13 posts categorized "Legal Business Trends"

January 15, 2020

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

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 01, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

December 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

September 25, 2019

LMSS: New standards for analyzing legal matters

By Gary Richards, Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALI Article_Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September 10, 2019

Key questions project managers should ask

By Jim Hassett, LegalBizDev and Natasha Chetty, Bellwether Strategies

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

Set objectives and define scope

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

Identify and schedule activities

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

Assign tasks and manage the team

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

Plan and manage the budget

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

Assess risks to the budget and schedule

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

Manage quality

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

Manage client communication and expectations

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

Negotiate changes of scope

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


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

July 24, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

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

Rule #7: Get the team in shape

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

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

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

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

Rule #8: Motivate the players

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

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

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

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

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

Rule #9: Develop plans

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

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

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

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

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

Rule #10: Control, evaluate, and improve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

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

Rule #3: Understand the game

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

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

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

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

Rule #4: Evaluate the competition

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

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

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

Rule #5: Pick your players and adjust your team

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

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

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

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

Rule #6: Identify and develop inner group leaders

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

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf


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

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

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

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

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

LegalBizDev:  What about matter level LPM support?

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

LegalBizDev:  And coaching? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 15, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 06, 2019

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

By Jim Hassett, Gary Richards, and Tim Batdorf

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

Two More Questions You Could Ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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