Friday, October 15, 2010

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.

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