The latest post from Jim Hassett’s blog Legal Business Development.
Vincent Cino, the chairman of Jackson Lewis, calls the fourth edition of our LPM Quick Reference Guide, “A must read.” According to Toby Brown, the chief practice management officer at Perkins Coie, “Every partner should use this book.” And Melissa Prince, the director of pricing and LPM at Ballard Spahr, calls it her “LPM bible.” The book opens with extended comments from these three experts, and 19 others, who describe how this encyclopedia of tools and templates can help lawyers increase value, client satisfaction, and firm profitability for both hourly and alternative fee arrangements.
When the first edition of this Guide appeared in 2010, LPM was essentially a brand new field, and this was the only book that explained “how to do it.” Since then, LPM has grown rapidly and become a mainstay of law firm practice. At 400 pages, the fourth edition is almost twice as long as the third edition was, reflecting recent advances in the field.
The philosophy of this Quick Reference Guide is summarized in its first few pages:
LegalBizDev principal Mike Egnatchik is my co-author for the fourth edition, and the book also includes sections written by 25 contributing authors, including such thought leaders as Stuart J T Dodds of Baker & McKenzie, Richard G. Rosenblatt of Morgan Lewis, Tom Clay of Altman Weil, and the Law Firm Value Committee of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
The 412-page, 8.5” x 11” paperback can be ordered for $99.95 by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), fax (917-386-2733), phone (1-800-49-TRAIN), or mail (LegalBizDev, 225 Franklin Street, 26th Floor, Boston, MA 02110). More information appears on our web page, including an order form showing the volume discounts on orders of two or more copies.
In association with the publication of this book, LegalBizDev is also introducing several new LPM products and services which use these tools and templates in:
For more details, contact us today (email@example.com, 800-49-TRAIN).
In 2015, after working as a corporate lawyer for seven years at Stewart McKelvey in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I agreed to devote 100% of my time to the newly created position of Practice Innovation Partner. My role is to develop and implement innovative technologies and systems for the firm and its clients, to increase efficiency, profitability, and client value. One of the first things I did in this new role was to pilot-test several classic Agile techniques at our firm, starting with Kanban.
Kanban is a management tool that originated in Lean manufacturing. The term loosely translates to “signboard” or “billboard” in Japanese. As law firms focus on increasing efficiency, reducing their costs, and becoming more responsive to clients, it seems logical to adapt this technique to work closely with clients in charting the stages of each case or transaction and to track progress.
Kanban is a highly flexible tool for planning and scheduling tasks that creates a visual representation of project teamwork to facilitate transparency, accountability, and collaboration. Knowledge work, such as software development and law practice, isn’t inherently visual. Progress often becomes buried in countless emails, status reports, and complex tracking spreadsheets. It is difficult to identify opportunities for improvement and to gauge progress when there is no single place where progress is tracked. Kanban makes this non-visual work visual.
In its simplest form, Kanban relies on a physical or virtual whiteboard with three columns: to do, doing, and done. All tasks that make up the project are represented by cards or post-it notes on a board. The title of each task, when it’s due, who is responsible, and any other pertinent details are written on each card. Cards advance from left to right on the board to track progress and coordinate work.
The beauty of the approach is its flexibility. Rather than having to periodically overhaul detailed project plans and realign tasks when change inevitably occurs, team members can simply re-organize the cards on the board. The approach also better ensures clarity in who is working on what when and creates accountability for results since members are expected to regularly report back on progress on the tasks they are assigned. It also shines a significant light on bottlenecks and can thus motivate teams to remove barriers that impede progress. The board can be organized by a junior partner or an associate, which produces the added benefit of avoiding some of the awkwardness of “managing your manager” by increasing collaboration and transparency.
Another critical aspect of Kanban is its ability to limit the amount of inventory or work in progress. Capacity restrictions are sometimes placed on team members so that they can only be assigned a limited number of tasks or volumes of work in order to permit them to focus on completing tasks rather than being overburdened through multi-tasking.
Kanban boards can also be highly customized by expanding the various columns for different purposes in a specific context. For example, to coordinate a portfolio of related projects or matters, a law firm practice group may want to expand the “doing” column to include different phases of work. In litigation these columns could include: matter intake, pleadings, production and disclosure, discovery, pretrial, trial, appeal, billing, and matter closing. In a corporate transaction, the phases could be: letter of intent, principal agreement and schedules, conditions, pre-closing, closing, reporting, undertakings, billing, and matter closure.
One of our first pilot tests of Kanban was managed by Patti Mitchell, a litigation partner practicing in insurance defense at our office in Halifax and the lead lawyer for a major insurance client there. She worked closely with the law firm’s client service team to use Kanban techniques to organize and streamline assignments in a multitude of cases and to move the matters through the standard phases of insurance litigation more quickly. The firm used Kanban techniques in conjunction with Agile Scrum concepts, in which issues are quickly identified at brief and regular stand-up meetings among all staff. (These will be described in a followup post in this blog next month.)
“The insurance defense practice,” Mitchell explained, “was identified as an area of practice that would benefit from Kanban because it tends to be work with consistent volume and repetitive processes, but the matters were not moving as quickly as they could and we wanted to improve that aspect of service delivery for our clients.”
In addition, Mitchell noted, the firm chose to use Kanban with this client as a pilot project because its contractual requirements for service delivery were quite strict and the firm wanted to “see if we could improve upon deliverables.” The results were exactly what they had hoped for:
Like the underlying work itself, the tools used to manage that work must also be flexible. Since Kanban boards are so versatile, a team should start with an approach that makes sense at the outset. The goal should then be to learn from the experience, see what works and what doesn’t work with the tool, and incrementally evolve the approach over time based on feedback from the team.
In addition to using Kanban in its classic sense with physical whiteboards and post-it notes, we are also currently experimenting with “virtual Kanban.” The firm has a cloud-based system to track assignments, which a number of lawyers have on their phone as an app. The next step is to expand the use of digital or virtual Kanban so that clients can use it as well to track the progress of a matter. That will require a security audit before the firm can put it in place, and the firm plans to start small. Whether the virtual approach works well or not, we expect that our use of Kanban will grow substantially over the next few years.
This post was adapted from the fourth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide which will be published next week.
In the November 2010 press release that announced the start of our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program, we called it “the first to award certification in this new discipline.” Many other LPM certifications have been introduced since, but most offer simply a “certificate of attendance” a piece of paper you get for going to a workshop. In contrast, ours remains the most demanding program. It is still the only LPM certification program designed for the small and select group of lawyers and staff who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others.
To become a Certified Legal Project Manager™, participants must study over 300 pages of assigned readings, answer 18 essay questions about how these concepts apply to their situation, demonstrate their skills and knowledge with real-world applications in their practice, and pass a written essay test. To determine its long-term impact, we recently went back and interviewed several participants who were certified years ago. This is the first of several case studies that will appear in this blog addressing the progress they made during the program, and after it was complete.
Jonathan Cooper, a partner and trial attorney at Tucker Ellis in Cleveland Ohio, was awarded his certification in January 2012. In his written project, he completed a “Mass Tort Litigation Checklist” which he has updated several times since. The latest version is reproduced in the recently published fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.
In the years since he completed certification, Jonathan has gone on to apply many other project management tactics to change the way he practices law. For example, he continued to refine his checklist of all the steps necessary to defend against an asbestos claim. The checklist is now in the form of a flow chart which shows what to do in a variety of scenarios to make sure that no key steps are missed. The firm now uses this checklist/flowchart for all asbestos matters, and, according to Jonathan “This one simple step greatly improved our practice.”
Tucker Ellis is a relatively young law firm, founded in 2003. It differentiates itself by creating a unique type of client experience – one that focuses on the client’s ideas of success. Jonathan says, “After all, if you can define the benchmarks of success in advance with the client, you can be appropriately rewarded for achieving them.”
Tucker Ellis handles hundreds or even thousands of similar cases for its clients. This requires a high level of sophistication in the way in which the firm processes cases and high efficiency from its lawyers if the firm hopes to successfully meet its clients’ objectives profitably.
Tucker Ellis also offers a significant number of fixed fee arrangements. With fixed fees, Jonathan says, “The only way to make any money is to reduce the number of timekeepers who touch the matter. That’s why our firm has become an expert at doing things efficiently, with fewer people getting involved in each matter.”
That is not to say that LPM, or Jonathan’s certification, provided a magic bullet that immediately addressed all of the firm’s challenges. “The most challenging part,” Jonathan says, “was attempting to ‘preach the gospel’ of project management to other practice groups within the firm. It was not immediately obvious that project management would succeed because it’s not easy to get the typical lawyer to change the way in which he or she does things… It remains very hard for some lawyers to give up on the idea that every case is unique and that every rock needs to be turned over in a particular case, even though we’ve already repeatedly turned over that rock in other cases.”
The process of changing lawyers’ behavior is never as quick as LPM proponents would like, but at Tucker Ellis LPM has clearly paid off. For example, after overcoming initial skepticism, the firms’ ERISA lawyers discovered that they could find commonalities in their employee benefit plans which allowed the practice group to regularize its processes and become more efficient and profitable. Although it took a while, Jonathan says, “Adopting LPM has started a sea of change at the firm.”
Tucker Ellis lawyers now realize that much of what they do can be boiled down into common elements that can be repeated. As Jonathan summed it up: “The key to success in many areas, including our asbestos and medical products cases, is efficiency. The firm has developed repeatable processes that give clients very high odds of success.”
What would the client consider to be a successful outcome? What are their overall business priorities, and how does this matter fit in? For a list of “15 questions to ask clients to help define scope,” see the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.
The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple reminder like this to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business.
Changes in pricing lead to changes in the way law is practiced.
For example, the way contingency fee lawyers practice is different from the way most commercial full service business firms practice. At Honigman, we have a very big contingency fee segment of our practice in the real estate tax appeals area. So I’ve gotten to see how contingency practices work. They are enormously efficient. As a general rule, lawyers don’t do things until the last minute. That might be thought of as a vice, but call it “just-in-time management” and suddenly it becomes a virtue!
Now, traditional commercial clients like to talk a lot about their cases, especially if they have in-house counsel. It’s their life, after all, and they are accountable for what happens in these cases. As a result, they often want frequent updates and strategy discussions. The biggest complaint one hears about contingency fee lawyers is “They don’t want to talk to me.”
That’s because for a lawyer on contingency, after communicating what is absolutely necessary, talking is a waste of time and therefore money. It’s a very different model: “We’ll tell you when we think you need to know something.” Now, I’m not suggesting that if you are on a contingency you shouldn’t talk to your clients, and I am exaggerating a bit for effect. But the point is that the billing arrangement changes the perception of the value of the interaction. If somebody wants to call you on the telephone and is willing to pay you $450 to $1,300 per hour to listen to them talk, you are happy to listen. But, if it doesn’t make any difference to the fee you’re going to collect – or actually reduces it – maybe you will want to move that call along a little faster!
Similarly, if you’ve got the billion-dollar case, it doesn’t matter how many interesting legal issues there are to chase down or how uncertain the law is. You’ll do the legwork, and the client will want you to. Otherwise, lawyers need to make judgments about what their clients can afford.
Clients will tell you, “Don’t bankrupt me by doing a perfect job,” which is really hard for the current generation of lawyers to deal with. Sometimes a client can talk to a lawyer and say, “We are going to have a problem with this case because fees are already $600,000, the most we can collect is a $1.8 million, and we haven’t even gotten to trial yet.”
And they’ll answer, “You’re not asking me to commit malpractice, are you?”
No one wants anyone to commit malpractice, but you have to make judgments. You can’t bankrupt your client while you worry about perfection. Younger lawyers are usually better able to grasp these dynamics. They are flexible and adaptable; they see the way the world is changing. People my age, my partners and many other lawyers whose world is different than it was when they were growing up – we’re the ones who have the hardest time with it.
This guest post is an excerpt from Carl Herstein’s thought provoking article “The Changing Legal Market: Some Thoughts for Law Students,” originally published in Of Counsel, Wolters Kluwer, August 2016.