LegalBizDev

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:

 

  1. I could provide a written set of rules/standards to be followed in all matters on which I am working (e.g., capitalization, punctuation, avoidance of “email to J. Keyes” . . . .)
  2. As part of the project plan, the team and I could agree on phases and phrasing (e.g., complainant vs. claimant).
  3. Before I review a prebill, I could forward it to the associate on the matter, to review and improve it in accordance with the rules.
  4. Before I review a prebill, my secretary could review it for certain things, and she could forward it to the associate to review and improve.
  5. Regarding time:  At the outset of every assignment or task, I could have a clear understanding with associates and paralegals about the time to be spent and billed.
 
      


LPM workshop: Experts from five firms discuss how to change behavior

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:

Andréa Danziger, Director of Business Development and Practice Management, Loeb & Loeb

Stuart J T Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie

Michael Nogroski, Director of Knowledge Management, Chapman and Cutler

Scott Wagner, Partner, Bilzin Sumberg

Matt Wahlquist, Director of Practice Management, Stinson Leonard Street

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: 

I think project management probably will have the longest-term positive impact [on value and profitability], but it’s been the biggest challenge, because it’s something that hasn’t been easily absorbed by a lot of the lawyers. When busy lawyers start scrambling around, the inefficiency creeps right up. At our firm, project management has not met expectations.

After previous sessions of this program, audience members said:

This workshop did an excellent job of offering practical suggestions for dealing with the issues law firms encounter when they implement legal project management. The frank discussions between partners and executives at firms that have successfully changed lawyers’ behavior would be helpful to anyone who is trying to get their arms around this challenging transition.

Delilah Flaum, Partner in Charge of Knowledge Management and Legal Project Management at Winston & Strawn LLP

 

This workshop is a great way for any law firm to jump-start an LPM initiative. Jim Hassett has the experience and credentials to be THE leader in this area. His approach is directly applicable to achieving greater efficiency, competitiveness, and client satisfaction and the workshop panelists described how they used LPM to increase revenues and repeat business. I was truly inspired and enabled by this program to achieve higher profitability for my firm.

Pete C. Elliott, Director of Legal Project Management, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP

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 pfranken@ark-group.com 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.

 
      


LPM at Stinson Leonard Street – A course on defining scope and much more (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

 

Given the success of the course “How to Define Legal Scope and Negotiate Changes,” described in Part 2 of this series, what comes next for LPM at Stinson Leonard Street?

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:

I see tremendous potential in LPM for improving the delivery of services, especially where we have multiple matters for a single client and there can be some consistency in how you plan matters and staffing. Mind you, that is not the only place for LPM, but it is the easiest place to become more efficient while still remaining effective and meeting and exceeding clients’ expectations.

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.

There was always a good deal of interest in LPM at the firm, but now the lawyers are running toward it as a result of client demand. There is a synergy between client needs and attorney needs that puts LPM in the middle of it. I reach out to our lawyers to help them further their LPM goals. And I work with clients as well, when they want a change in scope in an alternative fee arrangement matter or a traditional hourly matter.

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:

Clients often fear alternative fee arrangements as “black boxes” with which they might be gouged, but we are working to combine project management principles with the advanced cost and pricing analytic capability we have been using for several years to create a new transparency in pricing. We believe this will prove very appealing, especially as an alternative to arbitrary discounting from rack rates that firms establish in different ways. It should provide assurance of savings to the client while also preserving a reasonable return to the law firm in a mutually sustainable relationship.

This is not an approach that a firm would want to use with just any client, but we expect it will be very helpful for large clients where there is a strong relationship built on mutual trust. Stay tuned as we pilot this.

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:

We've picked lawyers who are willing to learn, with clients for whom we can have the most immediate impact. We’re building LPM a brick at a time, from the ground up, with those clients, and I think in a law firm environment that sells better than “preaching” and then hoping that it catches on.

Given the way legal practice is changing, we need to continue to improve. A year from now, we need to be further down the road than we are, and I am confident we will be there.

      


Tip of the month: Improve the questions you ask when you start an engagement

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:

  • How do you define success or “a win”?
  • What business problem do you want to solve?
  • Are there strict budget limits?
  • What deadlines matter the most to you?

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.

      


LPM at Stinson Leonard Street – A course on defining scope and much more (Part 2 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

After Matt Wahlquist, the director of practice management at Stinson Leonard Street,observed the course “How to Define Legal Scope and Negotiate Changes,” he noted that:

The course was extremely practical. We have had conceptual training before from other companies, but our lawyers are always looking for something they can use on a day-to-day basis, and that is exactly what this workshop provided. Some people put their lessons into practice that very day. After all, if we can decrease our write-offs as a result of improved upfront conversations on scope, those results flow through directly to the bottom line. A proactive five-minute conversation with a client can pay for itself very quickly from a return-on-investment perspective.

Co-managing Partner Lowell Stortz said that before the course was offered:

I was somewhat skeptical of the results, because we chose people for the workshop who already had some interest in and/or knack for scoping. It’s always easy to show progress when you start with someone who’s at zero; it’s much harder to show progress when you start with people who are already pretty good at something. At the suggestion of the course leader, three weeks after the course I sent an email to this group of accomplished, busy, successful lawyers and asked them to respond as to how they’d used it, if at all. Virtually all of them responded (and in a law firm environment that alone is amazing) with good insights.

One participant reported to Stortz that:

I have one client that I thought just wasn’t interested in LPM or scoping. But as a result of the workshop, I reached out to the client and engaged them in a conversation and it turned out that there really was a place for this. The training led me to give it a shot, not only from my side, but also inviting the client to think about it. This yielded some benefits right away.

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:

To enhance my ability to manage those matters, communicate effectively with the client, and maximize efficiencies in billing and other areas.

Each of these matters is a litigation matter or an administrative investigation. They are all somewhat similar in scope on the surface. The variation is based on the number and nature of opposing parties, counsel, witnesses, and documents in each case. What I took away from the scope course is the need to have a constant sense of the client’s expectations in each matter and the way in which external factors sometimes only known by our defense attorneys handling the matters can still substantially affect the scope of each matter. It’s a question of getting and keeping your ducks in a row for each of dozens of similar matters.

In this client organization, there are 30 or more people who are my points of contact; they all have different personalities, levels of experience, and expectations, and I need to be very responsive to all of them. I expect LPM techniques to translate to a better experience for my client contacts, which differentiates our law firm from others.

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.

I took the course because I wanted to improve my ability to estimate fees and to draft engagement letters. This will help to reach agreement in advance with clients on nontraditional billing matters and also help clients draw up budgets on traditional hourly billing matters.

There are so many ways in which a lawsuit can change as it unfolds. There can be a change in parties, a change in issues, or there can be the need to document a settlement or an appeal.

The course did a very good job of telling us how to explain budgetary changes to clients so as to minimize any client concerns that might arise. And it also did a very good job of showing us how the billing attorney must meet with the entire team to discuss the budget and to discuss any budgetary changes that may arise as time goes on.

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:

Clients want LPM, so law firms will have to use it to increase client satisfaction and better manage their cases. LPM needs to be integrated into every aspect of every case. The course helped solidify in my mind the need for LPM from a client expectations standpoint.

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.

      



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