By Tim Batdorf The LPM Self-Assessment Checklist below was designed to help lawyers decide whether they should find time to focus on LPM, and if so, in what areas. As quickly as possible, check off your general level of concern...

LegalBizDev

The latest post from Jim Hassett’s blog Legal Business Development.


A checklist to assess your legal project management needs

By Tim Batdorf

The LPM Self-Assessment Checklist below was designed to help lawyers decide whether they should find time to focus on LPM, and if so, in what areas.

As quickly as possible, check off your general level of concern with each topic.  Use the results to determine which areas to focus on first.  If you rate several items as high, prioritize them by looking for “low hanging fruit:"  areas which could have the greatest immediate impact on your practice while requiring the least time and effort to implement.

The checklist could also be useful to law firm leaders who want to determine which lawyers are interested in LPM assistance, and could benefit the most from our one to one LPM coaching or other programs.

LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

Your Level of Concern

Part 1: Set objectives and define scope

None

Low

Med

High

Your clients and/or your team do not fully understand exactly what is and is not included in a particular engagement

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€

€

€

Engagement letters fail to specify assumptions in hourly cost estimates or AFAs

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€

€

€

Your clients are unclear about exactly what they want and need

€

€

€

€

Clients sometimes question the work that was done and what they are willing to pay for

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€

€

€

Client decision makers disagree on the goals of a matter

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€

€

€

Part 2: Identify and schedule activities

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team overlook tasks

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€

€

€

Your process for routine matters could be more efficient or simplified

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€

€

€

You do not use checklists regularly, effectively, or at all

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€

€

€

Last minute time crunches or missed deadlines sometimes occur

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€

€

€

 

Part 3: Assign tasks and manage the team

None

Low

Med

High

You are overwhelmed with too much work

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€

€

€

Team meetings are inefficient or ineffective

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€

€

€

Client demands for lower cost often lead to reduced profitability, which might be avoided with more effective delegation

€

€

€

€

Delegated tasks come back late or the work comes back differently than you expected

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€

€

€

You lose too much time to e-mails, phone calls, or other interruptions

€

€

€

€

Part 4: Plan and manage the budget

None

Low

Med

High

You often begin matters without having a clear idea of the likely total cost

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€

€

€

Legal fees frequently exceed your budget estimates at the start of a matter

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€

€

€

Your realization rate is too low and/or you have too many write-offs

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€

€

€

You have a difficult time meeting AFA requirements and capped fees while remaining profitable

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€

€

€

Part 5: Assess risks to budget and schedule

None

Low

Med

High

You and/or your team are unaware of the risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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€

€

€

You and/or your team could improve the way you minimize risks to the schedule or budget at the start of a matter

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€

€

€

Part 6: Manage quality

None

Low

Med

High

Perfectionism drives up fees with minimal quality improvement and/or little to no significant benefit as perceived by the client

€

€

€

€

You and/or your team do not have quality control measures in  place to maintain the same level of quality while becoming more efficient

€

€

€

€

Part 7: Manage client communications and expectations

None

Low

Med

High

You fail to keep your clients regularly informed about progress

€

€

€

€

You do not know what type of updates (e.g., phone or email, weekly or monthly) each client prefers

Your team lacks a clear understanding of responsibilities and a clear plan for communicating within the team

Your team lacks a clear understanding of who should communicate directly with clients, and who should not

You and/or your team sometimes engage in miscommunication with each other and/or with the client

You do not routinely hold “lessons learned” reviews with your team and with clients

You could improve the way you handle difficult clients and situations

Part 8: Negotiate changes of scope

None

Low

Med

High

You do not effectively negotiate changes in scope with clients

You do not spot “red flags” immediately and make needed adjustments

You do not communicate changes in scope to clients

You do not have systems in place to track work that is beyond scope

You do not have a formal process for dealing with changes in scope

Your team does not know when there is a change in scope

Your team does not immediately inform you about changes in scope

€

€

€

€


Download a pdf of this LPM Self-Assessment Checklist

 

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

      


24 Benefits of Matter Planning

By Gary Richards

 

Our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes a number of sections on different approaches to matter planning that will be useful in almost every legal matter.  For large and predictable matters, your matter plan may be quite detailed.  In most litigation and other unpredictable matters, detailed planning should be limited to the first few weeks or months.  (For background on an alternative approach to traditional project management which better fits unpredictable matters, see our article “Why the Agile Approach Is So Important to Law Firms” in the October 2017 issue of Of Counsel.)

But if you are one of the many lawyers who feels too busy for this, before you give up on the idea, consider these 24 benefits of matter planning:

  1. Helps set clear and reasonable client expectations
  2. Improves client understanding of the time and tasks required
  3. Helps prevent cost and delivery problems
  4. Improves estimates of time required
  5. Allows more accurate fee estimates
  6. Forces you to think through the entire matter
  7. Allows you to establish a logical sequence for the steps
  8. Identifies steps that can be in progress concurrently
  9. Allows insights as to which steps can be consolidated to gain efficiency
  10. Establishes a clear beginning and ending point
  11. Pinpoints missing steps
  12. Can discourage procrastination by identifying easily accomplished first steps
  13. Identifies the people, material, and other resources that are needed and when
  14. Identifies the commitment needed from you and from others
  15. Identifies tasks and general areas of responsibility that can be delegated
  16. Identifies the potential obstacles or problems that may need to be solved (risk planning)
  17. Shows where expert input/client help could add value
  18. Identifies the elapsed time required, i.e., total number of days from the beginning to the end of a matter as influenced by the need to wait or process certain interim steps
  19. Becomes a checklist to track progress and budget
  20. Provides insights into possible conflicts with your work on other matters
  21. Identifies staff assignments that could be changed in order to gain efficiency
  22. Stimulates seeking simpler ways
  23. Identifies areas where unknowns exist and contingency plans can be developed
  24. Increases client understanding as to what is required to meet their desired goals

 

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

      


How to hire LPM staff (Part 2 of 2)

Based on our LPM work with over 100 law firms, LegalBizDev recommends that candidates should be evaluated based on the five criteria below, which are listed in order of importance: 

1.  Extensive legal experience, ideally at your firm.

In a 2006 American Lawyer article, David Maister published a classic article entitled “Are Law Firms Manageable?”  Maister’s article opened with these words: “After spending 25 years saying that all professions are similar and can learn from each other, I’m now ready to make a concession: Law firms are different.” He went on to describe four major differences at length: “problems with trust; difficulties with ideology, values, and principles; professional detachment; and unusual approaches to decision making.”

The most fundamental challenge in hiring legal project managers comes from this fact: they must learn how to work effectively with lawyers. More than a few law firms have made the mistake of hiring somebody with a traditional approach to project management and no experience with law firms.  The results include lots of wasted time developing plans, frustrated attorneys, LPM staff who move from firm to firm, and firms that think LPM doesn’t work. 

The best candidate may be someone who already works at your firm as a lawyer or a senior legal assistant, who is interested in being trained in LPM.  We believe that it takes much longer to understand a particular firm’s culture and operations than it does to learn the fundamentals of LPM.  Internal candidates already know how things really work behind the scenes at your firm and who the key players are. In addition, the people making the hiring decision also know the candidate well.

2.  A flexible approach to project management that fits the needs of law firms.

Traditional “waterfall” project management works best in an environment where requirements can be well defined at the start of a project and are relatively stable.  However, in the legal environment, that is rarely the case.  The result is that Agile project management techniques designed for rapidly changing environments are most valuable to lawyers, and in many cases the traditional approach may actually be counter-productive. According to the article quoted in Part 1 from two Seyfarth Shaw project managers (“Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services,” in The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), one of the qualities that Seyfarth looks for when it hires new project managers is:

Are [they] flexible in their approach to projects?  How well do they respond to fluid situations?  If they have only practiced the traditional waterfall project management methodology… we would have to consider whether they have the ability to adapt to our environment. (p. 91)

We have seen many cases in which law firms first tried to find people with legal experience and failed.  Then they decided to focus on credentials designed for other businesses, such as people who have been certified as Project Management Professionals (PMPs).  This can be exactly the wrong way to go, if the certification came in one of the many professions in which project managers devote an enormous amount of time and energy to defining requirements and making a complete plan at the start of a project.

In the legal environment, needs can change suddenly, and all of those expensive plans may have to get tossed out the window the instant an adversary changes its tactics.

3.  The interpersonal qualities needed to influence lawyers.

When Seyfarth hires LPM staff, another requirement is that candidates:

Possess a mature sense of confidence and ability to influence a team of high-performing individuals to achieve success.  Could we see them sitting alongside attorneys or across the table from our clients?  (p. 91)

Successful legal project managers are both diplomatic and credible, with the gravitas to be accepted by senior partners.  Many firms have hired individuals with great technical facility, but none of these personal qualities.  They tend to sit in their offices developing elaborate plans for a small number of like-minded partners, while everyone else ignores them.  They also tend to last only a year or two in the position, before moving to a different law firm, or out of the legal field.

Obviously, personal qualities such as flexibility and gravitas will be much easier to observe and assess if one hires internal candidates rather than relying on impressions from interviews.

4.  A highly organized detail oriented personality

By its very nature, LPM requires a high degree of organization, discipline and tracking details.  This is another factor that will be easier to assess for internal candidates than for external ones.

5.  Project management knowledge

Note that this is last in our list, because in our experience, it is the easiest to train.  A number of our clients who have promoted from within have used our LegalBizDev Certified Legal Project Manager® program to develop the appropriate knowledge base.

In our opinion, it is unfortunate that many firms put project management knowledge first on their list of requirements, instead of last. We have seen many cases in which firms have hired LPM Directors based on their project management experience in construction, government contracting, or other areas where traditional techniques are used and agile techniques are not.  This has led to many stories of LPM Directors who could not or would not adapt to a legal environment, and ended up working with the very small group of partners who were interested in project charters, Gantt charts, and tools like Microsoft Project software.

Seyfarth faced these exact problems with their own first LPM hires:

The rigors of traditional project management, with its detailed documentation, waterfall-based phases, change control, and paperwork, were interfering with delivery in the fast-paced and often unpredictable world of legal service delivery. (p. 87)

Once Seyfarth switched to an Agile-based approach, legal project managers gained widespread acceptance among lawyers and “three day planning meetings were replaced with one hour kickoff meetings.” (p. 87)

This 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.

 

 

 

      


How to hire LPM staff (Part 1 of 2)

When firms decide to make a serious commitment to LPM by hiring internal LPM staff, they must answer two questions:

  1. How should we define the job of the LPM Manager?
  2. Who is the best person to fill the job?

The position of LPM Manager is so new that both questions are much more difficult to answer than you might expect.

Some LPM Managers have been much more successful than others, due to a combination of management support, firm culture, and the background and personal characteristics of the individual who fills the position.  For an overview of how some of the most widely known LPM directors have defined the job, see the results of our research on the evolving role of LPM directors in this blog.

Quite frankly, in our survey of LPM directors at 15 large firms, it appeared that even within this group there are wide differences of opinion on how to define the job.  For example, some LPM Directors spent an enormous amount of time on evaluating and implementing new software, while others focused on more effectively using the software the firm already owned.  (We recommend the second approach.) 

Perhaps these differences of opinion are related to the high turnover rate for LPM Directors.  A year and a half after we published our research, we went back to LinkedIn to see how many had moved into different jobs.  33% of the people we had interviewed – 5 out of 15 – had changed employers in this 18 month period. (Three of the five had moved to different law firms, and two had gone to in-house law departments.)

In any case, the titles of two thirds of the people we interviewed included both pricing and LPM, but the vast majority of these 15 people spent most or all of their time on pricing.  One reason for this emphasis is that most groups were understaffed, and senior management often mandated an emphasis on pricing first.  It is much easier to get lawyers to agree to bid a particular fee than it is to convince them to change the way they practice law so that they actually deliver services within that amount.

In our view, both pricing and LPM are extremely important for long-term financial success.  To remain profitable, firms must both charge the right price and get lawyers to deliver services within that price. 

However, we also believe that if limited resources force one to choose between the two, LPM is ultimately more important than pricing.  These days, the fees that firms are able to charge are often determined more by competitive bidding than by thoughtful analysis.  And the best pricing function in the world does little good if lawyers consistently exceed the amounts they bid.

Once the job description is defined, the next question is how to identify the best candidate. 

Seyfarth Shaw has probably been hiring project managers for longer than any other law firm.  In the article “Lean and agile – How LPM can transform client services” (which appears in Ark’s recently published book  The Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Project Management), Seyfarth senior managers Karen Dalton and John Duggan have noted that “One of the biggest challenges can be finding people with the right skill set to perform the role of Legal Project Manager.”

The fundamental problem in finding qualified candidates is that as the demand for LPM has increased in the last few years, so has the demand for LPM staff.  Almost every firm starts their search by looking for people with prior LPM success at other law firms, which makes perfect sense.  The difficulty here is that the LPM Director position is so new that only a very small number of candidates meet this criterion.  And people in this group also tend to be highly compensated due to high demand and low supply.

In Part 2 of this series, we will recommend five criteria for evaluating potential LPM staff.

This 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.

      


How to increase new business through active listening (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 of this series included about a dozen questions to get clients talking.  This post contains over 50 additional questions which could help you probe into the details of client needs.  We start with the following:

  • What do you like about working with our firm?
  • What could we do better?
  • What could we do to make your life easier?
  • Can you think of any other ways we could help clients like you, or any new services we could offer?
  • Could we better use technology to be of service to you?
  • What type of status reporting do you like? Weekly? Monthly? Email or phone?
  • Would you recommend our firm to others? Why or why not?
  • If you managed a firm like ours, what would you do differently?
  • How would you rate the quality of our legal product?
  • How well do we listen to your concerns?
  • How well do we understand your goals?
  • How well do we understand your industry?
  • Do we do a good job keeping you informed?
  • Do we explain legal issues in terms that are easy for decision makers to understand?
  • Do you perceive us as genuinely committed to your business success?
  • Do you perceive our lawyers as prompt, responsive, and accessible on short notice?
  • Are our billing statements accurate and complete?
  • Do our invoices include an appropriate level of detail?
  • Do you think our fees are fair and reasonable?
  • In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with other law firms, and with ours?
  • What have you liked least about working with law firms?
  • When you select outside counsel, what factors are most important to you?
  • When you rate lawyers’ performance, what factors are most important to you?
  • How do you decide when to do work in-house, and when to use outside counsel?
  • What future trends in your business or industry will affect your need for legal services?
  • What are your biggest legal concerns?
  • How would you describe your overall impression of our firm?
  • What mistakes can be made when lawyers don’t understand your business and/or industry?

Note: While most of these questions address your service, they could easily be reworded to ask how clients perceive other law firms they work with. That can be an excellent way to get insights into where competitors are vulnerable.

With some clients, it may be better to start with big picture business questions, such as:

  • What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Where do you see your industry going in the next few years?
  • What does your ideal customer look like?
  • What works best in finding new customers?
  • Who are your biggest customers?
  • What is it like to work for your company?
  • Who are the key people you work with?

Whatever specific topics you choose to explore, it is important to “master the art of the easily answered question,” as explained in Kevin Daley’s Socratic Selling.The book describes how to become an active listener by using simple prompts like these:

  • Tell me more about ____.
  • Would you elaborate on ____?
  • Give me an example of ____.
  • What else should I know about ____?
  • How does ____ fit the picture?
  • Talk to me about your experience with _____.
  • How do you handle _____?
  • What makes this urgent?
  • Why is this important right now?
  • What bothers you most?
  • How tough a position does this put you in?
  • How does this affect you?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • How does that sound?
  • Do I have it right?
  • If you were to go ahead with ____, when would you ____?
  • What else should I ask about?

To be honest, the first time I saw this list I thought it looked a little dumb.  By nature, I did not want to ask clients “tell me more,” or “do I have it right?”  I usually quickly thought I had heard enough, and of course I thought I had it right.  So I wanted to get right to the point and tell clients what I thought they should do. 

Many lawyers seem to feel the same way.  They’d like to get to the point faster by dominating the conversation. Probes like the ones above do not come naturally to many lawyers because they like to control the conversation. But guess what.  Clients do too.

Simple questions like the ones above can help clients think through a situation while assuring that they talk 80% or more of the time. 

Professional salespeople have an old saying that “Whoever talks the most will enjoy the meeting the most.” That’s one reason lawyers so often leave business development meetings thinking the meeting was very successful; they did most of the talking.   But then they don’t get the business.

If you want to improve relationships and increase new business, you want the client to be the one who enjoys the meeting more.

If you would like to create more specific questions to fit your client’s precise interests, one place to start is with Paul Lippe’s influential article, “Welcome to the Future: Embracing the New Normal.” Then use your background knowledge of the client to create specific questions about some of the trends Lippe lists: alternate staffing, predictable pricing, defined quality, client intimacy, technology, and process innovation. 

And if you want general tips on becoming a better listener, there are countless websites and books that can help.  You could even join the International Listening Association, which has members in 19 countries who “promote the study of listening… and pursue research into the ways in which listening can develop understanding in our personal, political, social and working lives.”

Or you could just start with these five steps:

  1. Establish genuine interest by asking questions that you care about.
  2. Take notes. Writing down what people say shows that what they say is important, and that you are paying attention. Just put the pen down if the talk turns confidential.
  3. Respond to the speaker’s nonverbal cues and monitor your own, including eye contact, smiling, and frowning.
  4. Keep people talking. Paraphrase, summarize, and restate what you hear. When you agree with people, they will think that you are smart. Especially if you don’t interrupt them or argue.
  5. Come prepared with good questions.

If listening does not come naturally to you, practice.  Make a commitment for your next meeting to talk no more than 20% of the time, or some other percentage. (The actual percentage will depend on the client’s needs.  There are meetings when you should talk 50% or more of the time, if the client wants to interview you about your knowledge.  The client is always right.)  Then, after the meeting, compare the percent of time you planned to listen with what actually occurred. Track the results over time, using a simple format like this:

TrackingListening_Template

Obviously, the “actual” percent will be a very rough approximation. But the National Science Foundation is not going to review these results, so an estimate is fine. The important things are to track your behavior and to improve over time.

This 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.

      



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