. 23, LFiT).  This is also consistent with common sense.  If you pay someone to do something, they’re more likely to do it.

But digging deeper into the details presents a more nuanced story.  When asked about several different efficiency tactics, a large percentage of law firm leaders said it was “too soon to tell” (p. 22, LFiT) which means they didn't have sufficient information to respond in a meaningful way.

If we eliminate those respondents who said it was “too soon to tell,” and if we focus exclusively on those who have sufficient experience to provide a knowledgeable response, we find that:

  • The LPM tactic of systematically reengineering work processes is highly effective, with 91% saying it resulted in a significant improvement in firm performance.
  • This is closely followed by the tactic of rewarding efficiency and profitability in compensation decisions, at 89%.
  • Providing ongoing project management training and support is also highly effective, with 86% of law firm leaders saying it resulted in a significant improvement in firm performance.
  • Other tactics such as: (i) using technology tools to replace human resources, (ii) using non-law firm vendors, and (iii) implementing a formal knowledge management program were also found to be effective at rates of 81%, 80%, and 76%, respectively.

In essence, what this data tells us is that each one of these efficiency tactics works the vast majority of the time.

But despite these successes, very few law firms are serious about changing the way they deliver legal services.  Based upon responses from law firm leaders, only a small handful of firms (less than 2%) are doing everything they can to change the way they deliver legal services.  Roughly one-third of law firms (34%) are moderately serious about changing their behavior, and nearly two-thirds of law firms (64%) show little to no interest in changing how they deliver legal services (p. 42, LFiT). 

Why are so many firms so slow to change?  First and foremost, partners don’t want to change.  69% of law firm leaders say that partners resist change efforts.  Even when partners are willing to change, a solid majority (60%) say that partners are unaware of what they might do differently (p. 44, LFiT).  And when a law firm attempts to implement LPM, it takes time to determine whether the program is working.  A slim majority of law firm leaders (53%) said it is “too soon to tell” whether their ongoing project management training and support programs have resulted in a significant improvement in firm performance (p. 22, LFiT).  Despite these challenges, most law firm leaders (54%) say that the urgency to change has increased over the past two years (p. 43, LFiT).

*****

At LegalBizDev, we believe that if a law firm aggressively seeks to implement an LPM program and works to change lawyer behavior, it can make great strides towards resolving the challenges described in this blog series.  For example, understanding what the client wants and communicating value to the client improves client service.  Being a leader in LPM serves as a differentiator.  Actively managing legal matters using a variety of LPM tactics helps ensure that financial data is used correctly and that AFAs are profitable.  LPM coaching helps lawyers overcome resistance to change and understand what they can do differently to become more efficient and profitable.

Even without considering any of the data presented here, it is crystal clear to most law firm leaders that clients want lower costs and greater efficiency.  Our experience is that LPM helps law firms provide these benefits to clients, and this is supported by independent survey data.  The firms that provide these benefits effectively are the ones that are most likely to be profitable in coming years.

LegalBizDev is currently offering complimentary “LPM trends” webinars to LPM decision-makers to discuss this information in more detail, including new data as it is released in 2020.  If you’re interested in a complimentary 30-minute webinar, email us at info@legalbizdev.com or call 800-49-TRAIN today.

December 18, 2019

Legal Project Management: The Year-In-Review (Part 1 of 2)

In 2019, three major papers were published summarizing data collected from over 500 law firms and 250 law departments: 

  1. Altman Weil’s Law Firms in Transition survey (“LFiT”)
  2. Altman Weil’s Chief Legal Officer survey (“CLO”)
  3. The CITI Client Advisory report (“CITI”)

Based upon these reports, and also upon the multiple webinars, interviews, and informal discussions that we held with LPM decision-makers in 2019, we believe that law firm leaders should concentrate on five key issues to improve profitability, as discussed below.  One of our major takeaways from 2019 is that, if a law firm aggressively seeks to implement an LPM program and works to change lawyer behavior, it can make great strides towards resolving the challenges described in this blog series.

(1) For non-hourly alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), increase efficiency to reduce costs

It’s difficult to obtain unanimous agreement on anything, particularly among law firm leaders.  But not a single leader predicted that there would be a decline in the use of AFAs in 2020 (p. 8, CITI).  A huge majority (87%) predicted that the use of AFAs will increase in 2020, while 13% said that the use of AFAs will remain about the same (p. 8, CITI). 

From the client perspective, CLOs consistently report that one of the best management techniques for improving outside counsel performance is to negotiate fixed, capped, or alternative fees.  Over 75% of CLOs say that the use of AFAs significantly improves outside counsel performance (p. 47, CLO).  This too suggests that the use of AFAs will increase in 2020.

But any firm that has ever offered a fixed fee knows how easy it is to lose money on them.  The key to maintaining financial performance is to increase efficiency, so that the work can be completed at or below what it would have cost at standard hourly rates.  And this in turn will require significant improvements in LPM at most firms.

(2) To reduce discounting, law firms must accelerate the use of LPM

We were floored when we read the statistics on the percentage of legal fees that are derived from discounted hourly rates.  “Nearly one in five law firms (18%) receive 50% or more of their legal fees from discounted hourly rates” (p. 27, LFiT) [emphasis added].

Altogether, just over 75% of law firms receive a substantial portion (11% or more) of their legal fees from discounted hourly rates.  A paltry 2% of firms receive the full amount that their lawyers charge.  Amazingly, 3% of law firms do not collect this data and have no idea what percentage of their legal fees are derived from discounted hourly rates (p. 27, LFiT). 

Large firms offer more discounting than smaller firms.  The median for firms with 250 lawyers or more is that 41% to 50% of legal fees are derived from discounted hourly rates, while the median for firms under 250 lawyers is 11% to 20% (p. 27, LFiT). 

These results are validated by CLOs.  The number one strategy for controlling law department costs (at 57%) is to receive reductions on hourly rates from outside counsel (p. 26, CLO).

If law firms want to reduce discounting, their lawyers must embrace LPM.  The more efficient a lawyer or legal team becomes, the more valuable their time becomes (when compared to lawyers at other firms), which reduces discounting.  Moreover, the LPM tactic of properly delegating work ensures that the right person is handling the work, which again establishes efficiency and reduces discounting.  And even when clients are simply unwilling to pay standard hourly rates, LPM allows firms to increase profitability by embracing fixed fee work and using LPM tactics to ensure that matters are managed profitably. 

(3) Use LPM to better utilize financial data and increase profitability

Survey results confirm that most law firms are investing time and money obtaining better financial data.  For example, 52% of law firms have invested money to develop data on the cost of services sold, though only about one-third of those firms report any clear corresponding improvement in performance (p. iv, LFiT).  The data shows that merely gathering data does not necessarily translate into improved performance.  Instead, as Altman Weil notes: “Real achievements can and must be made in using cost data and project management techniques to improve matter profitability.” (p. iv, LFiT) [emphasis added]. 

One project management technique that could improve matter profitability is to use collected profitability data in conjunction with the firm’s LPM efforts.  For example, only 55% of law firms that collect profitability data currently use that data to manage their practice groups (p. v, LFiT).  If profitability data is readily available, the natural next step is to use that data to actively manage practice groups in conjunction with LPM efforts.    

(4) To increase new business, law firms must differentiate themselves

Anyone with a marketing background can attest to the importance of differentiation in the marketplace when selling goods and services.  Differentiation is what allows one law firm to stand out from another. But nearly half of law firm leaders cannot point to a single compelling differentiator that significantly elevates their firm above others (p. iii, LFiT).  

Using the old standby “our lawyers are better than theirs” doesn’t cut it anymore.  True differentiation allows one law firm to contrast its services with competing services and emphasize the unique aspects that make its services superior. As Altman Weil writes: “Establishing a credible means of differentiation should be a key area of attention for all firms and each group within a firm” (p. iii, LFiT).  Using the LPM tactic of client communication (e.g., conducting “lessons learned” reviews with clients) may be a good place to start if a law firm wants to identify the ways in which it separates itself from other firms.

(5) Be realistic about how clients perceive the quality of your firm’s services

When it comes to the delivery of client service, perception often does not match reality.  Firms tend to overestimate the quality of their services.

53% of law firm leaders say that their firms are significantly ahead of the competition in terms of delivering client service (p. iii, LFiT).  In summarizing this data, Altman Weil notes: “It is mathematically impossible and logically inconsistent for most firms to lead the pack on these or any other factors.  If everyone’s ahead, there’s no pack to lead” (p. iii, LFiT).

Of course, overestimating the quality of client service likely means that many firms do not take appropriate action to improve the delivery of client service when, in fact, they should.  The tendency for law firm leaders to inaccurately assess client service is highly significant because unsatisfactory client service has consistently been one of the top reasons that clients shift a large portfolio of work ($50,000 or more) from one law firm to another (p. 50, CLO).

*****

In Part 2, we will examine the tactics that law firms use to become more efficient and why the LPM change process has been so slow at some firms.

November 06, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 3 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In the first two parts of this blog series, we discussed the best ways to prepare for scope change discussions with a client and how to engage in those discussions.  In the third and final part of this series, we explore how to ensure these discussions are successful.  This blog article is largely based on the third recommendation from Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Work from their interests, not their positions

Before entering the discussion or meeting with your client contact, try to answer the questions below to get at their true interests that may be driving their position of resistance. Also, prepare to tactfully ask these questions during your discussion if they seem to be resisting your proposed new approach:

Other than the client’s desire to minimize spending, what are their concerns about addressing increased fees and making scope changes during the course of an active matter?  How can I address those concerns?

Consider the difference between “positions” and “interests” in order to understand why focusing on your contact’s interests will usually be more productive than focusing just on their positions. Here is the difference in this situation, if your contact keeps the same position as in the past.

Their position: A “position” is what they want, as in the scenario presented in part 1 of this blog series:

“Don’t worry about it… you may find some savings in the remaining work… we’ll just settle up on all those scope change adjustments when you are done with the complete matter.”

Consider their position as the tip of the iceberg. You need to get beneath the surface to learn what is driving their position/want.

Their interest: An “interest” is the “why” underneath that motivates them to hold their position. Several possible reasons why are given as examples, below, which you could try to address as shown after each reason:

  1. They feel that they have the upper hand if they wait to discuss fees for scope changes after you have already incurred the time to perform the extra work because they have the power to just say “yes” or “no” to any or all of the additional fees you incurred. In the past, you have given in, so that is what they have been taught as the likely outcome.

Could be addressed this way: Describe very clearly what their approach has cost your firm in write-offs, and appeal to their fairness. If the standard of fairness does not appeal to them, you may want to reassess the desirability of keeping this client.

  1. They don’t want to be nickel and dimed with several smallish fee increases.

Could be addressed this way: That is an understandable interest. Suggest agreeing to a threshold dollar amount of scope change fees that must be reached before you come to them with a request for approval. For example, a $5,000 threshold could mean that you would aggregate four instances requiring scope increase fees of $800, $1,200, $2,400, and $800 into one discussion of $5,200. This avoids the nickel and dime perception and allows discussion of all fee changes more closely to when they are identified rather than waiting to the end of the entire matter.

  1. They have committed to this year’s legal spend to their management and must stick with it.

Could be addressed this way: You could ask, “Could I track any scope increases and submit them to you next calendar quarter?”

By knowing the client contact’s interests, you increase the likelihood of coming up with an approach that addresses their interests and satisfies yours as well. One of the best ways to learn your client contact’s actual interests is to ask the following two questions:

If you were to say “yes” and agree to address increased fees for scope changes as they are identified, what would your concerns be beyond your desire to minimize spending? How could I address those concerns?

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

October 23, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 2 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In part 1 of this series, we discussed how to prepare for discussions with clients to obtain approval of additional fees due to a scope change: Know your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).  In part 2 of this series, we explore how to engage in the actual negotiation discussions.  This blog article is largely based on the second recommendation from Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Use objective, external criteria

Assuming your client contact agrees to discuss/negotiate with you, the following question can help you prepare to be persuasive:

What documents or events could I refer to that my contact would find authoritative and could help make my case and de-polarize our discussion?

The idea here is to introduce some external criteria separate from your assertions and your client contact’s assertions. In other words, it takes the “me-vs-you” element down a notch.

Some possibilities are:

  • Refer to the engagement letter/statement of work language that covers what has been agreed to regarding the process for encountering increased scope of work. If the engagement letter has such language, then referring to it in this circumstance can be seen as a reminder of what was earlier agreed to, and therefore your contact is put in the position of honoring a prior agreement rather than making a new concession.
  • Refer to relevant precedent. If there has ever in the past been a matter for which they agreed to scope change fee increases as they occurred during the work on their matter, remind them of this, in specifics. Again, you are asking them to honor precedent instead of making a new concession.
  • Refer to their written statement of objectives for the matter, if one exists. Describe your rationale for the importance/necessity of the out-of-scope work in reaching the client’s objective, and/or how much more difficult it would be to reach the client’s objective without it. Again, this use of external criteria invites the client to see it in terms of reaching their objective, rather than just protecting your fee.
  • Invoke the external standard of fairness by asking “How is that fair?” Be prepared to explain why you think your approach is fairer for all, such as, “You would get the chance to approve or deny the work before it incurs the time, and you can more effectively evaluate the value of the increased work as the need for it arises than you can at the end of the engagement.”
  • Refer to industry standards, regulations, or laws if the matter has issues where compliance with them is relevant.

In part 3, the final part of this blog series, we will discuss how working from the client’s interests, not their positions, can help scope change negotiations succeed.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

October 09, 2019

Prepare and Negotiate for Approval of a Scope Change (Part 1 of 3)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

The most challenging type of scope change involves increasing the fee from the original estimate. Increasing the fee requires a possibly difficult conversation with the client and raises the question of how best to approach the client to obtain their approval of this additional work and fees. Consider this scenario:

  1. You know it is best practice to contact the client as soon as you detect a material scope change that will increase their fee.
  2. But your client resists agreeing to scope changes that you request as they occur, saying things like:

“Don’t worry about it… you may find some savings in the remaining work… we’ll just settle up on all those scope change adjustments when you are done with the complete matter.”

  1. But when you reached the end of the last three matters for this client, having taken the “we’ll just settle up when you are done” approach, there were serious disagreements about the fees that were over and above your original estimate.
  2. You ended up writing off a few thousand dollars each time. This is affecting your realization on their work and dampens your enthusiasm for doing more work for this client, even though they bring you a lot of business.
  3. Accordingly, you have decided to ask your client contact to agree to deal with scope changes and resulting fee increases as they occur for future matters and not to postpone the discussion until final billing.

Three very helpful ways to prepare for such discussions are recommended in Fisher, Ury, and Patton’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. The first of these is:

 

Know your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

Start your preparation by addressing this question:

What could I do if they either don’t agree or they refuse to discuss my suggested new approach for handling scope increases as they occur?

To answer that question, try to list every step you could take to meet your/the firm’s needs without their agreement. Such a list would contain a range of steps from “very desirable” to “very undesirable.” That way, you can select the most desirable one on the list to become your BATNA. For example, you might come up with a list of steps that you could take like those below and then analyze each for its relative desirability based on how the business decision question is answered.

  1. Have our managing partner negotiate with my client contact’s boss.

Desirability: Could work, but to accomplish effectively, I would have to inform my client contact in advance to avoid a surprise, including explaining my reasons for doing so. That client contact’s reaction is hard to predict, but I think that my contact may have the final say as to where that client’s legal business goes.

Business decision questions: Can we risk the tension in the client relationship this would cause if they agree? Could we afford to lose this client?

  1. Decide to continue without a change, accepting the write-offs as usual if they occur.

Desirability: This would be the easiest step to take because it would require taking no risk in the client relationship beyond what occurs at the end of our work on the matter if they again resist the additional fees associated with legitimate scope changes. We would remain at risk for those associated write-offs.

Business decision question: Is a good client relationship here worth the possible continued write-offs?

  1. Suggest to my client contact that we can accept no further similar work from them unless we can agree to this new approach.

Desirability: This is the hardest step, since even if they react by agreeing to adjust fee expectations from scope creep[1] as it occurs in order to maintain access to our legal services, an ultimatum like this would assuredly create stress in our relationship. But we could probably manage the stress given the increase in realization we would experience by avoiding the write-offs. However, they could instead say, “OK, goodbye.”

Business decision question: Could we afford to lose this client in order to avoid future write-offs?

  1. For their next new matter, cut corners on our thoroughness.

Desirability: Very undesirable. Unethical. Could lead to malpractice issues.

  1. For their next new matter, add a 15% contingency in anticipation of changes in scope so that we don’t have to go back to them for approval of the associated fee increase.

Desirability: Could work nicely, unless they insisted on seeing the task list we used to set the budget. Not likely, since they never have asked for that before. Plus, if we had no scope changes that equaled or exceeded that 15%, we could charge them less than they expected, which is good for client relationships.

Business decision question: Can we easily defend this practice to the client and ourselves?

  1. Urge the responsible partner in another practice area to augment their fees on the work they are doing for the same client so that for the two matters, we don’t have to write off anything.

Desirability: Possible “padding?” Very undesirable. Unethical. Could lead to malpractice issues.

Based on your analysis and your internal discussions of the business decision questions with your management/higher level partners, you would select one of the six steps before you try to negotiate the desired change with your client contact.

Deciding this way what your BATNA is before trying to negotiate with your client contact means you enter the discussion knowing exactly what you will do if they won’t discuss or agree to your new preferred approach. Having the firm’s approval for your BATNA gives you confidence not to spend more time than it is worth on tough negotiations.

In part 2 of this blog series, we will discuss how using objective external criteria can be persuasive in any scope change discussions and negotiations.

[1] For a good overview of scope creep in projects, see Toptal, LLC,"How to Prevent and Manage Scope Creep" https://www.toptal.com/how-to-prevent-and-manage-scope-creep

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.

 

September 25, 2019

LMSS: New standards for analyzing legal matters

By Gary Richards, Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

Whenever you buy any product in a store these days – whether it’s a new computer, a book, or a box of frozen enchiladas – a scanner will be used to quickly read the 12-digit universal product code/ bar code on the package.  This allows an enormous amount of information to be instantly processed so that you pay the right price, and the store can track its inventory and analyze its sales. 

A new effort is now underway to bring this same sort of efficiency and standardization to legal matters.  Of course, no one expects complex legal matters to be reduced to 12 digits.  But a system to standardize coding for a database of experience would have enormous benefits to law firms.  It would help them analyze new matters and more quickly answer such questions as:

  • Should we bid on this type of work?
  • Which of our attorneys have the expertise we need on this matter?
  • How much will this work cost us?
  • Could we offer an alternative fee arrangement?

A standard system would also offer enormous advantages to clients, such as helping them assign and track the legal work being done by both in-house staff and outside firms.

Standards are being developed by the SALI (Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry) Alliance, which was formed in 2017.  As described on its home page:

SALI is a not-for-profit organization comprised of legal industry professionals from legal operations, law firms and solution providers with the goal of developing open, practical industry standards for efficient and innovative legal services.

Of course, it is much harder to come up with a system for coding legal matters than for classifying frozen enchiladas.  But in the last few months, SALI took two very large steps forward.  In June, they released LMSS 1.0 rev 2 (Legal Matter Specification Standard) codes.  The complete code set can be downloaded for free from their webpage.  In August, Microsoft signed on as the first official user.  As noted in a press release announcement:

At Microsoft, implementing a portion of SALI’s standard taxonomy for legal matters is seen as a way to help the tech giant better categorize its legal work… [according to] Rebecca Benavides, the company’s director of legal business. 

The press release went on to explain that one of the benefits of LMSS will be in helping Microsoft to analyze past and future matters.  This in turn will help the company to reach its goal of using “alternative fee agreements with 90 percent of its law firm engagement.”

To get a quick sense of the main elements of the codes, see the slide below which was copied from a six-minute video introduction to this new system. 

SALI Article_Image

LMSS currently includes over 5,000 codes/tags organized into 13 categories. The six Core Code categories are:

  • Area of Law
  • Industry
  • Legal Entity
  • Location
  • Player Role
  • Process

As an example, the “Area of Law” section has 118 codes, including codes for cybercrime, health law, election law, workers compensation, and many others.

In addition to the six categories above, there are seven “non-core” code areas including Court, Currency, and Government Body.

Some of the larger code sets are adaptations of already existing codes. For example, the SALI Location set contains 3,771 codes adapted from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and defines codes for principal subdivisions (e.g., provinces or states) of all countries coded in ISO 3166-1.

LMSS includes a lot more than just these codes, such as APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for database programmers that include routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications more efficiently.

How are these LMSS codes related to UTBMS – the Uniform Task-Based Management System – currently used at many firms? 

UTBMS task codes were first developed in the 1990s for use in e-billing.  For example, in UTBMS, all of the work lawyers perform in a litigation matter would be coded in five major phases:

  • Case Assessment (L100)
  • Pre-Trial Pleadings and Motions (L200)
  • Discovery (L300)
  • Trial Preparation and Trial (L400)
  • Appeal (L500)

Each phase is further broken down into a set of tasks, such as L110 Fact investigation, L120 Analysis, L130 Experts, and so on.  (For an overview of how the UTBMS system works and the way firms are currently using it, see our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, p. 164.)

The UTBMS codes track the actual tasks that attorneys are doing in the execution of the matter. In contrast, the LMSS codes are designed to describe the matter at a higher level:  What is the kind of case? What is the jurisdiction? Who are the players involved? In time, it is a goal of SALI to merge the LMSS categories with the descriptions of deliverables within each type of work.  

LMSS can help law firm staff and programmers to substantially increase efficiency by analyzing the data they already have for:

  • Pricing and staffing new matters
  • Client relationship management (CRM)
  • Knowledge management, and
  • Document management

The good news for the vast majority of lawyers is that although this system will help you meet client needs more efficiently, you don’t need to know the underlying details.  The fine points are aimed primarily at back office staff, including IT professionals and the pricing and marketing departments. 

At this point, the vast majority of lawyers only need to know what LMSS does, and how – or whether – your clients and firm should use it. 

 

September 10, 2019

Key questions project managers should ask

By Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev and Natasha Chetty, Bellwether Strategies

Effective project management starts by asking the right questions. While there are hundreds of questions managers can ask, this list summarizes the most critical ones. It is organized in terms of the eight key issues discussed throughout the LPM tools and templates that we have published.

Set objectives and define scope

  • What business problem does the client want to solve?
  • How does this affect the client’s organizational goals and reputation?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • What deadlines matter to the client?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker?
  • How does the client define success?
  • How will you know when you are done?

Identify and schedule activities

  • How can large matters be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks?
  • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start?
  • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
  • What external and internal scheduling constraints do we need to be aware of?

Assign tasks and manage the team

  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • How long do they think the tasks will take?
  • What help, resources, or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?

Plan and manage the budget

  • How much should be budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
  • How much was actually spent?
  • If at any point actual spending exceeds the planned budget, what can be done to get back on track?
  • Can savings on one activity be applied to compensate for overspending on another, within the overall budget total(s)?
  • Who are the relevant contacts regarding budget at the client’s organization and what are their needs or priorities?

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

  • What could possibly go wrong that would increase the cost, delay the project, or decrease client satisfaction?
  • How likely is this to happen?
  • How serious would the impact be if it did happen?
  • Which risks should I plan for in advance?

Manage quality

  • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
  • How should I monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?

Manage client communication and expectations

  • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
  • What does the decision maker care most about?
  • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
  • Should brief standard reports be submitted every week or month?
  • Which stakeholders does the decision maker need to communicate with in general or on this matter?

Negotiate changes of scope

  • How should I track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
  • What criteria should I use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?


Adapted from the
Fifth Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates

September 04, 2019

The Delegation Checklist

By Gary Richards and Jim Hassett

The most effective tactics for delegating will vary depending on the assignment and the people involved. This checklist can help you select the best practices that will be most useful in each situation.

  • Does the person doing the work have a clear understanding of the desired results?
    • Describe the client’s objective
    • Describe the scope of the whole project so they can see where their part fits in
    • Define a clear picture of the specific results expected, including format (e.g., Word vs. Excel)
    • Estimate the number of hours you think it should require

  • Did you leave the method to the doer as much as possible?
    • Have the appointed worker explain ‘how’ they expect to proceed. If they ‘create’ the method/steps, they will ‘own’ them
    • You can then coach them if you prefer different steps/approach

  • Did you jointly set deadlines?
    • One good way is to say, “I’d like this completed by_____. Do you think that is reasonable?”
    • Then discuss and negotiate if needed. Deadlines are best when set through collaboration instead of command.
    • Agree on when they are expected to complete the work and when you will review it

  • Did you jointly set progress checks and then follow up to reinforce, not enforce?
    • Explain reasons for check points (“to be sure you have what you need…”)
    • Setting up those checks/interim reviews in advance lets the worker know what to expect. That’s better than a surprise visit to see “How they are doing,” which can seem threatening.
    • Checkpoints can be especially valuable if they help the worker keep the initiative for checking in

  • Did you negotiate priorities if the workers are already committed elsewhere or are overloaded?
    • When people lose their right to show the impact of the delegation on their other work, they will feel stressed and you won’t have the complete picture
    • This negotiation, when needed, helps you keep their work focused on the firm’s true priorities

  • Did you request that they notify you immediately if the deadline becomes jeopardized?
    • Willing workers are often reluctant to raise the flag on emerging delays, but instead want to get it back on track themselves so as not to look like they couldn’t handle it
    • But, if they notify you immediately, you can help them work out the best recovery plan, and maybe even command some resources not available to the worker for the fix

  • Are you available to help if needed?
    • You have as much interest in their successful work as they do
    • A request for help can be a coachable moment. Point out what they can do on their own next time, or assure them that you care about their success and will pitch in.

  • Did you lend authority where needed?
    • If a paralegal, an associate or a junior partner is going to need something from other senior partners, you should inform those senior partners that the worker is representing you, explain why they are being asked, and encourage them to cooperate. This “credentializes” the worker and removes roadblocks.

  • Are you using final reviews to teach better habits?
    • You must review work to ensure quality and value, especially if the worker is a paralegal and you are representing the work as legal work
    • The final review is also an ideal time for coaching or corrections if changes are needed. This is an investment in the professional development of the worker.
    • Have the worker do the corrections; don’t do them yourself. That way you save time, and they learn.

This blog 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 21, 2019

How to deal with difficult clients and situations (Part 2 of 2)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed one healthy option for dealing with clients and situations that are extremely demanding and/or require substantial write-offs:  Changing the Situation.  We outlined a script that can be used in discussions with clients and presented a sample of how that script might be used.

In this post, we will discuss options 2 and 3: Accept the Situation and Leave the Situation. Again, all three of these options involve financial risks which could negatively impact the individual lawyer or the entire firm. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the lawyer consult with appropriate colleagues and firm management and obtain their concurrence before taking any action.


Option 2: Accept the Situation

If you decide you need the work and are not in a position to negotiate a change in what your client is doing, or you try to change the situation and fail, then ask whether there are sufficient reasons to accept the situation.  Continuing the example from Part 1 of this blog series, the following reasons to accept the situation may be valid:

  • We have little chance to replace this loan business with more profitable loan business
  • We have little likelihood of getting more profitable non-loan business of this caliber or size
  • We need these partial payments to cover firm overhead
  • We need this low-realization revenue to keep our people busy

If you decide to accept the situation, keep these reasons in mind to help you cope better the next time a challenging situation occurs.


Option 3: Leave the Situation

If it is too costly to accept the situation and all your efforts to change it fail, then it may be appropriate to leave the situation.  In our example, the lawyer could notify the bank client that she will not be able to handle any further loan business from them if the adverse situation happens again. (According to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.16 DECLINING OR TERMINATING REPRESENTATION (b), “A lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if…(6) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.”)

Using any one of the three healthy options described in this blog series is better than the unhealthy alternative of suffering and complaining.

This blog 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.