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.
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
- 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.