39 posts categorized "Legal Project Management"

June 26, 2019

How to Improve the Management of Legal Teams (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

What should you do with the associate who insists on turning over every rock? Or with the partner who consistently fails to meet deadlines? How often should teams meet? How much supervision can and should the relationship partner provide?

There is a vast amount of literature on how to manage teams in other professions. Business schools offer entire courses with names like Authentic Leadership Development (Harvard MBA) and Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership (Wharton MBA).

The literature on managing legal teams is much thinner, especially when you concentrate, as we do, on the kinds of teams that large law firms juggle to meet clients’ ever-shifting needs. Until recently, many partners have given little thought to managing these teams more efficiently, in part because the billable hour model provided little incentive for efficiency.

But these days legal clients are demanding efficiency, and so lawyers have become more interested in improving the way they manage teams.

In the AMA Handbook of Project Management (Fourth Edition), Paul Dinsmore outlines on p. 411 “Ten Rules of Team Building”:

  1. Identify what drives your team
  2. Get your own act together
  3. Understand the game
  4. Evaluate the competition
  5. Pick your players and adjust your team
  6. Identify and develop inner group leaders
  7. Get the team in shape
  8. Motivate the players
  9. Develop plans
  10. Control, evaluate, and improve

Legal teams come in so many shapes and sizes that it is impossible to come up with a short list of rules that apply to every case. But if you review the ideas behind Dinsmore’s list, you are sure to come up with a few action items that could help manage your legal team more efficiently.

Rule #1: Identify what drives your team

What motivates your team to work together? Is it:

  • A deadline
  • The inherent challenge of the legal matter
  • The relationship partner’s inspiration
  • The rewarding feeling of collaborating with people you enjoy working with
  • A chance to set a new legal precedent
  • The desire to beat a competitor
  • Insecurities about one’s job
  • The prospect of piling up billable hours to meet an annual quota

Or is it some other factor or a combination of some or all of the above? Knowing what drives your team can help you manage its members. If you talk to people about this, you may be surprised to learn what is driving different team members.

Ultimately, team members must motivate and empower themselves—the leader can inspire, but not motivate them. Your job is to create an environment to help team members motivate and empower themselves.

In the planning stages, brainstorm with your team members to come up with common goals to build a sense of community and ownership in the project. Set up ground rules for your team and for meetings, and try to get buy-in to the common goals from all members.

In the project scoping document, you (and others) should specify the scope and the constraints of the project as clearly as possible. This will help team members track milestones and check-ins along the way.

Encourage team members to share their ideas and opinions. When you use people’s ideas, give them credit. Remember, the best ideas usually arise from diverse teams interacting and brainstorming together. Conversely, few new slants or approaches arise from leaders who fail to harvest the richness of different personalities and perspectives.

It is very important for your team to know that you are listening to them.

Rule #2: Get your own act together

Being an effective leader starts with setting a good work example. Act like someone you would want to work for. I am sorry to report that there are lawyers out there—present company excluded, of course—who could benefit from brushing up on basic social skills.

Mood is contagious. Avoid negativity. Act happy and positive even if you don’t feel that way. The people around you will definitely feel better, and you may, too.

Don’t treat your team members as serfs or minions. Talk to them in the same way you would talk to your most important client or your managing partner.

Be proactive in identifying problems and in solving them. Handle problems with respect, tact, and common sense. Try to be rational about disagreements and avoid emotion.

Challenge your team, but don’t work against them.

We will discuss Dinsmore's Rules of Team Building #3 through #6 in our next blog post.

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.

June 12, 2019

How to Improve Statements of Work

15 questions to ask clients to help define scope
By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

  1. What outcomes would you consider to be wins/successes for this matter?
  2. Are any other outcomes acceptable?
  3. If, unexpectedly, your objectives for this matter become unattainable, what would you do?
  4. What deadlines matter to you?
  5. How will you know when you are done?
  6. Do you have strict budget limits for this matter?
  7. During work on this matter, who will be the ultimate decision-maker?
  8. Can you envision anything that you or others in your organization could do to help ensure success of this matter?
  9. Do you have any fears or concerns about any special risk in this matter?
  10. Are there any dos or don’ts that you want to point out for us to observe during our legal work?
  11. What are the primary business effects of succeeding with this matter?
  12. Are there other stakeholders in your organization or other business activities or strategies that will be affected by the outcome of this matter?
  13. Do you have any other ongoing legal matters that could affect this matter in any way?
  14. Do you want to make progress reports on this matter to others in your organization? If so, when?
  15. Are there other related business problems you want to solve?

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

 

May 29, 2019

Toby Brown on LPM and Perkins Coie’s Client Advantage™  (Part 2 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf


LegalBizDev:  Previously, you mentioned that the LPM team does work in three major areas: at the client level, the matter level, and coaching.  Let’s start with the client level.

Brown:  This type of support is generally offered to our largest clients.  For example, we have a large fixed price fee to handle over 500 legal matters for one long-term client.  Our group regularly reviews the actual legal work we’ve performed and compares it to the fixed fee we negotiated in advance.  Because we have a long-standing relationship built on mutual trust with this client, we can adjust the terms if there is a change in scope that will impact the fee. 

While LPM support typically includes this type of budget development and monitoring, the LPM team also works closely with key partners to identify and address the challenges each client cares most about. Each client is different. For example, one of our clients is currently focused on developing metrics to better manage the work and measure the results.  Another is refining our intake portal for new matters.  In that case, an LPM specialist works at the client’s office 1-3 days per week. 

LegalBizDev:  What type of feedback have you gotten from clients?

Brown: Clients absolutely love it.  Most of our large clients are very excited about this type of support, and are open to experimentation at the cutting edge of LPM services.  We have already gotten additional work as a result of LPM support, which is of course the ultimate proof that it is working.  For clients who are not interested, at this point the LPM team simply doesn’t work with them.

LegalBizDev:  What about matter level LPM support?

Brown:  This often starts with creating and monitoring budgets for lawyers that request our support.  But again, it can take other forms, depending on client needs. Given our limited LPM resources, this is generally limited to large matters.

LegalBizDev:  And coaching? 

Brown:  We have offered LPM training and coaching to entire legal teams, paralegals, and practice groups.  We also sometimes offer special individual coaching.  As our team grows, we expect to have more time for this kind of support.

LegalBizDev:  It sounds like your LPM initiatives are very much involved in business development.

Brown:  Yes.  To cite just one example, LPM Director Janelle Belling recently offered a presentation to the law department of one current client on ways to better define the scope of new legal matters.  We charged nothing for this presentation, but it has already increased the satisfaction of this client, and the precision of their statements of work with us.

Of course, LPM initiatives are aimed at increasing new business at many firms.  But our Client Advantage™ approach takes this to the next level.  And as a result of our track record of success, Perkins Coie partners are inviting Client Advantage™ team members to sales pitches more and more often.  Just yesterday, Janelle and I were included on the team that met with a very large potential new client, because the value we could add differentiates the firm from our competitors.

LegalBizDev:  When project managers work on a legal matter, do you directly bill the time they put in?

Brown:  Not very often, however it all depends on what each client wants and needs.  In the case of the large fixed fee I mentioned above, project management time is included in the total budget calculations for review purposes.  Some clients initially resist the idea of paying for non-lawyers, but their resistance declines when they see how project managers can manage to the bottom line cost.

LegalBizDev:  Where do you see LPM going in the next few years?

Brown:  You have to remember that law firms change very, very slowly.  By law firm standards, LPM is still a new field.  A decade ago, while many lawyers were focused on efficiency, almost none used the term LPM, or had formal processes in place to assure efficiency.

There is still an element of the “wild west” in the way LPM definitions and tactics vary from firm to firm.  But clients are forcing firms to accept efficiency, and I predict that in the coming years you will see more and more firms taking an integrated approach like ours to providing value. 

 

May 15, 2019

Toby Brown on LPM and Perkins Coie’s Client Advantage™  (Part 1 of 2)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf


Toby Brown is the Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie, a firm with more than 1,000 lawyers in offices across the United States and in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei.  Toby has long been recognized as one of the leaders of the LPM movement, and is the founder of the leading annual conference on LPM, pricing and process improvement (the P3 Conference).

LegalBizDev:  When Law.com published an article last year about your approach to practice management, the headline was “The Law Firm Disrupted.”  Could you explain what they meant?

Brown:  The Law.com article focused on our Client Advantage™ program, describing it as a possible “template for future relationships between Big Law and corporate clients.”  It quoted several of our clients, including Lisa Konie, the Senior Director of Legal Operations at Adobe Systems Inc., who described the way we “truly worked together as if [we] were an extension of their legal team.”  Our web page includes an overview of the Client Advantage™ program which describes how it helps “clients drive efficiency, address a broad range of business challenges, and stay a step ahead of trends in legal services.” 

LegalBizDev:  For obvious reasons, my favorite example of the way Perkins Coie “stays a step ahead of trends” is the way you plan to offer key clients the license you recently purchased from us for the online fifth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.  How do you expect this to work?

Brown:  Of course the primary benefit of the license will be internal.  We believe it will save our LPM staff time, and increase their impact, by providing us with an electronic library of over 150 LPM templates.  The LPM team can provide lawyers with exactly the information they need to increase efficiency, exactly when they need it.  For example, if a particular lawyer was having trouble writing a letter of engagement, LPM staff could email that lawyer a copy of the tool entitled “15 questions to ask clients to help define scope.” Or if another lawyer needed to delegate more effectively, he or she could be sent a template entitled “The delegation checklist.”  New tools and templates are added to the electronic library twice a year so that lawyers can easily keep up with developments in this rapidly changing field.

In terms of our Client Advantage™ program, one way we will “stay a step ahead of trends,” is by offering these templates to key clients, at no charge.  Law departments that want to improve their own use of LPM can benefit greatly from these tools.

This type of support and knowledge sharing has long been a key component of the Client Advantage™ program.  For example, when one large client was interested in improving their document management systems recently, we provided access to Perkins Coie employees who had been involved in installing our own document management systems.  They passed along all the valuable lessons they had learned in this process.  And again, there was no charge for this service.

LegalBizDev:  This sounds like the holy grail of law firm marketing, a truly unique selling proposition.

Brown:  I agree.  Business development professionals frequently talk about the need for “marketing differentiators” to set their firms apart.  But the classic problem in legal marketing is that there are too many good lawyers in the world.  And in too many cases, the only “unique selling proposition” the marketing department can come up with can be reduced to “our lawyers are better than your lawyers.”  In contrast, the Client Advantage™ program provides concrete deliverables that few if any of our competitors are offering.

LegalBizDev:  When I first read about your program, one of the things that struck me was that the team members listed on your web page range across a number of different departments that we don’t normally see working together with clients.

Brown:  That’s right.  Some of our members are obvious, from such departments as LPM,  pricing, business development and marketing.  But the team also includes members from other departments that are less obvious, including knowledge management, IT, training and development, billing and finance, diversity, pro bono, and recruiting.  Because of the importance of this program, our COO Steve Hedberg is also a key member of this group. 

LegalBizDev:  That’s quite a diverse group.  Could you give me an example of how it might work with one of the “less obvious” departments?

Brown:  One of the first things people often notice about our list is the inclusion of recruitment.  At most firms, laterals are recruited opportunistically, whenever rainmakers from other firms become available.  However, their success varies, in part because they may or may not focus in the areas that our current and future clients care most about.

Our Client Advantage™ group has helped tighten the process of talent acquisition so that it has focused on recruiting lawyers’ whose expertise will be most helpful to our clients, and whose books of business fit best with the firm’s strategic plan.  This has paid off in a big way.  In the last few years, we have substantially increased the revenue from lateral acquisitions.

LegalBizDev:  Could you tell me a little about how your LPM group is organized and what it focuses on?

Brown:  Our team is led by LPM Director Janelle Belling. We currently have four people exclusively devoted to LPM, are in the process of hiring two more, and often get help from pricing, finance and other groups.  Most of the work they perform is at the client level, managing large portfolios of work.  As time permits, the LPM team also provides assistance in two other areas:  at the matter level, and coaching to groups or individuals.

Detailed examples of tasks at the client level, matter level, and coaching will appear in Part 2 of this post.

May 01, 2019

LPM steps in the lifecycle of a legal project (Part 3 of 3)

By Fred Kinch, Gary Richards, Jim Hassett, and Tim Batdorf

In this the final part of our three-part blog series, we summarize the most important LPM issues to consider when planning a new matter. Unless your firm has established formal LPM guidelines, feel free to decide which sections to focus on for each matter and which can be ignored.

  • Monitor at appropriate intervals:
    • Work performed versus matter plan and budget:
      • How much has been budgeted to complete each milestone in the project?
      • How much was actually spent to date?
      • 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 totals?
      • Does the client have any concerns about the quality of the work?
      • How should you monitor the quality of work performed by other team members?
      • How should you track changes to the work required and their implications for schedule and budget?
    • Status, through routine team meetings
    • Risk plan and mitigation activity
    • Communication plans both with the team and the client
  • Separately track the cost of any work that is beyond the scope of the original agreement:
    • Junior team members should get senior approval before performing out of scope work
    • Should the client be informed BEFORE the work is done?
    • Follow clear criteria for when you go to the client to discuss negotiating the change of scope and when to simply go ahead and do the work at no cost to the client (consider it a marketing expense)
    • Keep track of the costs of “beyond scope” work, perhaps with a separate task code
  • Immediately upon recognizing the need for unplanned work which will be negotiated:
    • Do a task level matter plan for the new work
    • Get client approval for the scope change before performing the additional work:
      • What criteria should you use to decide when a change in requirements should lead to a client negotiation for additional funding?
      • Negotiate changes in scope as required
  • Close the matter:
    • Execute the end of matter checklist
    • Compare actual cost and schedule versus planned cost and schedule
    • Conduct a lessons learned team meeting
    • Conduct a lessons learned client meeting

Reproduced with permission from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, Fifth Edition (© LegalBizDev, 2019).

April 17, 2019

LPM steps in the lifecycle of a legal project (Part 2 of 3)

By Fred Kinch, Gary Richards, Jim Hassett, and Tim Batdorf

In this the second of our three-part blog series, we summarize the most important LPM issues to consider when planning a new matter. Unless your firm has established formal LPM guidelines, feel free to decide which sections to focus on for each matter and which can be ignored.

  • Assemble the team and assign tasks with estimated hours and due dates for each:
    • Who will be responsible for each task or group of tasks?
    • Determine which tasks should be delegated down and which should be “delegated up” to maximize cost effectiveness
    • How long do they think the tasks will take?
    • What help or support will they need to finish on time, within budget?
  • Develop a communication plan for the client:
    • Who is responsible for communicating with the client decision maker?
    • What does the decision maker care most about?
    • Routinely manage expectations
    • Does the decision maker prefer formal reports, informal email, regular phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or another type of communication?
    • Who else within the client’s company should receive routine and non-routine communications? Who is responsible for communicating with them?
    • Should brief standard reports be submitted periodically as a routine or are status meetings more appropriate?
  • Develop a communication plan for the internal team:
    • Make sure that the team is aware of the scope of the project, expected hours required, and how they will be tracked
    • Decide on the most cost-effective way to keep everyone on the team informed as the matter proceeds
  • Develop a risk analysis with the team and possibly with the client:
    • 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 you plan for in advance?
    • How can you mitigate major risks (serious and likely to happen) or avoid them altogether?

Reproduced with permission from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, Fifth Edition (© LegalBizDev, 2019).

April 03, 2019

LPM steps in the lifecycle of a legal project (Part 1 of 3)

By Fred Kinch, Gary Richards, Jim Hassett, and Tim Batdorf

In this three-part blog series, we summarize the most important LPM issues to consider when planning a new matter. Unless your firm has established formal LPM guidelines, feel free to decide which sections to focus on for each matter and which can be ignored. Note that while some of these may at first sound like more work, they quickly add value to the client. They represent a win-win given that the lawyer can bill most or all of these activities, but at the end of the day the client will pay less because of the increased efficiency.

  • Talk to the client to determine objectives for the matter:
    • What problem does the client want to solve?
    • 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?
  • Draft statement of matter objectives and a clear statement of work (scope) and share with client, along with exclusions and assumptions:
    • Avoid listing so many assumptions that the client will consider working with another firm that is easier to do business with
    • Matter objectives should be stated as results/outcomes desired, not steps to be taken to reach the objectives
    • Was the SMART model (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed) used for the statement of matter objectives?
  • Develop a matter plan and budget. The level of detail required will depend on the size of the matter and your relationship with the client. Remember that what you consider a rough estimate may be treated as a fixed price by some clients, and act accordingly.
    • For large or important matters, check your matter plan and budget with key team members
    • Should large matters and phases be subdivided into smaller discrete tasks and subtasks?
    • Which tasks are on the critical path? That is, which tasks must be completed before others can start and which must be completed on time to avoid delay of the overall schedule?
    • What deadlines will best align the client’s needs with the firm’s interests?
    • Estimate the hours needed for each task and prepare the budget, preferably with the input of the individual who will do the work
    • Establish and confirm the method that will be used to obtain actual cost information routinely and periodically during the matter
    • Establish milestones and other appropriate methods of measuring matter progress
    • Review any special fee arrangements with firm management
  • Review the following as needed and get the client to sign off before beginning work to gain agreement/alignment:
    • Matter objectives
    • Client expectations
    • Scope
    • Deliverables
    • Schedule
    • Fees
    • Exclusions and assumptions
    • Change order process
    • Engagement letter (with SOW attachment, if appropriate)

Reproduced with permission from the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, Fifth Edition (© LegalBizDev, 2019).

March 20, 2019

Lessons Learned Reviews: A Key to LPM Implementation (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett, Gary Richards, and Tim Batdorf

The following list of questions was inspired by the ACES (Alliance Counsel Engagement System) Report Card, a system Jeff Carr developed when he was General Counsel at FMC Technologies. ACES was used to calculate performance fees awarded to outside counsel, based on their grades on six key factors:

  • Understands goals
  • Expertise
  • Efficiency
  • Responsiveness
  • Predictive accuracy
  • Effectiveness

If you plan a longer review, some or all of these questions could be adapted to your situation:  

  • Would you ask us again to do this kind of work?
  • How likely is it that you would recommend that a colleague hire us?
  • How well did we understand and meet your legal objectives?
  • How well did we understand your business strategy and help you meet business objectives?
  • Did we provide practical real-world advice and solutions?
  • How would you describe our substantive legal knowledge and expertise?
  • Did we use the best team to meet your needs?
  • Were all deadlines met?
  • Did we handle changes in your needs promptly and effectively?
  • Were team members available when you needed them?
  • Did we proactively take the lead when needed?
  • How well did we communicate?
  • Did we do a good job of explaining risks?
  • Did we keep you informed and avoid surprises?
  • Did we manage fees and expenses well?
  • Were our original budgets and estimates as accurate as possible?
  • Was the total project cost fair and appropriate?
  • How could we do a better job of delivering value?
  • Did our work meet or exceed your expectations?
  • How would you rate our overall performance?

Internal Review Meetings

In addition to your lessons learned discussion with clients, it can also be helpful to have a meeting with your internal team to increase team efficiency and morale. For firms that have a formal knowledge management system in place, meetings like this can be especially helpful in capturing insights and experiences that can be of great value to the firm in the future. Obviously, some of the questions you ask in an internal meeting will be different from those you would ask a client. In the book, Implementing Value Pricing (p. 317), Ron Baker provides a long list of questions for such meetings, including:  

  • What could we do better next time?
  • Did we add value for this customer?
  • Did we have the right team on this engagement?
  • Did this engagement enhance our relationship with this customer?
  • What other needs does this customer have and are we addressing them?
  • Did we learn any new intellectual capital that we could leverage across other customers?
  • Should we communicate the lessons on this engagement to our colleagues and how?

The last two questions can yield important knowledge management results, including exhibit formats, checklists, briefs, innovative arguments, and more. Also, as noted on the web page, Knowledge Management Online:

Effective knowledge management should dramatically reduce costs. Most individuals, teams and organizations are today continually “reinventing the wheel.” This is often because they simply do not know… what is already known, or they do not know where to access the knowledge. Continually reinventing the wheel is… a costly and inefficient activity.… Knowledge management… should also dramatically increase our speed of response as a direct result of better knowledge access and application.

A Final Thought

Given the potential benefits of a lessons learned discussion at the end of every important matter and at critical junctures in large matters, why would anyone ever skip this step?

Because you are already too busy on the next matter? Because you feel awkward about discussions like this?

In the long run, these are terrible answers. As the legal profession becomes ever more competitive, lawyers who fail to find time to understand what clients want and need today may find themselves with a whole lot of free time tomorrow.

Reprinted with permission from “Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report,” December 2018.

March 06, 2019

Lessons Learned Reviews: A Key to LPM Implementation (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett, Gary Richards, and Tim Batdorf

In our previous post, we suggested two simple questions you could ask clients as part of a lessons learned review.  If your time is limited, and your clients’ time is too, stop there. But if you want to consider two more questions, read on:

Two More Questions You Could Ask

If you have time to probe deeper, you can also add one or both of these optional questions:

  1. Working together, how can we improve the value you receive in the future on matters like this?
  2. On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with our firm?

The third question is optional and focuses on the issue which is most likely to lead to new business: how to increase perceived value. This is a slight rephrasing of a key question suggested in the Association of Corporate Counsel’s “Value Challenge Briefing Package.” Note the phrase “working together,” which stresses the need to align interests and collaborate more closely.

The fourth question is also optional. There are many ways to phrase effective questions about client satisfaction, but the best way is to ask for a numerical rating, because it forces clarity and frankness.

We ask our own clients this question, and to be honest, many shy away from giving a number. The client is always right, so if they don’t want to be pinned down with a number, we go with the flow. The important thing is to begin a genuine conversation about satisfaction, and to encourage clients to talk about the things you really need to hear, rather than more comfortable vague praise.

If clients do give you a number, there’s a good chance it will be lower than you expected. The reason is that most people overrate themselves. Psychologists call this the “Lake Wobegon effect,” named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional community in which “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

The best place to see this effect in the legal community is in a series of surveys published in Inside Counsel magazine (July 2008; archived on LexisNexis) comparing ratings of satisfaction from clients and the law firms who serve them. In one such survey, 43 percent of lawyers thought they were earning an A for their work, but only 17 percent of their clients agreed. So, if you think you deserve an A, you’re probably wrong.

Another way to get at this fundamental issue is to ask, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?”

In his business bestseller, The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld argues that companies should focus more attention on loyalty by measuring the response to this one simple question. Reichheld and his colleagues at Bain have published several books and many studies which demonstrate that companies with high customer loyalty rates grow revenues twice as fast as their competitors. They have also shown that companies can increase profits by 25% to 100% simply by increasing customer retention by 5%.

Clients who rate the likelihood at 9 or 10 out of 10 are called “promoters” and are responsible for generating sustainable growth. You might think 7 or 8 on this 10-point scale would also be pretty good, but Reichheld has found that these people are motivated more by inertia than by enthusiasm. He calls this middle group “passives” and notes that they will often jump to another company at the first sign of a better deal.

The most serious business risk comes from “detractors,” people who rate the likelihood of referrals at 0 to 6 on that 10-point scale. From a strict financial view, many of these detractors may be profitable in the short term, but Reichheld notes that, “Customers who feel ignored or mistreated find ways to get even. They drive up service costs by reporting numerous problems. They demoralize frontline employees with their complaints and demands” (p. 6).

Eighty percent of negative comments come from this detractor group, and in this age of email and internet ratings, a single complaint can reach hundreds of potential clients in the time it takes to hit the send button. In short, detractors “suck the life out of a firm.” (p. 30)

Reprinted with permission from “Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report,” December 2018.

 

February 20, 2019

Lessons Learned Reviews: A Key to LPM Implementation (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett, Gary Richards, and Tim Batdorf

It is widely agreed that many clients are demanding greater value these days through the application of legal project management (LPM). There is, however, still controversy about the best way to apply LPM. When we interviewed managing partners and senior executives at 50 AmLaw 200 firms for the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, they ranked client communications as one of the most important elements of LPM. (The only factor that was considered more important was “defining scope.”)

One of the best ways to assure effective communication is to hold a meeting at the end of every significant matter to review what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done better the next time. In large matters, lawyers may also conduct these “lessons learned” reviews after completing each significant milestone or phase.

These discussions are a learning opportunity and a marketing opportunity. Such a discussion can enhance your relationship, help you learn more about what an existing client values most, and enable you to provide more value. If a large matter is at a pivotal point, a mid-course review and redirection could be the difference between success and failure. Could you possibly think of a better way to develop new business?

The lessons learned review could be long or short. You could hold a formal group meeting and send the questions in advance, or you could simply ask your client some of the questions below. If you think of this as marketing, it will be obvious that it is better to have the discussion in person, maybe even over lunch. The phone can be a good second choice, but email is a distant third. You want to get people to open up and speak freely, and that is unlikely to happen via email.

The length and formality of the process should depend on the size and significance of the matter, your relationship with the client, and on how much work they are likely to have for you in the future. This article lists a number of different questions you might ask. In many cases, the first two will be enough.

The Two Most Important Questions

Unless there is a major open issue requiring an immediate joint review, or a client requests a lengthy discussion, we recommend that you assume that clients have little time to spare. This may mean limiting the debrief to two simple questions:

  1. What did you like about the way we handled this matter?
  2. What could we do better?

The first question is a classic “easy to answer” opening. Ask this one first, because it will get people talking freely.

The second question is the one you really care about, since you are likely to learn far more from criticism than from praise. No matter how much clients like your work, they can always like it more. Also, in today’s highly competitive environment, it is in your interest to turn every client into a raving fan.

If the second question opens the door to a laundry list of complaints, do not get defensive. Do not argue, disagree or explain your position. In fact, at most lessons learned meetings you should say very little and listen more than 90 percent of the time. Keep probing for more information. These meetings are designed not to understand reality, but rather to understand the client’s perception of reality. Because when it comes to client satisfaction and new business, perception is everything.

When clients raise problems, you need to reassure them that things will be better in the future. In most cases, however, you should not get into the details at the initial discussion. You need time to think about the best way to solve the problem, and to assure client satisfaction. So be prepared to say something like, “That is an important issue. Let me talk to a few people about the best way of preventing that from happening again, and then I will get back to you.”

Of course, if you do promise to get back to your client with a solution, you must put a high priority on completing follow-up as soon as possible.

Reprinted with permission from “Of Counsel, The Legal Practice and Management Report,” December 2018.