12 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

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.

 

March 07, 2018

A model for LPM success:  The case of Bilzin Sumberg (Part 1 of 5)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

Executive summary

This series of posts describes the process that Bilzin Sumberg has used to implement LPM over the past few years, and provides examples of the benefits they have achieved in six major areas:

  1. Increased new business and profitability
  2. Meeting client needs for cost reduction
  3. Meeting client needs for predictable budgets
  4. Improved AFAs
  5. Improved definitions of scope
  6. Improved communication

As this series will make clear, Bilzin Sumberg has had many successes in changing the way they practice law to better meet client needs, and their LPM initiative has paid for itself several times over.  But their work is not done.

The final post in the series describes implications for other law firms based on Bilzin Sumberg’s experience with LPM.  Some of the tactics Bilzin Sumberg found to be effective are quite simple to implement.  For example, in the early stages of implementation there was some lawyer resistance to the term “legal project management.”  By changing the terminology, using a less intimidating term like "efficiency" as opposed to “legal project management,” Bilzin Sumberg was able to overcome lawyer pushback and develop broader buy-in. 

Other Bilzin Sumberg strategies required more effort, such as unrelenting support from senior management, bringing in external consultants, and a gradual increase of internal LPM staff. 

Nobody at Bilzin Sumberg – or any other law firm we’ve talked to – has ever said LPM is easy.  But they do say that well-planned LPM investments will pay off for their firm and their clients.  Greater efficiency and predictability is an absolute necessity for law firms wanting to survive and prosper in an increasingly competitive legal marketplace.


Introduction

Lawyers often ask us to name law firms that serve as models for cost-effectively implementing legal project management (LPM).  

Our first public answer to this question appeared in this blog in 2013,  when we wrote “no law firm on the planet has achieved more [LPM] behavior change, more quickly or more efficiently” than Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami-based law firm with more than 100 lawyers.  Now, five years later, this series of posts will explain how the unrelenting support and follow-up by Bilzin Sumberg’s management has enabled it to hold the number one spot, and to achieve substantial benefits both for clients and for the firm.

Some firms are sure to disagree with this assessment, and a few may lay claim to the title for themselves.  It is certainly true that some groups at other firms have made greater progress in particular sub-areas of LPM, such as process improvement, pricing, and knowledge management.  But based on our research and consulting with hundreds of firms, we believe that no other firm has achieved greater LPM progress and experienced greater benefits across the board.  And the reason is simple: Bilzin Sumberg has produced more behavior change amongst its lawyers than any other firm.

Last fall, our CEO Tim Batdorf facilitated a 90-minute panel discussion at Bilzin Sumberg, in which eight of the firm’s leading LPM champions described what they had achieved to date, and what they had planned for the future.  Every lawyer in the firm was invited, and the discussion also provided a brief overview of two new LPM resources that Bilzin Sumberg recently adopted:  the digiral tools and templates in the fifth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, and Prosperoware’s Umbria software to improve budgeting, tracking, and more.

The first speaker was the firm’s managing partner elect Al Dotson, who spoke about the benefits already experienced through the firm's adoption of LPM as well as the expected benefits with future progress. When Dotson held his first LPM meetings with each practice group leader:  

Every practice group said LPM didn’t apply to them. Every practice group said that they were unique. Every practice group said they could not use LPM. Every single one.

In the final section of these posts – “Implications for other firms” – we will explain that this sort of initial resistance is almost universal.  To overcome this resistance, in our experience, the support of key leaders is an absolute prerequisite for success.  

In some cases, we have worked with firms that made significant LPM progress when they were led by a partner who strongly believed in it.  But then the leader left, and the initiative fizzled as new management stressed new priorities.

At Bilzin Sumberg, Dotson, along with managing partner John Sumberg and COO Michelle Weber, have persisted in gently prodding partners to see how LPM could help them, following the five key approaches explained in our white paper “The Keys to LPM Success.” 

  1. Focus on changing behavior and solving problems
  2. Aim for quick wins to create internal champions
  3. Publicize successes within the firm
  4. Use just-in-time training materials
  5. Take action now and follow up relentlessly

Although these approaches are important for success, LPM is not a “one-size-fits-all,” well-defined linear process or a simple set of steps.  It is a mindset which must be constantly reinforced.  And the behaviors that lawyers change as a result of this new mindset evolve over time in response to changes in the legal marketplace.  

As Bilzin Sumberg COO Michelle Weber summed it up: “LPM is not a silver bullet.  It is an ongoing and continual process of gradually modifying behavior, with little moments of clarity.  To create LPM acceptance in a law firm culture, you have to keep reinforcing it.”


LPM Benefits

Increased new business and profitability 

To evaluate any LPM initiative, it makes sense to start by going directly to the bottom line, to see whether LPM has increased new business and/or improved profitability.  

At the panel discussion last fall, Al Dotson, Bilzin Sumberg’s managing partner elect and head of the firm’s Land Development & Government Relations Practice Group, began the discussion by saying:

I have successfully used legal project management to generate business many times.

In a previous LPM panel discussion – held to kick off their firm-wide LPM initiative in 2012 – Dotson described how one of his clients was so impressed by the legal project plan he had produced in his coaching that the client awarded Bilzin Sumberg a significant amount of new work.

This success encouraged other partners to volunteer for coaching, which in turn has led to many other examples of new business which can be directly attributed to LPM.  To cite just one example from the 2017 panel, real estate chair Jim Shindell described how a new client needing a series of condominium construction loans had first heard of Bilzin Sumberg:   

We had just saved another client with that same bank a ton of money with the speed and efficiency in which we were able to do the deal.

The new client then hired Bilzin Sumberg because of their proven efficiency on this same subject matter with the exact same lender.

Proof of new business from LPM is relatively easy to find, but exact figures for how much the LPM initiative has increased realization and profitability is harder to come by.  Like most firms, Bilzin Sumberg does not publicize its exact realization or profitability figures.  But there can be no doubt that many of the changes described in this series have increased both figures.  As COO Michelle Weber summed it up:

As a result of LPM, we have definitely decreased write-offs and reduced the number of times we need to go back to clients to discuss budget changes.

February 21, 2018

How to improve feedback to legal team members (Part 2 of 2)

By Gary Richards

In addition to the five guidelines for effective feedback listed in Part 1 of this series, consider these additional suggestions.

  1. Clearly define the expectation gap. The person receiving your corrective feedback must clearly understand the difference between what you expected and what they did: 
                      Blog_0221_graphic

    Until this gap is obvious to the recipient, the likelihood is slim of their committing to change in the future. The purpose of corrective feedback is to define this gap with them, and to arrange their help and commitment to ‘close this gap’ in the future. Use a specific example to illustrate.

  1. Focus on the future, not the past. Once you have identified the performance gap to a team member and they understand it, move on with “so in the future…” describing how to meet your expectations next time. Focusing on the past can cause the recipient to defend what they did since it can’t be changed. Instead, focus on the future, which they can influence by changing.
  1. Be descriptive, not judgmental and avoid words that may trigger defensiveness, as shown in the table below  
Avoid Words that Trigger Defensiveness
DON'T USE DO USE
  1. “YOU”…

… With a past or present problem.

Example: You assigned the wrong task code to this task…

(Look out for “we” if it really means “You”,

Example: We’ve got to be more careful…”
  1. “I” …to describe the problem/expectation gap:
Example:  I would expect code L140 to be used for this task, not L320 because…   
  1. Judgmental words: late, wrong, professional, cooperative, lazy, disorganized.
Example:  You assigned the wrong code-and we need to be more professional
  1. Describe the situation instead.
Example: When L140 is used for this task instead of L320, the client may get the wrong idea of our work.
  1. Control Words: must, should, ought, policy
Example: You must use the firm’s guidelines and definitions for these codes.
  1. Describe instead...let them put a label on it
Example:  Using the firm’s guidelines and definitions for these codes will help with accuracy until they become available from memory.
  1. “Why”…

…when trying to learn the reason for another’s behavior that you want changed.

Example: Why don’t you use the firm’s guidelines to avoid miscoding?
  1. “How or What”
Example: What makes it hard to select the correct task code? 
  1. Be specific, using a recent specific example of what you want changed: i.e., the outcome now occurring vs the exact outcome you desire instead. In other words, specify the gap with examples.
  1. Listen very carefully during the feedback conversation. Stop and ask for the recipient’s take on what you’re saying. This not only helps you get feedback on how the conversation is going, but it helps make sure it IS a conversation, not a monologue.

To prepare to give corrective feedback, consider using the script below to guide your phrasing:

  1. Say “I need your help regarding task descriptions and task code assignments. I have been reviewing the codes for work done on XYZ case…
  2. “When I see Code L140 Document/file management assigned to this time entry (show the task description assigned in the example) instead of code L320 Document production to that task…” Here you are describing the undesired result clearly, not criticizing the recipient.
  3. “…the problem is that can confuse the client when they review our bills. Keep in mind our definitions in this guide you received during code training…”(Show guide to the recipient, and explain why L320 is the correct code)
  4. “In the future, how about your reviewing these guidelines before assigning codes.” Or “How would you suggest that this coding can be accurate in the future?”
  5. Getting the recipient to interact may help uncover the reasons that they didn’t do what you expected, such as:
    • They think they are doing it
    • There is no negative consequence to them for poor performance
    • They don’t know how to do it
    • They don’t know why they should do it
    • They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do
  6. If a future solution comes from the recipient him/herself, the team member is much less likely to be defensive, and instead is apt to be more constructive and creative in discussing and implementing improvement.
  7. "Thanks for this conversation…I look forward to accurate codes next time.” Inviting the recipient to visualize how this change will look in the future increases the likelihood of correct codes.
  8. “And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question about how a task is to be labeled per our guidelines.” Offering to help shows that you will support their effort to reach a better outcome.

In summary, your objective in giving corrective feedback is to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, to guide someone back on track toward successful performance.

Remember that people need feedback. If someone makes a mistake, it must be corrected or the behavior may continue and irreparable harm could occur.

Knowing how to give corrective feedback effectively can be the difference between having a motivated team and a team that feels misunderstood, unappreciated, and unmotivated.

This information is being adapted for our online LPM tools and templates.

February 07, 2018

How to improve feedback to legal team members (Part 1 of 2)

By Gary Richards


Whenever you manage a legal team – whether it includes partners, associates, paralegals, or others – you may occasionally need to provide feedback on team members’ work. Getting work done successfully by others is a key skill needed for the work to be done completed properly, on time and within budget.

Inevitably, there will be times when competent and dependable team members will not meet your expectations, overlook an issue, or miss a deadline. The best way to respond to this is to provide corrective feedback: information about how behavior is perceived by, and is affecting, others. It is meant to lead to positive change. With it, you call their attention to what you expected versus what they delivered, and ask them to fix it now and improve next time. That way they learn, and you have helped them improve.

But, being human, it may be tempting for you to avoid the potential tension or conflict possible when you point out how another person can improve. You don’t want to seem picky or risk demoralizing another team member, and in some cases your current relationships with the other team members could be a complicating factor, particularly if they are senior to you. And no matter how sincere your intent is to help, it's easy for the recipient to feel personally attacked. This is compounded when you have some power over the recipient. Be sure to convey the message that you appreciate the good work they usually do, and approve of their basic attitude and skills.

When you see a need to correct someone, it is tempting either to:

  • Avoid the confrontation. Instead of saying anything directly to them, it may seem ‘easier’ to:
    • fix it yourself,
    • avoid assigning them to the next case, or
    • try to raise the issue with the full team so as not to seem to be ‘pointing fingers’

--OR--

  • Confront them immediately. After all, they should know better already, and there are quality standards to uphold. If they can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen!

Neither of those approaches is as effective as giving skillful corrective feedback so that they improve results next time and remain motivated, by following these guidelines:

  1. Understand the purpose of feedback: to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, either to: 
    1. Support effective behavior by indicating when things are going in the right direction (praise or acknowledgement)
    2. Correct problem behavior/performance (corrective feedback) to get the recipient back on track toward successful performance
  1. Your corrective feedback will be more effective if you have also in the past given praise and acknowledgement of the recipient’s successes/good work. That way, the recipient trusts the fact that you have noticed their successes as well as their performance gaps.
  1. Own the problem, as in “I need your help…” not as in “You have a problem.They don’t have a problem--they thought it was a good job! Your problem is that your expectations weren’t met. Accordingly, you need their help.
  1. Use a face-to-face conversation to give the feedback, instead of phone or email. Being able to see each other’s body language and facial expressions facilitates understanding, and makes the encounter more personal. When giving one-on-one feedback you must be aware of the possible and actual reactions of the recipient, and to be careful with the setting and your phrasing in order to have it accepted and acted on.
  1. Give the feedback one-to-one in private, not in public or during a team meeting. With third parties involved, mixed messages and a lack of accountability are likely results. Instead, a private conversation protects the recipient from losing face with others present. Conversing in private avoids the recipient feeling “punished in front of others.”

    Keep in mind that corrective feedback given by email is equivalent to ‘public’ criticism since it can be ‘copied/passed around’ to third parties. Email is also generally much less useful than face-to-face feedback, because it lacks the immediacy of being presented directly by the provider, with the opportunity to explain or enlarge on it so that it's clearly understood. Impersonal feedback like email also generally feels much more like a personal attack, and is therefore less likely to be effective.

Additional guidelines will appear in Part 2 of this series.

This information is being adapted for our online LPM tools and templates.

October 18, 2017

A checklist to assess your legal project management needs

By Tim Batdorf

The LPM Self-Assessment Checklist below was designed to help lawyers decide whether they should find time to focus on LPM, and if so, in what areas.

As quickly as possible, check off your general level of concern with each topic.  Use the results to determine which areas to focus on first.  If you rate several items as high, prioritize them by looking for “low hanging fruit:"  areas which could have the greatest immediate impact on your practice while requiring the least time and effort to implement.

The checklist could also be useful to law firm leaders who want to determine which lawyers are interested in LPM assistance, and could benefit the most from our one to one LPM coaching or other programs.

LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

Your Level of Concern

Part 1: Set objectives and define scope

None

Low

Med

High

Your clients and/or your team do not fully understand exactly what is and is not included in a particular engagement

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Engagement letters fail to specify assumptions in hourly cost estimates or AFAs

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Your clients are unclear about exactly what they want and need

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Clients sometimes question the work that was done and what they are willing to pay for

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Client decision makers disagree on the goals of a matter

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Part 2: Identify and schedule activities

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team overlook tasks

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Your process for routine matters could be more efficient or simplified

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You do not use checklists regularly, effectively, or at all

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Last minute time crunches or missed deadlines sometimes occur

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Part 3: Assign tasks and manage the team

None

Low

Med

High

You are overwhelmed with too much work

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Team meetings are inefficient or ineffective

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Client demands for lower cost often lead to reduced profitability, which might be avoided with more effective delegation

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Delegated tasks come back late or the work comes back differently than you expected

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You lose too much time to e-mails, phone calls, or other interruptions

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Part 4: Plan and manage the budget

None

Low

Med

High

You often begin matters without having a clear idea of the likely total cost

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Legal fees frequently exceed your budget estimates at the start of a matter

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Your realization rate is too low and/or you have too many write-offs

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You have a difficult time meeting AFA requirements and capped fees while remaining profitable

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Part 5: Assess risks to budget and schedule

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team are unaware of the risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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You and/or your team could improve the way you minimize risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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Part 6: Manage quality

None

Low

Med

High

Perfectionism drives up fees with minimal quality improvement and/or little to no significant benefit as perceived by the client

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You and/or your team do not have quality control measures in  place to maintain the same level of quality while becoming more efficient

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Part 7: Manage client communications and expectations

None

Low

Med

High

You fail to keep your clients regularly informed about progress

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You do not know what type of updates (e.g., phone or email, weekly or monthly) each client prefers

Your team lacks a clear understanding of responsibilities and a clear plan for communicating within the team

Your team lacks a clear understanding of who should communicate directly with clients, and who should not

You and/or your team sometimes engage in miscommunication with each other and/or with the client

You do not routinely hold “lessons learned” reviews with your team and with clients

You could improve the way you handle difficult clients and situations

Part 8: Negotiate changes of scope

None

Low

Med

High

You do not effectively negotiate changes in scope with clients

You do not spot “red flags” immediately and make needed adjustments

You do not communicate changes in scope to clients

You do not have systems in place to track work that is beyond scope

You do not have a formal process for dealing with changes in scope

Your team does not know when there is a change in scope

Your team does not immediately inform you about changes in scope

€

€

€

€


Download a pdf of this LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

This post was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

September 20, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

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

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

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

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

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

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

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

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

5.  Project management knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

 

 

 

September 06, 2017

How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 23, 2017

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

Part 1 of this series included about a dozen questions to get clients talking.  This post contains over 50 additional questions which could help you probe into the details of client needs.  We start with the following:

  • What do you like about working with our firm?
  • What could we do better?
  • What could we do to make your life easier?
  • Can you think of any other ways we could help clients like you, or any new services we could offer?
  • Could we better use technology to be of service to you?
  • What type of status reporting do you like? Weekly? Monthly? Email or phone?
  • Would you recommend our firm to others? Why or why not?
  • If you managed a firm like ours, what would you do differently?
  • How would you rate the quality of our legal product?
  • How well do we listen to your concerns?
  • How well do we understand your goals?
  • How well do we understand your industry?
  • Do we do a good job keeping you informed?
  • Do we explain legal issues in terms that are easy for decision makers to understand?
  • Do you perceive us as genuinely committed to your business success?
  • Do you perceive our lawyers as prompt, responsive, and accessible on short notice?
  • Are our billing statements accurate and complete?
  • Do our invoices include an appropriate level of detail?
  • Do you think our fees are fair and reasonable?
  • In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with other law firms, and with ours?
  • What have you liked least about working with law firms?
  • When you select outside counsel, what factors are most important to you?
  • When you rate lawyers’ performance, what factors are most important to you?
  • How do you decide when to do work in-house, and when to use outside counsel?
  • What future trends in your business or industry will affect your need for legal services?
  • What are your biggest legal concerns?
  • How would you describe your overall impression of our firm?
  • What mistakes can be made when lawyers don’t understand your business and/or industry?

Note: While most of these questions address your service, they could easily be reworded to ask how clients perceive other law firms they work with. That can be an excellent way to get insights into where competitors are vulnerable.

With some clients, it may be better to start with big picture business questions, such as:

  • What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Where do you see your industry going in the next few years?
  • What does your ideal customer look like?
  • What works best in finding new customers?
  • Who are your biggest customers?
  • What is it like to work for your company?
  • Who are the key people you work with?

Whatever specific topics you choose to explore, it is important to “master the art of the easily answered question,” as explained in Kevin Daley’s Socratic Selling.The book describes how to become an active listener by using simple prompts like these:

  • Tell me more about ____.
  • Would you elaborate on ____?
  • Give me an example of ____.
  • What else should I know about ____?
  • How does ____ fit the picture?
  • Talk to me about your experience with _____.
  • How do you handle _____?
  • What makes this urgent?
  • Why is this important right now?
  • What bothers you most?
  • How tough a position does this put you in?
  • How does this affect you?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • How does that sound?
  • Do I have it right?
  • If you were to go ahead with ____, when would you ____?
  • What else should I ask about?

To be honest, the first time I saw this list I thought it looked a little dumb.  By nature, I did not want to ask clients “tell me more,” or “do I have it right?”  I usually quickly thought I had heard enough, and of course I thought I had it right.  So I wanted to get right to the point and tell clients what I thought they should do. 

Many lawyers seem to feel the same way.  They’d like to get to the point faster by dominating the conversation. Probes like the ones above do not come naturally to many lawyers because they like to control the conversation. But guess what.  Clients do too.

Simple questions like the ones above can help clients think through a situation while assuring that they talk 80% or more of the time. 

Professional salespeople have an old saying that “Whoever talks the most will enjoy the meeting the most.” That’s one reason lawyers so often leave business development meetings thinking the meeting was very successful; they did most of the talking.   But then they don’t get the business.

If you want to improve relationships and increase new business, you want the client to be the one who enjoys the meeting more.

If you would like to create more specific questions to fit your client’s precise interests, one place to start is with Paul Lippe’s influential article, “Welcome to the Future: Embracing the New Normal.” Then use your background knowledge of the client to create specific questions about some of the trends Lippe lists: alternate staffing, predictable pricing, defined quality, client intimacy, technology, and process innovation. 

And if you want general tips on becoming a better listener, there are countless websites and books that can help.  You could even join the International Listening Association, which has members in 19 countries who “promote the study of listening… and pursue research into the ways in which listening can develop understanding in our personal, political, social and working lives.”

Or you could just start with these five steps:

  1. Establish genuine interest by asking questions that you care about.
  2. Take notes. Writing down what people say shows that what they say is important, and that you are paying attention. Just put the pen down if the talk turns confidential.
  3. Respond to the speaker’s nonverbal cues and monitor your own, including eye contact, smiling, and frowning.
  4. Keep people talking. Paraphrase, summarize, and restate what you hear. When you agree with people, they will think that you are smart. Especially if you don’t interrupt them or argue.
  5. Come prepared with good questions.

If listening does not come naturally to you, practice.  Make a commitment for your next meeting to talk no more than 20% of the time, or some other percentage. (The actual percentage will depend on the client’s needs.  There are meetings when you should talk 50% or more of the time, if the client wants to interview you about your knowledge.  The client is always right.)  Then, after the meeting, compare the percent of time you planned to listen with what actually occurred. Track the results over time, using a simple format like this:

TrackingListening_Template

Obviously, the “actual” percent will be a very rough approximation. But the National Science Foundation is not going to review these results, so an estimate is fine. The important things are to track your behavior and to improve over time.

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

August 09, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could start with these very direct questions:

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

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

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

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

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

This series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

December 08, 2010

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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