2011: Contemplating the Great What Next

It’s been an eventful year for the legal profession, although scores of law firm lawyers and in-house counsel wish it hadn’t been.  For many lawyers, Legal Project Management (LPM) — the drive to make the cost of legal services more predictable and their delivery more efficient – remains at center stage as an economic imperative, compelling fundamental change within a population averse to change.  But, the change will come as repeated surveys show that 77 to 85% of law firm managing partners believe that LPM will become a permanent fixture in the legal profession.

The transition to new ways of scoping, planning and managing engagements remains a work in progress – one still in its formative stages.  LPM is a Big Gulp: a changed model for service delivery implies a changed approach to performance metrics, to both law firm and law department management, and to law firm-client relationships.  To those pleased with and accustomed to Ye Olde Order, these are uncomfortable developments, and some of those lawyers (notably, boomer-generation lawyers) are being dragged kicking and screaming into the new paradigm – even as that paradigm continues to evolve.

My Edge colleague Doug Richardson and I have spent much of 2010 on the front lines in the LPM Wars, and in coming blog posts I will be highlighting the important lessons that are emerging from attempts of both law firms and law departments to get their arms around effective LPM implementation.

This much is clear: there is no single recipe, cook book or set of universal best practices for rolling out and initiating LPM within a firm or law department.

LPM initiatives have included:

  • Awareness programs
  • Full-immersion, full-firm training
  • Practice group-specific pilot programs
  • Client-team workshops
  • Separate partner and associate training
  • Programs in which law firms and select clients dive into LPM together.

How well each approach works depends on whether the strategic goal is primarily to build the buzz about LPM, familiarize all firm or department lawyers with LPM’s basic topography, develop fundamental hands-on LPM skills, or identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks and budget-busters.

LPM has been accepted by first-adopter (and first-follower) firm leaders, embraced by Chief Marketing Officers who appreciate LPM’s business development potential, and gratefully received by associates who finally know where they stand in the overall scheme of their work.

Because the most visible LPM implementation efforts have come from large law firms and law departments, we also must be mindful that LPM’s allure and utility vary with different types and sizes of clients and law firms.  As one sole practitioner has reminded us, “What is critical to understand is that there is a rapidly-enlarging array of ‘alternative’ practice platforms emerging.  No single one of them is necessarily going to emerge as the dominant form.”  Fortunately, LPM has proved fully scalable to address matters, clients and firms of all sizes.

In the interests of better predictability and cost management, many clients are pressing their outside law firms for the fixed-fee and value-based billing arrangements that respond so well to LPM.  But not all clients are demanding change, abandoning the billable hour or turning law firm-client relationships into bidding contests.  Although almost all law departments face budget squeezes, not all chief legal officers are yet prepared to implement LPM internally. As one General Counsel said, “economic conditions have given the client unprecedented clout in demanding accountability.  Our problem is that some of us are no more experienced in wielding that clout than law firms are in responding to it.”

In 2011 and beyond At the Intersection will continue to track the morphing of the legal profession and deliver dispatches from the front as lawyers in all settings confront the challenges of change.  As everyone positions themselves for the “interesting times” to come, we wish you especially Happy Holidays and a particularly Happy New Year.

© 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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2 Responses to 2011: Contemplating the Great What Next

  1. legalinformatics says:

    Ms. Woldow: Thank you for this very interesting post. My focus is information, and so I’d like to ask: Does LPM require a particular approach to managing information? If so, what is that approach, and how, if at all, does it differ from past information management practices in the firm?

    • pwoldow says:

      Richards1000: Thank you very much for raising this important issue. I find that many lawyers want to default to technology solutions without first embracing the essence of LPM, which in my experience leads to low adoption rates. LPM, as a disciplined approach to scoping, budgeting, managing and communicating effectively on legal matters, does not require any particular approach to managing information. However, LPM budgeting and managing can be significantly enhanced by the availability of information, e.g., time and billing data that is tied to the phases of legal matters. If time is gathered more intelligently (as Freshfields’ managing partner said), a firm can begin to understand the cost of its services and the lawyers can budget and manage matters in accordance with more reliable estimates or fee arrangements. Similarly, if the firm engages in post-project review of legal matters, it would be helpful to have a way to fold the learnings into future engagements and to share that information with lawyers throughout the firm.

      Some firms have developed templates and other LPM tools that help accumulate and manage certain information, but please let me emphasize that LPM is not fundamentally about technology systems and tools. At its core, it is about understanding what clients need and want, clarifying the cost of services to meet the clients’ needs, breaking matters down into their logical phases, and planning/managing matters to accomplish the goals and cost limitations of clients. It is quite simply the best practice for handling legal matters. The management of information can — and does — play an important supporting role, but it is critical for the attorneys to adopt the mindset first. Otherwise, supporting systems will be poorly used, if at all.

      If you want to know more about some of the supporting information developments in the LPM arena, please feel free to contact me at pwoldow@edge-international.com. Thank you.

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