11 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

August 07, 2019

How to deal with difficult clients and situations (Part 1 of 2)

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

When clients are extremely demanding and/or require substantial write-offs, lawyers face difficult choices, especially in the current competitive marketplace. In many cases, lawyers choose the unhealthy option of simply suffering and complaining. This section outlines three healthier alternatives:

  1. Change the Situation
  2. Accept the Situation
  3. Leave the Situation

Obviously, all three of these choices involve financial risks which could negatively impact not only the individual lawyer, but also 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 1: Change the Situation

If the situation is simply not acceptable, then the best first step could be to try to change it. The simplest and least controversial approaches are the ones that are strictly internal and do not require discussion with the client, such as applying legal project management to increase efficiency and client satisfaction, or brainstorming with others in your firm regarding steps you or your practice group could take.

If changing the situation requires negotiating with the client to change what they are doing, it is important to recognize that the simple act of talking to a client about how to improve things is not free of risk in the current marketplace, where competing firms are aggressively seeking new clients. Therefore, the way you pursue this option, or even whether you pursue it, depends on your relationship with the client and the business objectives of the firm. There are times when a large client with significant write-offs is far preferable to no client at all.

If you decide to pursue change with the client, you could consider calling in your firm’s managing partner or a practice group leader so that he or she can appeal directly to the client.  Obviously, however, that step must be taken very cautiously if at all, since escalating the problem could backfire.

If you wish to handle this yourself, you could begin from the script below. Even if the client does not agree to help, it will provide you with new information regarding how they value the relationship and your best next steps.

Create a script from this outline:
  • I need your help re: [state the topic]…
  • When [the recent, undesirable event (STATE SPECIFICS)] occurs…
  • The result is [SPECIFICALLY state the undesirable results]
  • And my concern about that is [state your negative situation, feelings, predicament, etc.]…
  • Can you commit to [SPECIFICALLY state the different, better actions you want the listener to take]…?
  • Thanks for agreeing to help me in this way…
  • I look forward to our next deal…
Sample script:

Note: the narrator in this scenario is an outside lawyer in a discussion with her bank client, “Bill,” regarding problems with borrowers applying for loans:

Bill, I need your help to avoid so many fee write-offs with your borrowers. I truly appreciate your business and want to continue working with you, but when a borrower like Anycorp, Inc. agrees upfront to reimburse our [standard/reasonable/ customary] fees and yet ends up requiring a substantial write-off, the result is that I find myself in a difficult position when our work is done. In the last year we had to write off over $50,000:

Blog_Table_AvoidDifficultClients
My concern about that is that I feel like no matter how well I keep you posted, and how good a job I do, I am often not paid in full. That puts me under pressure from my partners, who don’t expect me to work for free.

Can you commit to showing your borrowers my detailed budgets and work assumptions and get them to sign off on each material change in scope before I resume work, a procedure they can agree to in the term sheet?

Thanks, Bill. I really appreciate your strengthening these steps to help manage your borrower’s fee expectations so we can avoid ill will to your bank and protect my efforts. I really look forward to our next deal, when we can begin this new approach for our mutual benefit.

Of course, if Bill does not agree to this or some other mutually satisfactory solution, then you must reevaluate the relationship and whether it is worth the frustration and lost income. For instance, the bank may complain about your work or just show indifference to anything but low fees keeping their borrower happy. In any case, a business decision will be needed.

In Part 2 we will discuss options 2 and 3 (Accept the Situation and Leave the Situation).

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.

July 24, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

In this final part of our series, we discuss rules #7 through #10 and conclude the discussion of Paul Dinsmore’s “Ten Rules of Team Building” from the AMA Handbook of Project Management (p. 411).

Rule #7: Get the team in shape

Effective leaders do not do all the work; they delegate. They don’t micromanage, and they don’t try to do it all themselves or have others perform tasks exactly as they would.

They apply active listening and communicate regularly with team members. They also focus on unifying the team to work towards shared goals, and they don’t allow egos to get in the way of teamwork. This means learning to deal with conflict more effectively, whether it is between two members or between the leader and someone else. It all comes back to listening.

In some cases, it may be useful to formally coach junior team members at the outset. Ask them where they feel they need training. Compare the skills your team has with the skills they need to become more efficient.

If the learning curve looks steep and the team is working on large matters, you might even consider formal training programs. In large firms, the professional development department can provide quick guidance on what is available and what has worked for other lawyers in the past.

Rule #8: Motivate the players

Rule #1 was to identify what drives your team: the inherent intellectual challenge of legal matters, the relationships and collaboration, competitiveness, or the simple need to pile up billable hours.

Of course, the answer is likely to be all of the above and more, and in different proportions for different people. On large matters, your job as a leader is to develop a sense of what motivates each key individual and then to incorporate these motivators into your feedback and interactions with team members.

Make sure key team members understand the deliverables in the SOW, and then give them ownership of the process. Let them tell you how to meet your goals, on time and within budget.

Motivating some team members may be as simple as recognizing and praising their accomplishments.

If you expect the best from your team, you are more likely to get it.

Rule #9: Develop plans

Lawyers are good at convincing clients to invest time and money in planning. Clients are told to plan their taxes, plan their estates, and plan the best way to structure their contracts.

But when a new matter begins, many lawyers would rather jump right in than step back and plan their approach. Jumping right in can be a great way to be inefficient, and the traditional billable hour model rewards inefficiency.

However, as one consultant put it, “Being too busy to plan is a lot like running alongside your bicycle because you are too busy to get on.” Now that clients are pressuring legal counsel to become more efficient, there is a new emphasis on developing a plan before beginning a matter.

Planning starts with a solid SOW so that it is clear that the client and the lawyer agree on what is to be done. Then the lawyer in charge can map out the necessary tasks and assign them to different team members, using the Matter planning template in this Guide or other tools.

Better yet, don’t just create a plan by yourself. Get your team so involved in the project and decision making that they say, “This is our plan.”

Rule #10: Control, evaluate, and improve

When many people start managing projects, the biggest mistake they make is to trust their staff too much. “I hired extremely talented people,” they reason, “so they will figure things out.”

Most learn the hard way that effective managers control the work process, evaluate the results, and use the results to improve performance. This can be valuable even if a project is so small that you are working alone. But when you work on projects with large teams, “control, evaluate, and improve” is absolutely vital.

If you want to rely on software for this, our opinion is that the best software solution is the one you already own and know how to use. Whether your team uses Outlook or something else, it’s worth learning about the features that can help you manage your team, including email groups, meeting invitations and scheduling, and creating and tracking team “To Do” lists.

Tracking the budget is especially important these days, and we often hear about how law firm accounting systems are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to support periodic work-in-progress updates. How often do you need these updates? The answer varies from one matter to another. Many firms seem to be headed toward real-time reporting and requiring lawyers to update their time records daily.

Finally, at the end of each important matter, it is vital to conduct some sort of “lessons learned” review. Poll your team members on what they thought worked well and what they thought needed improvement. However, ultimately, there is only one results assessment that counts, and that comes from the client. So you need to make sure that you have an accurate reading from the client as close to the end of the matter as possible.

In the good old days when clients rarely complained about the efficiency of legal teams and hourly rates went up every year, it was not necessary to think about better ways to manage legal teams. Now it is.

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.

July 10, 2019

How to Improve the Management of Legal Teams (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

In this part of our series, we cover rules #3 through #6 of Paul Dinsmore’s “Ten Rules of Team Building" from the AMA Handbook of Project Management (p. 411).

Rule #3: Understand the game

Rule #3 is a hard one for lawyers, because the game is changing and no one is quite sure what the new rules are. In this time of transition, legal team leaders must define the rules of the game for each engagement and make them crystal clear to team members. The rules may vary from one matter to another, even when team membership remains the same. Associates working on a fixed price project must understand that the highest quality must be delivered within a limited number of hours. Where possible, they must also be shown how they will personally benefit from this behavior.

(If your compensation system rewards putting in more hours, and this matter requires putting in fewer hours, you’ve got a problem. In the short-term, management can address this by adjusting hours on matters managed for efficiency. However, longer-term adjustments to the compensation system may be called for, and changing compensation is never easy.)

In any case, efficient management begins with your personal understanding of the goals of each matter and the players involved; this starts with getting the statement of work right. Then you have to think through the implications of the SOW for each member of your team. And it wouldn’t hurt to talk to them about it.

The simple fact is that people work better when they understand the goals of a project.

Rule #4: Evaluate the competition

Evaluating the competition is second nature for litigators. If opposing counsel have a reputation for scorched earth tactics, then litigators will be prepared to react accordingly. But if the other side seems motivated to settle, litigation strategy will be quite different.

But some lawyers who are very good at evaluating the competition are very bad at communicating this knowledge to the rest of the team. Providing legal services efficiently is a team sport, and everyone must be on the same page.

Understanding the competition is also important when a legal team bids for new work. According to the 2019 Law Firms in Transition survey, 93% of lawyers predict price competition will continue to increase in the future. This will lead to some hard decisions about what work is worth bidding on and what work is not. And it all begins with understanding your competition.

Rule #5: Pick your players and adjust your team

In many law firms, assembling a team for a large matter can be an interesting exercise these days, especially if the firm is filled with lawyers who do not have enough billable work to meet their quotas.

In their hearts, lawyers often know which partners and associates are most likely to perform a particular task efficiently, and which ones will take their time. As the pressure to control costs increases, the competition to get efficient people on each team is going up. In the long run, this should lead to larger numbers of more efficient lawyers, but in the short run it can lead to some awkward situations and difficult choices.

In this environment, it has become increasingly important that team leaders pick the best available person for each role, without playing favorites. Trust has also become more critical. Team members must believe that working together efficiently is in their own best interest.

On large teams, it also helps to have a cheerleader or two. They can help counteract the effects of the lawyers who are experts at seeing the glass as half empty and at explaining why every task will take a very long time.

Rule #6: Identify and develop inner group leaders

Great leaders constantly think about training and developing their replacements. Who can cover for you if you’re absent? Who can help you motivate and lead the rest of the team? Who will the client trust?

Share your knowledge and spread it around to raise others up to your level. Remember, your goal is to make yourself obsolete.

As Dinsmore put it in his AMA Handbook of Project Management (Fourth Edition, p. 411), “Delegating, mentoring and coaching must become part of your daily habit.”

We will discuss Dinsmore's rules of team building #7 through #10 and conclude this series in our next blog post.

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.

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.

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.

 

December 08, 2010

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 01, 2010

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remaining board members have chosen to remain anonymous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely yes.

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

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