Moving to New Intersection

At the Intersection is moving to a new address –

Starting right away, all new posts can be found at the new location. See you there.

Don’t miss upcoming Guest Post on LPM from Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.

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(Part 5 of 5, LPM in Transactional Practices)

This is the last in our series of posts about conversations with Lex, who heads a large New York law firm’s transactional practice and is an avid supporter of using Legal Project Management (LPM) to plan, manage and assure consistent quality in the deals he leads.

An Unexpected Second Career
In addition to being the architect and chief honcho for bewilderingly complex transactions, Lex tells me that he recently realized he had, by default, taken on another vital role: Keeper of Client Institutional Memory.

“I do most of my biggest deals for a single client, and I have been their go-to deal lawyer for over 24 years. No one I presently interact with has been at the company longer than six years.

“I must say that our deals tend to go off smoothly and efficiently – no dropped balls, no do-overs or reinventing the wheel, no failures to communicate. On my own, over the years I have kept a detailed database of every deal we’ve ever done together – dates, players, terms, results. When the client asks about something in the past, I’ve got answers at my fingertips.

Lawyer As Institutional Memory
“I get high points from the client for this, but I don’t think their folks really appreciate how this happens. They must think it’s magic, or luck or the rewards deserved by virtuous souls. You know what it really is? It’s the long view. It’s years of experience, of fine-tuning, of dealing with every conceivable eventuality. And it’s maintaining all that knowledge in an organized, accessible way. After all these years, I know more about the client than even the client does.”

Think about that. If you start talking about ‘longitudinal knowledge’ or ‘continuity,’ Lex, like many lawyers, is indispensable because he is the only one who has been involved in the continuous process for more than a few years. Over and above deal-making skills, with Lex’s collective knowledge, he is the client’s deal library and institutional memory. He is not even an employee, but only he can recapture past events. He is really indispensable to his most important client.

Using Knowledge Management?
I asked Lex if he explicitly communicated this unique “Knowledge Management” role to the client, actively encouraged their new or younger lawyers to tap his experience, or discussed ways to translate his accumulated wisdom onto a platform client lawyers could access freely. “Not really,” he admitted. “If I get hit by a truck, they’re pretty much back to square one.”

LPM in Action
Lawyers tend to scoff at “consultant-speak” phrases like post project review, knowledge management, and continuous improvement. But such phrases are accurate descriptions of what Lex has done for years:

1. After every transaction is completed, he reviews it, evaluates what went well, analyzes what could have been done better.

2. He translates these one-by-one reviews into a collective, organized body not just of information, but learned wisdom, of knowledge.

3. He applies that knowledge to assuring quality, improving efficiency and avoiding pitfalls, and developing new methods and approaches.

What we have here really is LPM in action – not just a gathering of information, but robust analysis and doing something smart with it! With over a quarter-century of experience, I ask Lex if he is as good as he’s ever going to get. “No,” he laughs. “I’m often surprised by the new perspectives I get by going over past deals. No doubt about it, I’m a lifelong learner. That’s what makes it fun.”

© 2011, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the express permission from Edge International US, LLC.

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The Random Lunatic — Always an Unhappy Surprise

Legal Project Management, transactions, lawyers, attorneys, practice group leader, mergers and acquisitions, lunatic(Part 4 of 5, LPM in Transactional Practices)

Ever had that experience when someone coins a phrase that perfectly describes something you could never find the word to describe? It happened recently during a fascinating conversation with “Lex,” head of a large law firm’s transactional corporate practice and an advocate for applying Legal Project Management (LPM) methods to deals and deal lawyers.

The Problem is People
We were speaking about LPM scoping and planning and about the importance of identifying uncertainties, potential problems, risks and changes before they occur. “Yes, but when people think of all the things that might impact or derail a transaction,” Lex said, “they always think about things that might happen – new legislation, economic events, regulatory roadblocks, etc. There’s one factor that always comes up that no one ever talks about: the random lunatic.”

Lex was absolutely right: I realized instantly that I’d never been involved with an important case, transaction, negotiation, consulting engagement, workshop or even friendly collaboration that didn’t require a “workaround,” that is, some extraordinary effort to cope with a wild-card, loose cannon, know-it-all, know-nothing, saboteur, incompetent, dull-normal, tyrant, or other species of jerk.

Jerks & Clowns
Lex and I agreed that the worst kinds of random lunatics are those who behave like spontaneous and inconsistent forces of nature: volatile, impulsive, indecisive or mercurial on one hand, or devious, obstructive, hypocritical or implacably stubborn on the other. They can be adversaries who don’t play by the rules, grandstanders who try to hog the limelight, judges that don’t get it, or even your own firm’s subject-matter experts whose expertise you need but who blow your budget or annihilate your timetable.

“The random lunatics I often run into,” said Lex, “are the people who pay the money. They may not have skin in the game, but they control the purse-strings. They’ll deny that they are trying to give you a hard time, but then they lay some off-the-wall demand on you – often on a matter of form and not of substance.”

Lex and I agreed that random lunatics can lack both self-awareness and context awareness: they may not understand the effect they have on people, are tone-deaf politically, or simply don’t care who they offend. “It’s really not hard to trip them up or show them up,” Lex said, “but what’s the point? If I react, they just act more outrageously. So part of my plan is to ask this question: Must I really rely on them for anything? If the answer is no, I disengage, firmly, politely if I can…but fast.

Lunatic Workarounds
But, if the answer is yes, I pause to consider what need is driving their behavior, what gain they’re trying to get out of this situation. If I can step back and get a handle on that, I find I may be able to respond to their need, rather than reacting to their behavior. After all, my job is to get the deal done, not make new friends. It’s a little like Jiu Jitsu – rather than confronting or fighting, I leverage their own energy to take them where I want them to go.”

The key to minimizing the impact of random lunatics is superior planning. We may not be able to eliminate the “lunatic quotient” from our legal projects, but we can use LPM approaches to diminish the surprise and control the damage whenever and however it appears.

© 2011, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without advance written approval.

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Communicating With “The Client” – Lessons From Lex

Legal Project ManagementBy Pam Woldow & Douglas Richardson

(Part 3 of 5, LPM in Transactional Practices)

Welcome Back, Lex
In the last several posts, we’ve been telling you about Lex, the head of a national firm’s transactional practice group, and his staunch support for the application of Legal Project Management (LPM) principles and practices to transactional work.

The Plan, Boss, The Plan!
Lex agreed enthusiastically when we stated that LPM is as much about having a detailed communication plan as it is about developing useful processes, methods, tools and metrics.

“Communication among lawyers is never simple,” Lex said. “And in our complex deals, it gets incredibly complicated. We often say ‘we’ll need to talk to the client about that’ as if that really explains who needs to talk to whom about what, and when. Well, that’s not how real life works.”

A Real Tower of Babel
Lex, who is based in New York, then provided this example:

“I received a call from a partner (and valued referral source) with a London firm, let’s call him Basil, who wanted our firm to handle the US aspects of a complicated and time-sensitive multinational transaction for his prize client, the General Counsel — let’s call him Gerhard — of a huge German-based multinational. You should know that Basil is both very averse to conflict – he hates giving bad news – and is very protective of his relationship with Gerhard. He says Gerhard hates to be bothered with ‘a lot of incidental trivia’ and has a habit of not reading his emails. Basil says three partners and three associates in his firm will be working on the European aspects of the transaction.

“I’m to lead the US deal team, and Basil says he wants communication with him to come through me. As the deal progresses, Basil also wants all communication with the Germans to go through him. Our deal responsibilities will require me to enlist our firm’s subject-matter experts in tax, ERISA, securities law, labor and employment, and environmental law. These experts are partners, accustomed to direct client contact. We’ll also have several associates and paralegals working on due diligence, documentation, etc.

Need to Know
“When our team met to create a project plan and to diagram a practical ‘communication matrix,’ you can imagine some of the questions my team raised:

– Will there be a project plan that integrates the efforts of our firm, Basil’s firm and Gerhard’s legal staff? Who will create and manage that plan?

– Does Basil really mean that all communications with Gerhard must be funneled through him? Won’t that be a huge bottleneck?

– Can/should our subject-matter experts talk directly with their counterparts in Basil’s firm? How about with counsel on Gerhard’s legal staff regarding technical questions, due diligence questions, documentation, etc.?

– What will be the protocol if our experts need to talk to executives and managers in Gerhard’s corporation? Must these conversations be routed through you to Basil, and then to Basil’s specialists, and then to the client? How do we assure that nothing is lost in this ‘whisper down the lane’ approach?

– What do we do if/when there is some “bad news” that needs to be delivered to the client since we know that Basil can’t bear to tell Gerhard anything displeasing?

– What type of communication should everyone use? How will we track all the communication among the various stakeholders? How will we keep everybody in the loop?

– What is the relative decision-making authority of partners at our firm and those at Basil’s?

– What should we do if problems come up or delays occur?

“In every part of this Tower of Babel, someone had better know who has the power to communicate – or, in our case, to negotiate — who should talk with whom and who should never talk with whom, who drives the communication and who keeps track of all the communication. And you need to know more than the formal communication pathways – you also have to be aware of the styles and personalities of crucial players. Any lapses or any slip-ups can be really costly, either messing up a deal or impairing a client relationship” says Lex.

Who IS the Client?
We, too, are astonished at how imprecisely lawyers at firms talk about ‘the client.’ The client can be a company, a CEO, a business group head, a general counsel, AGC or in-house staff attorney. As in Lex’s transaction, the “client” may have surrogates in other firms.

The advantage of LPM is that it provides a framework for thinking about and planning communication before everyone dives in to the legal work. The very act of planning reminds everyone that communication pathways are important and must be carefully considered. We have helped map communication plans that include over 40 stakeholders at a firm, in its client’s legal department and business/management ranks, its vendors, and its external constituents – courts, other counsel, vendors, experts, etc. And those plans turn out to be relationship-preservers in every deal.

Whenever there are lots of moving parts, it is folly to think that communication will happen by default or that stakeholders can operate on an ad hoc or need-to-know basis. The better those interactions are planned and agreed upon at the front-end of any engagement, the better. Yes, this takes time – maybe even unbillable time. But as Louis Pasteur reminds us, “fortune favors the prepared mind.”

© 2011, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the express permission from Edge International US, LLC.

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KM Triumphs at the Lex & Larry LPM Showdown

"legal project management", "locking horns"(Part 2 of 5, LPM in Transactional Practices)

Welcome Back, Lex
In our last post, we introduced you to “Lex,” head of a large firm’s transactional practice group and a powerful spokesman for the benefits of applying legal project management (LPM) principles to transactional legal work.

What Lawyers Should Do
Lex learned — and now practices religiously — what most lawyers haven’t: how powerfully systematic post project review of every transaction and project leverages command and control of future projects. Post project review may be the final step in LPM, but arguably it is the most important. In their rush to commence the next case or deal, most lawyers blow right by this stage, never bothering to focus on lessons learned or the importance of making individual experience available to colleagues in the firm for their future use. Lex has schooled himself to avoid this impulse.

For starters, post project review poses some basic crucial client relations questions: 1) Is the client satisfied? 2) What did we do well? And 3) What can we improve next time?

Post Project Review Meets KM
However, beyond analyzing performance quality and evaluating present application of substantive legal skills, post project review generates an understanding of all the contextual considerations that may impact similar engagements in the future. To use the currently fashionable term, this is Knowledge Management – “KM” as it now often is called — a crucial tool for firms to gather, integrate, prioritize store and disseminate their collective experience.

The post project review stage of LPM is the fountainhead for “KM capture.” Skip it, and you dumb yourselves down.

Long before the term Knowledge Management entered common currency, Lex had made himself a one-man KM department. “I have compiled decades of detailed deal data,” he says. “The deals. The players. The negotiations. The tactics, timeframes, train-wrecks, and triumphs.  It has been a pain to keep this database current. But, oh, God, the benefits! The advantages!”

Post Project Review in Action
Lex tells a powerful war story: In the presence of the deal principals, Lex and his counterpart from another prestigious firm – let’s call him Larry — were discussing  certain pivotal aspects of the underlying deal. When Lex suggested one approach to a substantive issue, Larry scoffed, “No way. Our firm would never agree to that approach.”

Lex, who didn’t want to humiliate Larry in front of his client, said, “Larry, I really don’t think you want to go there.”  This only made Larry dig in deeper: “That’s unacceptable to us. We never, ever do it that way.”

At this point, Lex pointed out that in deals with just Lex’s firm, over the last several years Larry’s partners in his firm’s Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles had repeatedly adopted that very approach – with excellent results. It was no surprise that Lex prevailed in this negotiation, and hardly a surprise that when Larry’s current client selected counsel for its next major transaction, Lex and his firm got the nod.

KM Capture: Key to the Future
Lex is thrilled that his firm is now investing heavily in KM capabilities.

“For years, I kept the data on all our department’s deals. It wasn’t just for my use.  I shared it with my partners, with our associates, anyone who wanted to know what we did and how we did it. My one-man KM efforts flattened a lot of peoples’ learning curves dramatically and reduced redundant effort exponentially.  It wasn’t about teaching substantive legal skills; it was about the application of knowledge to contextual factors. As our firm has gotten larger and more geographically-dispersed, we have learned that we need ways to learn from the collective experience of our lawyers.  It also has to make all that cumulative knowledge accessible. I’m relieved I won’t have to keep our deal data myself anymore, but I’m sure glad I did before.”

There you have it: post project review is not just about evaluating current performance; it’s about KM Capture, about providing the perspective to take things to the next level the next time around.

© 2011, Edge International US, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the express permission from Edge International US, LLC.

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Legal Project Management: Lessons from “Lex” (Part 1 of 5, LPM and Transactional Practices)

"getting to the point", "legal project management"But Not for Me
Over the course of four years of implementing large law firm Legal Project Management (LPM) initiatives, it has been common for transactional lawyers to ‘inform’ me that the whole Legal Project Management (LPM) trend may be well and good for litigators, but has little to add to the effectiveness of lawyers who do deals. “We have neither time nor need for a lot of elaborate plans or detailed work process templates,” they’ll say. “We have to get up to speed quickly, work fast, and close most of our deals in the time it takes litigators just to plot strategy.”

Meet Lex, Deal Dynamo
That’s why I was thrilled by my recent conversation with an absolutely brilliant large firm corporate lawyer I’ll call “Lex,” who heads his firm’s transactional practice group. In just 40 incredibly pithy minutes, Lex made the case — more broadly, powerfully and succinctly than I’d ever heard before — for the application of LPM tools and techniques to sophisticated transactional work.  You’ll hear more about Lex in my next several posts.

“We may move fast with our deals,” Lex says, “but our approaches and techniques are wildly ad hoc. Having dealt with corporate lawyers in many firms, I must tell you that most firms really have no idea what their transactional partners and relationship partners in various offices are doing. The lawyers were good enough to make partner, so they deserve respect for their deal skills, and deals do get done, so they must be doing a lot of things right. But they do not have unified sets of best practices, or any way of communicating what they are seeing and learning to other lawyers.  Deal lawyers are constantly reinventing the wheel – and clients have to pay for that.  As a whole, our legal skills are superb; our process and management skills suck.”

A Checklist is NOT a Plan
Lex reaffirmed our own experience that deal lawyers tend to confuse checklists with decision trees and work process breakdowns. “Sure, every closing has a checklist,” he says, “which is basically just a list of the documents that have to be completed in order for the deal to be done. But these checklists generally say nothing about the process of completing those documents — who is to do them, what analytical approach to consider, how long it should take to do them, even who coordinates all the activity.”  While transactional lawyers generally have a broad understanding of the basic phases of a deal, except for the senior partner overseeing the whole transaction, few lawyers are likely to have a clear understanding of all the tasks and moving pieces – and the sequencing of those – that must be managed and coordinated to complete a complex deal.

“That puts a huge management burden on a small group of senior lawyers,” Lex says. “If we developed a more thoughtful set of work processes for various kinds of transactions, we’d be able to work just as fast. Only fewer players on the team would be left in the dark so much of the time.”

The Bottom Line
That’s a basic tenet of LPM: articulating explicitly things that experienced lawyers know implicitly.

© 2011, Edge International US, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the express permission from Edge International US, LLC.

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A New Approach to Collaboration: Legal Project Management

Woldow, LPM, law firm training, legal departmentGiven the hard-nosed economic realities of the legal profession, it strikes many lawyers as a little touchy-feely, and even a bit naïve, to speak of “partnerships” between law firms and their clients. Although the parties share a need and appreciation for high-quality legal work, law is basically a vendor-purchaser relationship where one side’s desire to limit costs and the other side’s money-making objectives create interactions that often are misaligned and at times adversarial.

However, the titanic cost pressures on law firms and legal departments alike certainly reward new types of collaborations, even if they can’t accurately be described as partnerships.  In today’s new reality, the driving force is efficiency and its sidekicks:  predictability, communication and risk reduction.

Right now, that force frequently manifests on a do-it-yourself basis, expressed in  unilateral client initiatives:

►       RFPs demanding legal project management (LPM) capabilities from their firms

►       delegating RFP administration to procurement departments

►       declining to pay for first (second and even third!) year associate time

►       using internal analysts to scrutinize law firm bills

►       demanding that firms adopt their billing or task codes.

For their part, firms may take their own steps to improve performance and efficiency, perhaps by reorganizing their practice groups into client teams, implementing razzle-dazzle new LPM software tools, conducting upward review of their partners’ supervisory capabilities, or implementing competency-based performance evaluation of associates.

Writing recently, in the Wall Street Journal, Vanessa O’Connell noted another unilateral sea change:  some law departments’ are hiring their baby lawyers directly from law school and training them themselves, rather than recruiting older lawyers with law firm experience.

Hewlett-Packard’s GC, Michael Holston, calls this self-help approach “the wave of the future.”  Pfizer GC Amy Shulman couches the trend in terms of the buyer’s perspective: “We need to train a new generation of lawyers who know how to respond to what clients need.”

We urge an alternative take on this either-we-do-it-or-they-do-it orientation.  In our LPM training, we see better results when we focus more on client teams and build training content around the actual roles and responsibilities of the “intact team,” rather than training large groups of lawyers from diverse practice groups.  We have seen even greater and more immediate benefits when we include lawyers from the client side in the training – not just to watch, but to build their needs, structure and internal procedures into the fabric of the training.   The emphasis on technique more than theory and this practical focus plays well with all stakeholders.

We see no reason why these collaborative benefits – for both sides – cannot readily be extended to the orientation and training of the lawyers who serve certain important clients, regardless of whether they’re employed by the firm or are in-house lawyers.  Already we are seeing more client demands in RFPs for the secondment of several associates to reside for awhile within the client’s walls (at no cost to the client, of course).

To extend this idea, we see a powerful incentive for what might be call “Bridged Professional Development,” that is, on training initiatives that are tied to real matters being handled by real client-law firm teams in real life.  Such initiatives would provide a powerful lever for the firm and the client to collaborate on defining service deliverables, phases, tasks, roles and communication.

From the client’s perspective, only a few “crème de la crème” lawyers provide this sort of professional development collaboration right now, but it sure makes sense for more to advance this idea to their clients.   Being recognized for pragmatic innovation requires giant strides, not baby steps.  It’s not enough to try to be just a little better than one’s competitors.

So, be the first on your block to rise above the herd, to get practical, to get real.  Robin Williams once put it perfectly: “Reality. Wow, what a concept.”


© 2011, Edge International US, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the express permission from Edge International US, LLC.

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