Friday, October 15, 2010

Document Assembly; Standard Approach and The Future

This is another presentation report, my notes from a KM peer group meeting.

Document Assembly is a "hard nut to crack." It is one of the ways however that lawyers can greatly increase their productivity.

Enterprise search, document assembly, contract analysis, and proofreading are all key ways to increase productivity.

At one firm financial industry registration changes and a large amount of anticipated work led them to develop a document assembly package for the new registration forms their clients needed. A few attorneys were able to set up a tool that did a lot of work. One lesson learned was the necessity to set up at times complex processes to maintain document assembly packages. There may be either too high expectations or "blaming the application" for errors introduced after the documents had been generated.

It was a successful effort in that the efficiency gain made it possible to do a lot more work. It was easy to change the model, and quality control was improved. It's not "last deal done" sample use any more. The KM lawyer is very happy to have document assembly in her tool kit.

Joshua Fireman of ii3 looked at the KIIAC application (discussed by Peter Krakauer at the ILTA conference). It assesses the variations and extent of variation of agreements. The firm he was working with delivered over 100 share purchase agreements. The tool deduplicated and determined that there were "only" 55 unique documents. One document was identified as the "most conforming." The fourth on the list was a bar association standard form. The firm KM lawyer went through clause-by-clause and assessed which version would work better. It took him 4-5 hours to figure out KIAAC and another 4 hours to develop the purchase agreement model. Almost every clause included links to most-commonly used variant clauses.

Joshua thinks that KIIAC has some document assembly features but also has a strong quality component. You can compare documents against the "KIIAC standard." The tool can not just develop a model or document assembly package, but can also greatly reduce the time to turn around effective comments on a document received from other counsel. (I had not thought of this use, which further demonstrates that I am a litigator by nature not a transactional attorney).

KIIAC is a tool designed to be powerful rather than user-friendly. PSLs or KM attorneys might use it to set up document assembly but practicing attorneys would not use it that way. Perhaps PSLs could use the tool in the analytical "other counsel" scenario. This can position KM as a real competitive advantage. KIAAC may not be able to deliver a final model, but it can save tremendous amounts of time in the development of such models. It can generate a decent quality model or document assembly package in a very reasonable period of time.

KM and Legal Project Management

These are my notes from a presentation on knowledge management and legal project management (LPM). The first half contrasted the purposes, tools, challenges of LPM and KM. The second half of the presentation covered an impressive, albeit soon-to-be released, legal service platform for delivery of commoditized administrative complaint legal services. It combines an effective workflow with KM and information-sharing of a very high order.

(As with the previous post, the specific presenters and firms are not identified under the rules of this meeting.)

KM Contrasted with LPM

While KM seeks to provide actionable information, LPM tries to provide more structure to what lawyers already do. Both seek to deliver more efficiency, and use software or business process changes. KM seeks to develop content (I note that some content is a by-product of LPM). It is not clear who can or should do legal project management at law firms. The PM role should be embedded within practice areas. Where LPM requires lawyers to create a plan and follow that plan, KM offerings are typically more voluntary. LPM requires a change in organizational methods, it is not simply "more structure."

A commentator noted that some KM practitioners are concerned with quality and consistency as well as efficiency. A project manager will typically balance quality as one component against time and cost.

Some KM practitioners are already concerned with process improvement. It may be time to "grasp the nettle" and get involved with these efforts. LPM is an opportunity

Clients will pay for planning if it is positioned properly.

Process Improvement

The CFO at one firm has been asking the KM department to identify or provide tools and mechanisms for process improvement and LPM. KM feeds into LPM very well. LPM helps you map the process. KM's job is to build the tools that support the processes.

This firm has set up a workflow for firm administrators to track intake on a certain type of administrative complaints that are filed against some clients across the U.S. KM provides forms, wikis, and information specific to the matter at the time that the attorney is drafting the response to the complaint or interviewing witnesses.

The firm has "flex-time" attorneys that can handle these matters. Other attorneys are supervising the matters and conduct or review risk assessments. (It strikes me that this model is flexibly expandable).

The recommendations of both as to how to proceed need to match (or, I assume, the file is escalated to the supervisor's supervisor). They are tracking metrics for frequency and cost of settlement that can be assessed at the flex-time attorney or supervisor level. All the status and monitoring information is available to the client. The client can also track metrics such as claims by location or by client's manager.

This approach is very effective for commodity-level work. You can control for the variables. It combines case management and document assembly. Multiple levels of supervision are critical for the quality control. The tool is not in active use yet but was started in January 2010. It took them two months to conceptualize the project and present to the client. They used an interim database to capture information before the full tool is rolled out.

Essentially the client is outsourcing much of the internal work that used to be associated with these matters to the law firm. The tool and processes (and the staffing model) enable mass-scale commodity work to be done by a large firm, with quality control.

Legal Process Management In Action

Another presentation at a KM peer group saw real-life examples of project management in action at large law firms. Under the rules of this meeting, firm identities are not publicly acknowledged. As with the previous notes, these are my near-live notes of the presentation.

The two firms discussed are at different phases of development and adoption of project management. It was interesting to hear real-life examples of the processes and changes necessary in a more PM-oriented law firm.

One firm saw greater client interest in knowing costs in advance of project commencement. They felt that greater certainty and predictability of legal cost would be a market differentiator for them. Clients are also seeking more nonstandard fees. They want to move away from the "cost-plus" model. Capturing historical information about staffing and pricing can be used to provide good estimates for fixed fee or other types of AFAs.

They drew on an IT staff member with significant project management skills. The KM professional worked with this person to try to identify what additions lawyers might be able to handle in terms of additional structure to their work.

They first developed a training program and some proprietary software. A small pilot led to robust feedback about what was and wasn't useful in different ways in different practice areas. Many of the partners who participated became champions of LPM going forward. The pilot has also led to some real stories about improving efficiency that help with training.

They didn't have a KM lawyer on the initial working group. In the second phase they have more KM lawyers, who have made a significant contribution in the areas of information collection and linking existing firm resources into the templates. They have also helped with naming conventions and the technical aspects of information gathering that typical lawyers are not so aware of. The KM lawyer can be a bridge or "de-mystifier" to LPM processes. KM lawyers have also helped managed the breakdown of work.

Legal PM can borrow techniques that have been very successful in other industries for decades. Putting a structure in place for planning, and increasing accountability for keeping to the plan has led to higher standards for matter organization. The communication points are crucial and are reflected in the name of their program. They believe that will greatly reduce their firm's writedowns (writeoffs).

LPM can greatly increase profitability in a few different ways. If the right people are doing the work, you will have the best leverage model for that work.

AFAs can be intimidating for law firms. A historical database of matter information can let you see how you staffed it and priced it, and what you learned from previous matters.

A second law firm is involved in the ACC "Value Challenge." They created a project management office outside of IT. They all got certified in PMI and put formal processes in place. They hired a few PMs from outside. The firm has identified PM skills as a core competency. KM professionals are supporting the PM team but aren't driving the effort.

Their goals were to institutionalize the process of having "value conversations" with clients and to work collaboratively to acheive that goal.

They are doing both process improvement and LPM. They take out ineffeciencies and take out what the client doesn't want. They've reduced the cost of legal services. They have a structure of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), or "improve & control." For instance, they examined the matter intake process and found a five-day delay that could be eliminated by combining some forms and rearranging the conflict check process.

They have done process maps for 70 different types of legal work. It's like static. If you know what's going to happen it will happen faster. The maps identify proper resources and task codes. The PM team sits down in "Kaizen Sessions" with a whole team and identifies what happens when (initially using sticky notes). Task codes are a very important piece to let them track how we are providing legal services.

KM "artifacts" are connected with particular steps. What do need at each step? A checklist? Template? Form? Get "brain dumps" for checklists. People from the team can see what they need for what step. Process maps are on their intranet. They are treated as "road maps." There is a time estimate in each step. They also have staffing suggestions (staffing is still under development). They have tools that identify where people are on the map.

They have a monitoring tool they developed in-house. They have created task codes for different areas of law and require all attorneys to use them. Time and expense against the budget is shown on their tool. Attorneys have to assess and add to the tool the actual "percent complete" at the specific phase level.

At the end of an engagement, this firm uses a scorecard and lets clients rate the firm on understanding objectives of the matter, legal expertise, efficiency, responsiveness, budgeting skills, and results, and asks "would you hire us again."

This firm has a "fixed fee" offering for single plaintiff (employment?) litigation. They have reduced the average cost of such matters almost by half by managing such matters more efficiently.

The PM team now consults with in-house counsel on effective process improvement.

They did not require the whole firm to adopt this approach. Attorneys are impressed with the mapping sessions. Clients like knowing that the firm is doing effective project management.

Firm culture has changed. It is a big change. People are understanding that they will have to change with the market.

Outside of formal PM processes, some people might be able to develop a time frame, staffing, and budgeting for a particular deal. But if it is not documented, these plans are not transferable, and can't be as easily reused. If the 189 steps of a deal can be documented it would make it easier to do the high-value work. If the tasking and scope is not confirmed with client, then changes to the scope (as with the discovery of another 400 boxes of due diligence documents) aren't so easily discussed with the client.

Legal Project Management

Susan Raridon Lambreth of Hildebrandt Baker Robbins presented on legal project management (LPM) at a meeting of KM peers this morning. She is an effective (albeit extremely quick-talking) speaker, and seems to have found an effective approach to communicating LPM themes and approaches to lawyers.

What is Legal Project Management

LPM is a "disciplined approach to the management of legal matters." We have to acknowledge that lawyers have been successful in managing legal projects before the formal application of LPM. In training LPM don't suggest that they have been doing everything wrong. Emphasize that LPM will enhance communications with clients and managing client expectations.

Process Improvement and LPM

Process improvement might be better tackled before LPM improvements. Many law firms have gotten on the LPM bandwagon, perhaps because it is less threatening. You can "back into" process improvement after doing some LPM. Process improvement may lead to greater efficiencies faster.


One of the trends driving LPM is client demands for "better, faster, and cheaper." Clients saw more serious economic effects of the recession than the legal industry as a whole did (referred to increased profits at AMLaw 100 firms). Clients expect costs to be lower every year. Clients are looking more for alternative fee arrangements (AFAs).

The profit equation is also changing. Billable hour productivity had been going down. Billing rates were driving increased profitability. This is now flat or down in many firms. Law firms have to get more profits by changing the way that they work. There is also more competition for legal work in terms of outsourcing and aggressive pricing (large firms competing with and sometimes beating medium-sized firms on price).

The procurement offices are also getting more involved in legal work sourcing. Procurement officers may be in a position to put more pressure on outside firms.

Increased client power is driving faster segmentation and devaluing. Work even within a high-priority matter might get broken out or segmented, so that "trusted advisor" work would be compensated or sourced differently than the due diligence or filings work. The more strategic, high-value work is not getting bigger and may be shrinking. Operational or routine work might be expanding. Lower-tier work can be more highly leveraged. Some litigation practices can be very profitable, with the right work / staffing structure.

She considers project management to be not a business-world "fad" (like TQM?), but a natural evolution of application of certain tools and disciplines, already in place at the practice or department level, to the matter level. Eventually it may be internalized and not broken out as a different aspect of work.

Two hidden benefits of project management are a greater emphases on professional development and knowledge management. It leads to a greater emphasis on training and development for younger attorneys. Associates like being part of a formal project team because of the higher level of communication and awareness of the bigger picture. We can enhance the professional development of lawyers as part of an LPM approach.

She referred several times to the ILTA White Paper on alternative financial arrangement.

You can train LPM as "delegation and communication" skills. HBR's approach to project management breaks down a project life cycle into five phases of Initiation, Planning, Executing, Closing, and Lessons Learned. It's best to teach LPM without using PM jargon. They had left in the term "stakeholder," and despite some objections at a NY meeting in June it turned out that lawyers didn't mind that term.

She outline four approaches to early adoption of LPM.

Training and Education

Early adopters of LPM are starting with training and basic education. A 2-3 hour session is not really training, it's more education about "what" than "how to." It's more effective to get people to volunteer for LPM training. It can also be effective to build LPM skills into competency models for lawyer development.


Other early adopters are trying LPM in pilot practices, such as with commercial litigation or other specific practice group. Groups with more client pressure (as described above) are more interested.

Technology / Software

Only a small number of firms have effective budgeting or project management software. Some have done historic data / analysis and others have done several years of tracking with ABA task codes or e-billing vendor codes. Litigators seem to be more on board with this in many firms, because they've had to do a tremendous amount of budgeting. In many cases they have not had to stick to those budgets, until the last two years. Budgets are now treated by clients as fee caps.


Full-time project managers are in place at a few firms.

Lessons Learned

Don't make LPM seem mysterious. Attorneys may need support like staffing, software, and other "handholding" before LPM can be broadly adopted. Training associates where partners are not on board can be really challenging.

Adjusting compensation structures may be necessary to reward efficient practices. Client and matter profitability is increasingly the focus of compensation committees. Having partners more accountable for the profitability of their matters is an increasing trend. Some have started by making the information available but not tied it directly to compensation.

For some partners LPM might seem like fundamental change.


The challenge for law firms in initiating projects is to slow down and more thoroughly explore the in-scope / out-of-scope parameters of the engagement. An engagement agreement is equivalent to a project charter, although typically in law firms they are much less detailed than a good project charter would be. Exploring detailed client expectations such as "what does success look like to you" (or the in-house counsel's boss) is really important and often neglected.


Law firms have done a better job at budgeting than at planning. Developing a schedule is often not done well. They don't or can't look back at previous matters and figure out what went well and was completely in a timely fashion and what wasn't. Communications planning needs to be set up for contacts with the client and internally with the matter team.

She showed a couple of examples of "work breakdown structures" that tie into a detailed scheduling processes (like phases and tasks of a matter).


Avoiding conversations where attorneys talk about increased work with clients is really common. There often weren't conversations about monitoring schedule and expenses.


They have separated out closing from lessons learned because they deserve extra emphasis in law firms due to their culture.

Lessons Learned

An after-action meeting could be 10 minutes or an hour. Talk about what went well, what they could have done differently. It's hard because lawyers don't like critical feedback. Lawyers are afraid of what might be discoverable in a malpractice claim. Get them to look at how it helps their team or other teams in the future.


Who will pay for time spent on LPM tasks? Will clients pay for it? (There is an ABA code, some clients are willing to pay if it LPM is actually being done). There is a sense that LPM will make the work more "cookie-cutter." The greatest motivator for lawyers is their relationships with clients and their sense of accomplishment and professionalism (though they are also driven by relative compensation).

Making "best practices" and sample forms available without much effort can free up lawyers to do more interesting and significant strategic thinking about their matters.

Getting lawyers to work teams can be hard because of typical lawyer personalities and law school training. They teach "anti-teaming" in law school. Lawyers are contrasted with "non-lawyers. She was asked "do you mean that I'll have some project management geek telling me what to do?"

The biggest change will be moving to profitability analysis for compensation, as old metrics of production and revenue will not be as effective.

Keys to Success

Train volunteers. Get firm management buy-in. Give tools and templates matched to their needs (basic versus sophisticated / challenging).