The latest post from Jim Hassett’s blog Legal Business Development.
An example of a simplified approach to process improvement: How to improve associate and paralegal time entries
Several years ago, I wrote in this blog about lawyers’ confusion about the differences between process improvement and legal project management (LPM). To this day, we often hear from lawyers who think process improvement is the first or the only step in LPM.
In my book Legal Project Management, Pricing, and Alternative Fee Arrangements, I have argued that process improvement is just a small sub-area within LPM, and usually the worst place to start.
The confusion has arisen largely because Seyfarth Shaw has been so successful in publicizing its SeyfarthLean® process improvement programs. What many lawyers don’t remember is that Seyfarth began working on these programs nearly a decade ago, and according to an April 2010 article in The American Lawyer, reported spending over $3 million in just its first few years working on these programs.
There is no question that process improvement can improve efficiency. But there is a huge question about when or even if a particular firm should start down this path.
At LegalBizDev, we believe that few - if any - firms can justify the time and money required for even a “lean” approach to process improvement. It simply takes too long and costs too much. And even after you define a better process, many lawyers will resist following it.
When I interviewed leaders of AmLaw 200 firms for my recent book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, I asked about their most pressing concerns and “low hanging fruit.” None mentioned process improvement. Instead, they reported that the two most urgent areas for LPM improvement are defining scope and communicating better with clients.
Fortunately, there are some highly simplified approaches to process improvement that don’t require spending millions of dollars, or even attending a half day workshop. Several are described in the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (beginning on page 36), and applied in our coaching and other programs. The short guest post below was written by one of our clients who used these very simple techniques.
A guest post by Judith Droz Keyes
Judith Droz Keyes completed our Certified Legal Project Manager Program® and is a labor and employment lawyer and partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. Several months ago, we published her guest post on another topic based on her answers to essay questions from her certification. In the example in this post, she quickly applied simplified process improvement techniques to address a problem faced by many law firms: Associate and paralegal timesheet entries are often written poorly, inconsistently, or not in accordance with firm standards, requirements or expectations. This can result in time wasted to rewrite them and ultimately in time being written off. Judith’s improved process is built around a few short steps:
On June 8 in Chicago, five law firms that have made significant progress in LPM will frankly discuss what has worked and what hasn’t at the fifth session of one of the Ark Group’s most popular events : “Legal Project Management Showcase and Workshop: Changing Behavior within the Firm.” I look forward to chairing this session and discussing the latest developments with:
If you are planning to attend this year’s Legal Marketing Association’s P3 conference (the three Ps stand for Project Management, Pricing, and Process Improvement), you may notice that the Ark conference is scheduled one day before P3, which is also in Chicago. That was not an accident. I hate to travel, and Ark was kind enough to agree to schedule this workshop the day before P3 to save me a trip. I wouldn’t miss P3.
Implementing LPM is more critical than ever. In Altman Weil’s 2014 Chief Legal Officer Survey, the top three things that clients wanted were greater cost reduction (58%), more efficient legal project management (57%), and improved budget forecasting (56%). Since LPM will help meet the first and last requests, you could say the top three things clients want are LPM, LPM, and more LPM.
From the law firm point of view, when I interviewed AmLaw 200 chairs, managing partners and senior partners and executives for my book, Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, LPM was identified as the single best way to provide greater client value while protecting profitability. But many firms have learned the hard way that while it is easy to offer awareness training to lawyers focused on LPM theory (and put out a press release announcing all their lawyers have now been trained in LPM), it is very difficult to get them to change their behavior. The managing partner of one AmLaw 200 firm that invested heavily in traditional training and was disappointed in the results put it this way:
After previous sessions of this program, audience members said:
For more details about what these five firms have done so far, and on the workshop, download the brochure, visit the Ark Group’s web page or contact Ark’s Peter Franken at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 212-1301. Readers of this blog qualify for a special 15% discount. Simply write “LegalBizDev Discount” on your order form and subtract 15%, or ask for the discount when you register by phone.
By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner
It all comes back to providing clients with greater value, according to Jill Weber, the firm’s chief marketing and business development officer. The firm frequently conducts client satisfaction surveys, both in person and online, and has consistently found that when it comes to value, the definition varies from matter to matter and client to client. For value, “one size fits one,” Weber summed up, quoting an in-house lawyer who spoke at an ACC Value Challenge event a few years ago:
Matt Wahlquist, the firm’s director of practice management, is continuing to integrate LPM efforts across every office, practice division, timekeeper, and administrative department.
A few months ago, Wahlquist hired Rodney Miller, a former practicing attorney, as an in-house LPM specialist. Miller joined the firm after the scope workshop and has worked extensively on follow-up activities related to the course.
Wahlquist’s core team has now grown to include two legal project managers and three pricing professionals. The most recent hire, Bree Johnson, completed LegalBizDev’s Certified Legal Project Manager® program when she worked for another firm.
The team is already helping to improve performance on a variety of matters, including assisting in the development of a pilot test of a highly innovative new LPM-based process to design and implement a new pricing regimen with one of the firm’s largest clients.
According to Co-managing Partner Mark Hinderks:
Plans are also underway for individual coaching and other programs. Next June, Wahlquist will be reporting on the firm’s progress at the Ark Group’s Legal Project Management Showcase & Workshop on June 8 in Chicago. When the firm holds its retreat in Phoenix next October, Jim Hassett will conduct a panel discussion of partners who are LPM leaders within the firm to internally publicize their progress and recommendations for next steps. Hassett will also give a keynote speech summarizing the firm’s efforts to date, how it compares to what other firms are doing, and his predictions for the future.
Co-managing Partner Lowell Stortz summed up the firm’s philosophy and plans like this:
When I interviewed chairs and managing partners of AmLaw 200 firms for my book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, they said that the single most important factor in LPM success was defining scope. The simplest way to improve is by asking the right questions before an engagement begins, such as:
The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. More information about this tip appears in the third edition of my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.
By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner
Co-managing Partner Lowell Stortz said that before the course was offered:
One participant reported to Stortz that:
Another participant, Scott Hecht, is an insurance litigation partner at the firm and head of the insurance department. He explained that at any given time he is responsible for managing dozens of matters pending for a particular client, although a group of other attorneys do the bulk of the work. He took the class because he wanted:
Course participant Paul Hoffmann, a bankruptcy partner, pointed out that the office of the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, which supervises bankruptcy matters nationwide, recently set forth a rule change that requires advance budgeting in all larger bankruptcy cases. Therefore, bankruptcy lawyers have a legal obligation in many of their cases to develop budgets in advance.
Tracey Donesky, still another course participant, represents employers in many types of matters, particularly both federal and state wage and hour suits under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other various employment discrimination claims brought under various state and federal employment laws. According to Donesky, the single most important fact about LPM is that:
Donesky has recently begun to use LPM techniques on a number of matters, including several for one firm client where she is lead counsel. She seeks to budget for each case 30 days in advance, working with partners, associates, paralegals, and other timekeepers on the file to identify what litigation activities are anticipated for the month ahead and then allocating estimated hours expected to complete such activities. This provides the clients who use LPM an estimated budget, which helps increase predictability and manage expectations in advance. While there is some level of trial and error to the process in these beginning stages, the hope is that over time and as similar cases begin to work through the LPM system and historical data is gathered, the budgeting and estimating process will become more predictable and precise.
As Donesky summed up the experience to date, “The firm is only going to get better at this process as time goes on and more data is analyzed.”
Part 3 of this series (coming March 11), will focus on additional efforts in the firm currently underway to improve LPM.