Work and Rework

I’m a fan of Basecamp, a web-based project management tool. It has just the right number of features, it’s simply structured, and, most importantly it’s effective. The same can be said of Rework, a book written by the creators of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

We could learn something from these guys
Fried and Hansson founded a small, Chicago-based web design company called 37signals in 1999. The team soon noticed the need for an online tool that would help people “get work done” without heavy investments in commitments, resources or time. Basecamp became that tool.

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LPM Initiatives at Large Law Firms – The Road Ahead

This post was co-authored by my colleague, Jim Hassett, Ph.D.. It was originally published on the Canadian legal blog, Slaw.ca on October 1, 2014

Many large law firms in Canada and the U.S. have begun to implement legal project management initiatives, albeit with varying degrees of success. Legal Biz Dev Certified Legal Project Management Coach™

Jim Hassett’s latest book – Client Value and Law Firm Profitability – provides new insights into why some firms have had much more success than others. Over the last eighteen months, Jim conducted confidential interviews with law firm leaders from 50 AmLaw 200 firms. Forty-two percent were chairs or managing partners, and the balance were senior partners and executives.

Study participants were promised that they would not be quoted by name, which led to some unusually frank responses.

When we asked participants about what they were doing to become more competitive, many started with legal project management (LPM), including the managing partner who said, “Lawyers have to be focused on LPM or they’re just not going to be successful in bringing in the work.”

When asked which aspects of LPM were most critical to firms’ short-term success the top two areas participants singled out were defining scope and managing client communication. Both require significant behavior change among partners and neither can be addressed by the software that so many firms see as a starting point. Which creates a predicament for many organizations.

The book also includes detailed perspectives on how firms are adapting to a changing marketplace. New staff positions in pricing, value and LPM were described as particularly effective, but other tactics led to mixed results, including:

  • Contract attorneys and outsourcing
  • Software
  • Knowledge management

Some of the differences in opinion about these tactics were based on firm needs and expectations. Others were based on differences in how the programs were implemented. We took the feedback at face value.

This is not to say that LPM is easy to implement. Those that have invested heavily in educational programs for the entire firm, as opposed to behavior change programs focused on a smaller group of internal champions, have often been disappointed, like the AmLaw 200 chairman who confidentially reported:

Every shareholder and top level associate in our firm has had a full day of project management training. I’d like to tell you that they use it, but they don’t. – Chair

Respondents did provide a common answer to the question of what actually does work: Getting partners on board by showing them “what’s in it for me”. Forget the theory and go right to practical applications.

Train partners, work shoulder to shoulder with them, gathering the right data and helping them update the way they manage matters. Encourage them to make small, calculated changes to ingrained work habits and habits of thought. While the matter is ongoing or when it concludes, look for hard evidence that signals improvements in client value, profitability and efficiency. Then build on successes that could benefit other teams and matters. The behaviour changes will eventually beget cultural changes that will spread through the firm.

We often see the positive results of this approach in the LPM coaching that we facilitate. Lawyers who begin the process with entrenched notions of “what works” usually end the process by being surprised at new insights and new skills that boost their confidence and their performance.

If you would like to learn more, Jim’s book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability will be published October 8, 2014. Excerpts and an order form can be found on Jim’s website and the book is also available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

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Innovation in the Modern Age: Strategies for the New Reality

We’re halfway through 2014. How’s your practice strategy coming along?

If you’re feeling stuck, you might find inspiration in “The End of Competitive Advantage” by Columbia Business School’s Rita Gunther McGrath. McGrath’s framework makes a lot of sense for firms dealing with rapidly changing environments.

The new “playbook for strategy” outlined in McGrath’s research is premised on the creation of transient advantages instead of exploiting business-as-usual to sustain historical performance. Her logic will resonate with anyone preparing firms for new realities: Read more

It’s Okay to be an “Invisible”

Invisibles_150-198x300

UPDATE – September 23, 2014–I’ve just finished reading “Invisibles”. It was a breath of fresh air amidst what sometimes seems like a lot of hot air filled with non-stop social media, amplified tweeting and frenzied calls for attention. This book is well-researched (some might say meticulously so, in keeping with the conclusions Zweig has drawn about Invisibles). If you have ever wondered how to balance career fulfillment with the pressure to self-promote, you should read this book. Read more

Giving, Taking and Getting Ahead

Spring has sprung here in Vancouver with its bounty of networking events and opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.

In between fun appointments in my social calendar, I sat down to read “Give and Take” by Wharton business professor Adam Grant. If you’ve ever felt anxious about networking, skeptical about selling your services or burned out from fielding non-stop requests for help, this book is for you. Read more

Frenemy Mine: Building Trust Between Colleagues

This post was originally published on the Canadian legal blog slaw.ca on March 19, 2104

I’ve been feeling somewhat guilty about my post last week regarding the Edelman Trust Barometer and perceptions about the legal profession. Several lawyers have since asked if I have any advice on how to build trusting relationships within their own firms, never mind on behalf of the profession. I’ve heard laments bemoaning the loss of collegiality, too. Read more

Bellwether Book Review: Growth is Dead: Now What? by Bruce MacEwen

“Unchecked Hourly Fees = Absurdity!”, “The Great Pyramids: Ancient Wonder or AmLaw 100 Business Model?”.

To read most practice management publications, you’d think that national and multinational law firms are on the path to destruction. To read Bruce MacEwen’s book, “Growth is Dead: Now What?” you might think again. But you’d better steel yourself. The journey off-course could be bumpy. Read more