25 posts categorized "Tips for Lawyers"

May 20, 2020

Five Ways to Increase Engagement of Virtual Teams (Part 1 of 3)

Note:  This blog series is based on one of our new “Work from Home Series” of LPM tools and templates.

In a survey of nearly 400 project management professionals from a variety of industries, Dr. Penny Pullan asked participants to identify the greatest challenges they faced when working remotely. Far and away, the single greatest challenge was “engaging remote participants” (76%).  When asked what actions would help virtual team members be more engaged and productive, survey respondents often gave the following answers:

  1. Regular, clear communications, without lengthy gaps in between;
  2. Clear roles and responsibilities;
  3. Improve virtual team meetings;
  4. An open team culture; and
  5. Shared vision, outcomes, and a sense of purpose.

CommunicationPlan_May 2020The rest of this article offers practical tips to address each of the recom­mended action steps identified above.  It draws on material from our extensive online library of LPM tools and templates.

Action Step 1:  Regular, clear communications, without lengthy gaps in between

Using a Communication Plan is critical when team members are working remotely to ensure regular, clear communications.  The Communication Plan shown at right, taken from our online library, identifies who on the team is engaging in the communication, and with whom they are communicating.  It also describes the information that is being communicated, and when and how that communication is to be delivered.

 

 

Matter Plan_May 2020 Action Step 2:  Clear roles and responsibilities

Using a Matter Plan is a simple way to determine who is responsible for which tasks and the deadline for each task.  The precise format of a Matter Plan varies depending on the needs and preferences of the users.  The Matter Plan shown at left is excerpted from our online LPM library.  Additional columns could be added to include each timekeeper’s hourly rates, estimate fees for each task, and estimate total fees. 

Many project managers find it useful to visualize project schedules in the form of Gantt charts, which are bar graphs that show the start and finish dates for each task of a project.  A Gantt chart for the example shown at left would look like this:

Gantt Chart_May 2020Note: This image was taken from our LPM tool “About Gantt charts.”  Many free programs can be found on the internet to generate charts like this. This sample was created with free software at www.tomsplanner.com. However, for legal projects it may be simpler to create a chart in Word or Excel or even on a handwritten document

A Gantt chart can be quite useful to team members, since it shows tasks and deadlines in a form that clarifies what must happen first, and when certain tasks might conflict with one another.

In Part 2 of this blog series, we will present valuable tips on how to increase engagement by improving virtual team meetings.

May 06, 2020

Case Study: The benefits of practice innovation (Part 2 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

This post completes our interview with Paul SaundersStewart McKelvey's Practice Innovation Partner.

Q: In Part 1 of our discussion, we talked about your position at the firm and some typical LPM success stories. You probably know that in the most recent (2019) Law Firms in Transition survey (p. 22), Altman Weil found that the single most effective tactic for improving firm performance was “rewarding efficiency and profitability in compensation.”  So, in this next part of our discussion, I’d really like to focus on your firm’s new compensation system.  Changing compensation can be extraordinarily controversial, so I’d like to start by hearing about how you laid the groundwork.

A:  We actually started several years ago by creating a new committee that included members of our compensation committee, our partnership board, and other influential partners.  We made sure that we got a really good cross-section of different levels of seniority in our partnership.

That group then hired a compensation consultant who analyzed our financial data and interviewed over half of our partnership. They then brought all that information back to the committee to inform our strategy. 

At our partner retreat three years ago, we shared the results of the research interviews. The year after that we shared our new profitability model and financial dashboards.  At the most recent retreat, we launched new guidelines to align compensation with profitability.

Of course, there were some folks who pushed back and said, “Why rock the boat and create all this disruption and inevitable resistance for a system that's working great?”  The answer was simple: Just because we’ve been successful in the past doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be successful in the future. It is better to align compensation with the behaviors we need for long-term success before we are forced to.

So, right from the start we discussed possible changes with compensation.  We heard what they had to say, and factored that into the development of our new system.  Since then, we’ve continued to provide them with information, so none of this is coming as a surprise to anyone.

Q:  What advice would you have for other firms that want to change compensation to reward efficiency?

A:  Plan for enough time to build consensus, and start with a widely-shared model for measuring profitability. Learn the basics of change management. Anticipate resistance. Engage partners in the process. Don’t make them feel like the change is being forced on them but rather that they are part of the change.

Q:  How does Stewart McKelvey define profitability?

A:  Profitability is a very difficult concept to wrap one’s head around in a law firm. The issues largely revolve around the idea that partners are both workers and owners. Is partner income a cost or profit?  Any profitability model must answer that question somewhere in the middle if it’s going to make sense.

The precise details of our approach are proprietary, but the model effectively answers the question “What is your break-even point?” for every timekeeper. 

For example, suppose I look at a particular client or matter and see that we're having problems with a fixed price deal based on significantly discounted hourly rates.  One possibility is that partners with high hourly rates are putting in more hours than necessary.  If junior partners, senior associates or paralegals might be just as capable of doing that work at a much lower price point, that would indicate that more effective delegation is required. But we don't want to be obsessive about using this one metric in every situation, because all the metrics have flaws. We think of our profitability model as a framework that helps drive better decisions, but it isn’t the only consideration.

If you look at the compensation submissions that partners have prepared and the feedback they provide on other partners, as well as financials, you can get a pretty good picture of how effective somebody is at client matter management and project management. It's not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

Q:  Can partners keep track of their personal profitability in real time?

A:  Yes, we’ve just launched a new automated compensation app along with a highly flexible financial dashboard system that we developed in-house that is uniquely customized to our needs.  Each partner can log into at any time and within a few clicks have instant access to eye opening trends and patterns that can lead to better decisions.  I had several IT developers working with me, and this will be the conduit for managing LPM activity, smart goals, and all relevant metrics.

Initially, partners build a practice plan in the app that tracks all matters a partner is involved in.  This goes beyond matters where you are the billing lawyer or the responsible lawyer.  It also includes matters that you’ve referred to colleagues or matters where you helped develop the business in some other way. Our compensation committee can also view your practice plan at any time with a click of a button on our home page.

In the past, compensation was based on dozens of different data points and written submissions.  This made it difficult for a partner to track their contributions in practice, and difficult for the compensation committee to assess their performance at the end of the year. Now it's all packaged up into a single application.

I'll also be able to work with partners in developing their plans and then check in with them throughout the year to see how they're doing. If our goal is to improve realization, revenue, or profit for a particular client, I'll be able to track in real time how they're doing with a couple of clicks.

Q:  Do you think this new app will change the way lawyers behave?

A:  Yes, I do.  I think too often what happened in the past was lawyers were just so busy doing the work and sending their bills out and writing off fees, that they didn’t understand the impact it had on the firm. And it's been an eye-opener to have these dashboards now that can be used to instantly diagnose a problem.  It is built around very compelling visuals showing downward and upward lines. 

I think a big part of becoming more profitable is not just about my team working directly with lawyers in LPM, although that definitely helps.  But, it’s also about building an increasing awareness of the impact of a reduction in fees.  In the past, lawyers too often thought, “What if I offer a 5% discount on a $100,000 matter?  It's just $5,000 off the total, so no big deal. The client gets a little value-add and a little reduced cost.”

But that $5,000 might eliminate half the profit on a particular matter. If partners don't understand the economics behind it, they’re probably going to make less than ideal decisions. And so, I think increasing the awareness of profitability metrics through this app will make a real difference.  We're talking about percentage increases in firm-wide realization as a result of these initiatives.

Q:  What do you have planned to further accelerate your LPM initiatives?

A:  This year we plan to follow the process recommended in one of the templates in the online fifth edition of your LPM Quick Reference Guide.  We’re going to organize a panel discussion of lawyers that have already experienced the benefits of LPM first-hand. We are targeting specific Client Service Team Leaders with large clients and asking them to sign up for our LPM coaching program.   Then we’ll get these people to champion the program and speak about the benefits that they've seen. And we're hoping that will drive even more usage of the app as we move into year two of this new compensation system.

Q:  So, between the new app and the new compensation system, your firm has created a huge incentive for lawyers to talk to you and your team and ask for LPM assistance.

A:  Yes, that's absolutely right.   We will be providing more coaching and rigor around LPM best practices.  This will be a critical part of effective matter management. And now lawyers will be compensated for changing their behavior, so the firm can continue to meet client demands in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Q:  Are you currently seeing an increase in lawyers coming to you and looking for LPM advice?

A:  There’s no question about it. We’ve seen an increase because everyone knew these changes were coming.

Q:  Are you confident that the combination of LPM training, tracking profitability in the app, and changing your firm’s compensation system will boost profitability for the firm?

A:  Totally confident. Just the idea that we have successfully been able to realign our compensation system to reward certain behaviors is a hugely positive outcome for our firm.

I think we’re well positioned now to be able to drive more and more LPM activity, now that it’s factoring into compensation decisions.

April 22, 2020

Case Study: The benefits of practice innovation (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

This post is based on a recent interview with Paul Saunders, Practice Innovation Partner at Stewart McKelvey, which is Atlantic Canada’s largest regional law firm with over 200 attorneys in six offices throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.  His role includes planning, developing and implementing innovative technologies and systems that increase efficiency, profitability and client value.

Q: Let’s start with the big picture of your role and your team.

A:  I spent my first seven years at Stewart McKelvey practicing corporate law.  In 2015, I accepted the newly formed position of Practice Innovation Partner.  I report directly to our CEO and oversee our Legal Project Management and Pricing functions as well as our Practice Re-engineering Program.  I also support our Compensation and Profitability Alignment Strategy. 

Five full-time employees report to me:  two practice innovation lawyers, two IT developers, and a document automation specialist.  One of the practice innovation lawyers just joined our team a few months ago to focus on our RFP process, and we’ve already seen an increase in the number of RFPs that we're winning.   I also oversee dozens of process improvement and LPM projects involving approximately 60 of our practicing lawyers.

Q:  Have your initiatives had any measurable successes beyond RFPs?

A:  Yes, quite a few.  Easiest to see is our increase in realization.  When I look at a graph of realization at our firm over the last 8 years it looks like a “V.”  At a macro level, the firm-wide increases in realization began right around the time we started pushing LPM and increasing awareness of the impact that realization has on firm profitability.  I can also point to examples of specific client service teams that have seen improvements in their numbers as a result of our working together.

Q:  What other kinds of benefits have you seen from your approach?

A:  Overall, we’ve become far more creative in customizing our pricing to the needs of each client. We've recently developed a new profitability calculator tool that works hand-in-hand with our budget template. So, for example, we might estimate the amount of time Partner A is required to spend under simple, moderate, and complex scenarios.  But then we go on to ask, “What's our margin?  How much can we negotiate this fee given the history of volatility and variability with similar work? How can we use effective delegation, LPM and process improvement to increase profit?”  This enables us to realistically offer clients the fixed fees and cost certainty that many are looking for. And this, in turn, has led to more success in business development.

We've also developed automated documents and streamlined processes to reduce our costs.  In some cases, we proactively approach a client and say, “We’ve developed some efficiencies in this particular work area.  Are you interested in having us perform this work for a fixed fee of X?” Of course, in order to make sure that we make money on those fixed fees, we need to include the project management side of things. We track expenses and watch for situations where we are spending more than we bid.  When that happens, we diagnose what's happening and why, and then streamline our process.

While we have been offering ad hoc support to lawyers in Project Management for a number of years, we're now beginning to create more structure around LPM support in conjunction with some changes to our partner compensation system that have just taken effect this year. 

As a firm, we felt a need to put our money where our mouth is and say, “If you're embracing LPM, then you're effectively managing client relationships.  So, you will get paid for that, and here's how.” I think that’s going to be significant for many firm partners, and that’s why I think they’ll be reaching out to our LPM team for support.

Q:  Can you give me some current examples of a group you worked with recently and the kind of benefits they’ve seen as a result?

A:  Of course.  We do a lot of work with insurance clients who are particularly sensitive about fees.  They often require fixed fees and matter budgets, and in the past, this has sometimes led to high write-downs.  This is the area where we’ve gotten the most LPM traction to date.

Team leader Colin Piercey was an early adopter of our approach, and we put in place a standard budget with a prebuilt scope of work.  Colin and I worked together to create budget forms that his team could use, for example, for a relatively straightforward motor vehicle accident, a moderately complex one, and a more complex one.  It was a real success story in the sense that Colin was able to help billing lawyers in other offices change their behavior.

This is a great example, too, of where our firm has seen improvements in realization as a result of LPM.   I think that’s directly attributable to the fact that we're better at scoping.  We're not writing our fees off at the time of billing because we’re clear about the scope of the work, and whenever change happens, as it often does, we're reaching out to the client proactively.

Q:  It sounds like the group was developing budgets before, but the key to success was carefully setting the scope, tracking time, flagging changes, and then proactively talking to clients.  

A:  That’s right, LPM is not all that complicated.  It’s just a matter of paying more attention to details like scoping, which lawyers have traditionally ignored as they jumped right into the details of legal work. 

It’s also an example of how much I've bought into LegalBizDev’s approach.  As you know, I recently completed your Master Certified LPM Coach program, and I agree that it’s important for lawyers to use LPM to solve real-world problems.  Start small, get some wins, and always focus on addressing specific issues with specific clients.  Once key lawyers work with some simple new LPM tools and see the benefits, they become LPM champions who share their stories and lay the foundation for firm-wide benefits.  Don't expect that a day-long CLE-type LPM seminar will change behavior.  Don’t expect that lawyers will automatically become more efficient because they attended a seminar.  Work with them directly.  That’s the key.

March 25, 2020

The Top Four Facts Law Firm Leaders Need to Know About LPM (Part 2 of 2)

Fact 2: Experts disagree about the best way to define LPM (cont. from Part 1)

In defining LPM, we believe that lawyers must take a systematic approach that is closely related to the Agile approach to project management.  Stated simply, we encourage lawyers to use an iterative process that focuses on key LPM issues, one at a time, in their order of importance.

In an article entitled “Agile: A Non-traditional Approach to Legal Project Management,” Kim Craig, then SeyfarthLean’s global director of legal process improvement, and Jenny Lee, a senior project manager with Seyfarth, explained why Agile is particularly relevant to the legal profession:

Traditional project management focuses on robust, comprehensive, mandatory project documentation with lengthy project charters, detailed project plans, complex status reports and rigorous, formal change control logs… [But] the world of legal service delivery is fast-paced and unpredictable. In legal matters, we cannot possibly know everything that will be involved with litigation at the outset. Developing an overall strategy is generally common practice, but detailed, cradle-to-grave planning is impossible.[1]

Agile contrasts with the more traditional approach to project management which holds that every project should start with a well-defined plan.  Only after that is completed and approved do you begin working your way to the end, one sequential step at a time.  

The traditional approach is also known as the “waterfall” approach because progress is seen as flowing steadily from the top to the bottom (as in a waterfall).  It typically sees projects in terms of five key phases or steps such as:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Evaluation

In some cases, firms have hired LPM Directors based on their “waterfall” project management experience in construction, government contracting, and 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 who ended up working with the very small group of partners that were interested in project charters and Gantt charts.

So, if anyone tells you that LPM is defined by five steps such as analysis, design, implementation, testing and evaluation, beware.  They are describing the traditional waterfall approach, not the Agile approach which applies better to lawyers. As the old cliché says, “you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and attempts to apply the traditional waterfall approach have set back the cause of LPM at many firms.

Fact 3:  LPM success requires long-term managerial support

In our work with hundreds of law firms, we’ve seen the importance of follow-up over and over again.  In every single case where we have seen a firm make significant LPM progress, it was led by influential partners or members of the executive committee who were strong believers in LPM.  In a few cases, we’ve seen LPM programs make an enormous amount of progress when they were led by a powerful internal champion, and then slow to a crawl when that decision-maker left the firm.

Many firms have individual lawyers or practice groups that are quite advanced in LPM, but in our opinion not a single law firm in the world can yet say that LPM has truly taken hold across the entire firm. LPM aims to change habits that have been reinforced over decades, and to help firms constantly adjust to evolving client demands.  Having long-term managerial support is critical to success.

Fact 4: Law Firm Partners Don’t Know What to Do Differently

According to Altman Weil’s 2019 Law Firms in Transition Survey (LFiT, p. 44), most law firm partners (60%) don’t know what to do differently, and that’s why law firms aren’t doing more to change the way they deliver legal services. That might also explain why most law firm partners (69%) resist most change efforts (LFiT, p. 44).

If you’re a law firm leader who wants to make positive changes at your firm, you absolutely must be able to demonstrate how things can be done differently, and with positive results. At LegalBizDev, we have been successfully coaching lawyers in LPM over the past decade. In this way, we help law firm partners become internal LPM champions who advocate for LPM by sharing their success stories with other lawyers at the firm.

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


[1]   Kim Craig's article originally appeared in the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA’s) December 2013 white paper titled, “Business and Financial Management: Wrangling the Wild Ride.”

March 11, 2020

The Top Four Facts Law Firm Leaders Need to Know About LPM (Part 1 of 2)

Law firm leaders who are interested in legal project management (LPM), but too busy to dig into the details, should focus on the four critical facts presented in this 2-part blog series.

Fact 1:  Clients want LPM

Any law firm that has responded to an RFP in the last few years knows that client requests for LPM are growing rapidly.

Similarly, survey after survey has shown that legal clients are seeking greater efficiency from firms.  For example, in its 2019 Chief Legal Officers (CLO) Survey (p. 49), Altman Weil provided 238 CLOs with a list of ten possible service improvements, and asked “please select … [the improvements] that you would most like to see from your outside counsel.”  The top three things clients want were all closely related to LPM:

  1. Greater cost reduction (58%)
  2. Improved budget forecasting (40%)
  3. Non-hourly based pricing structures (33%)

Even when clients fail to ask for LPM by name, the results that clients are looking for definitely fall under the term, including minimizing surprises.

If you believe that your clients are different and that they care only about legal quality and not about cost, consider yourself very lucky. But note that if you are wrong, you are at risk of losing these clients to competitors who focus on improving service with LPM.

Fact 2:  Experts disagree about the best way to define LPM

There is widespread agreement that clients want LPM and that it can pay off for firms by protecting business and increasing realization and profitability. But experts still disagree about exactly how LPM should be defined. These arguments have slowed LPM’s progress, as seen in this quote from an AmLaw 200 firm leader from one of our past surveys (p. 89):

We were just at a board meeting last week where we were talking about whether we should do formalized project management training. My answer to that is obviously yes, we absolutely should. But first we need to agree on what legal project management is.

For years, we have argued for a broad definition that embraces a very wide range of management techniques, including pricing, communication, process improvement, and much more:  LPM increases client satisfaction and firm profitability by applying proven techniques to improve the management of legal matters.

By our definition, any lawyer who has ever planned a budget or managed a team has served as a legal project manager. But what was “good project management” for lawyers a few years ago is no longer good enough. Clients are now choosing law firms based on their ability to apply a more systematic and disciplined approach that delivers more value more quickly.

Our systematic approach to LPM revolves around improvements in eight key areas:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communication and expectations
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

The key to success in delivering more value more quickly is to find the “low-hanging fruit”:  The management tactics that are most likely to help each individual to increase value and/or profitability.

As Barbara Boake and Rick Kathuria summarized in their book Project Management for Lawyers (p. 14):  “project management is a tool box—choose only what you need to most effectively manage [each] project.”

In part 2 of this blog series, we will discuss how our approach to LPM is similar to the Agile approach to project management, and how LPM success requires long-term managerial support.

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

February 26, 2020

Online LPM Library of Tools and Templates: Frequently Asked Questions (Part 2 of 2)

In part 1 of this blog series, we explained how our online library of LPM tools helps law firms implement a robust internal LPM coaching program, and we also listed several benefits firms have experienced when using this resource.  In Part 2, we describe what your firm can expect if it licenses our online LPM library.

What specifically does the license include?

We will help you develop a well-defined program that fits your firm’s culture and resources. This will increase buy-in by helping to ensure that lawyers use the tools to increase efficiency, client satisfaction, and profitability at your firm.  Specifically, each license includes:

  • Unlimited, non-exclusive rights to reproduce and adapt all of the content within your firm and with your clients for one year (renewed annually)
  • Separate files for each tool (in both Word and PDF format) so you can easily deliver just the information a particular lawyer needs in your preferred format, and so you can customize existing templates to meet your firm’s needs
  • New tools and templates that are released to license holders every June and December
  • Consultation with the authors of these tools to maximize the value to your firm, ensure quick wins, and establish a foundation for future success
  • Sample emails for use by the managing partner or another senior partner announcing the availability of these tools and their benefits to the firm and to individual lawyers
  • Twelve “LPM tips of the month” each year, for publication on your intranet, internal newsletters, or email to remind lawyers of the value of this resource
  • A proven method for hosting and facilitating a lawyer panel discussion to help promote the use of the online LPM resource among firm lawyers
  • A suggested menu structure that can be adapted to your intranet

Tell me more about the consultation that’s included with the license.

Each license includes four hours of consulting support, plus materials to help build a stronger culture of LPM within your firm, including:

  • Specific tasks, objectives, and timelines for using these LPM tools and templates
  • Systems to provide exactly the information lawyers need, precisely when they need it
  • A list of the top ten tools that have proven most useful in implementing LPM, and the top ten tools that are most effective in introducing LPM concepts
  • Guidelines for prioritizing which lawyers to focus on first when introducing LPM tools
  • Suggestions for working with LPM champions, practice group leaders, and LPM Directors
  • Tips for designing an internal program to publicize successes, including sample “LPM Tips of the Month”
  • Guidance on how to save time developing firm-specific processes and procedures by customizing our templates
  • Suggestions on how to customize our tools for in-firm presentations and training

What are the contents of the online LPM library?

A complete list of the current LPM tools and templates can be found on our website

All files are delivered in both Word and PDF format so that they can be made available on your firm’s intranet, and, when necessary, customized to fit your firm’s or practice group’s needs. 

New tools and templates are added every June and December so that lawyers can easily keep up with developments in this rapidly changing field.

How much does it cost to license the resource?

The answer to this question depends upon the number of lawyers at your firm.  If you want a customized quote, please contact us at info@legalbizdev.com. 

What we can tell you is that this online LPM library can offer a rapid return on investment. As soon as one lawyer who is responsible for a large engagement adopts an LPM best practice, the return on investment can quickly exceed the license cost by, for example:

  • Increasing the accuracy of an initial fee estimate and the likelihood of payment in full by using the template “15 questions to ask clients to help define scope”
  • Renegotiating a fixed fee by using the template “Prepare and negotiate for approval of a scope change”
  • Using any of the more than 170 tools and templates in the online library to increase client satisfaction and/or firm profitability

What else can you tell me about this resource?

Four previous editions of these tools have been tested and refined in firms around the world that encompass over 100,000 lawyers.  Additional details can be found on our website, including:

  • The names of more than 35 contributing authors from both large and small firms, including Baker McKenzie, Morgan Lewis, WilmerHale, Pepper Hamilton, and Bilzin Sumberg
  • The names of 25 LPM experts who currently serve on our Board of Advisors, including representatives from Norton Rose Fulbright, Lathrop Gage, Baker Botts, Winston & Strawn, and K&L Gates
  • Testimonials from 22 additional LPM experts at firms such as Perkins Coie, Jackson Lewis, Ballard Spahr, Orrick, and Saul Ewing

January 01, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

December 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

November 06, 2019

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

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

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

Work from their interests, not their positions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 23, 2019

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

By Gary Richards, LegalBizDev

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

Use objective, external criteria

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

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

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

Some possibilities are:

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

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

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