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DISPATCH TO MANAGING PARTNERS: 5 Key Observations on Law’s Tectonic Shifts

Posted in Law firm practices

UPDATE: This article won the BigLaw Pick of the Week. BigLaw is a weekly email newsletter that provides helpful information for the world’s largest law firms and the corporate counsel who hire them.

For several years now, all us bloggers and pundits have been pushing the Chicken Little button and trying to get your attention. We all have been saying pretty much the same thing: Law firm practice and economics are morphing into a “New Normal,” major paradigm shifts impend, it’s change or die time, yadayadaya. Yes, we do get pushback from law firm leaders, to the effect of, “as far as my firm is concerned, you’re all peddling alarmist tripe because for us and our clients, it’s pretty much business as usual. And oh, yes, we had quite a nice 2013, thank you.” So are the predicted trends really trending?

Where do trends start – and where do they take hold? Where the stakes are highest. That means we can look to the largest law firms and the pushiest clients to see the signals of where we’re all headed. Things trickle down from there to smaller firms…and friends, they are trickling.

Based on my work with a spectrum of clients, here are five trends in large firms I can report with absolute confidence:

  1. Your firm has too many Income and Equity partners,and this is a major problem because client demand remains down and your clients have a rapidly-growing number of excellent – and cost effective – alternative sources of legal work. Partners are expensive assets if they can’t bring in the bacon, and lots of them cannot these days.
  2. Half of what your lawyers do now will soon be accomplished by technology or alternative (i.e., non-lawyer) providers for a fraction of what you’re charging clients. Everything routine will soon be delegated to technology platforms and solutions. Think back to the dawn of ATM’s, when you thought, “You can’t replace bank tellers with machines. Customers won’t stand for the lack of human touch.” Hah, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Incredibly sophisticated algorithms and expert systems are going to snap up commoditizable tasks so fast it’s going to make your head spin. Legal technology is attracting huge capital infusions that will allow even greater strides. Witness: already, GCs are using Neota Logic and Kiiac to accomplish work that used to go to law firm lawyers.
  3. Those rate increases that traditionally grew your firm’s revenues faster than any economic indicator will hit the wall. Even your most loyal clients will decline to support your firm’s swollen ranks of partners, overpaid and inefficient associates, and expensive back office functions. Corporate counsel are looking to secure truly efficient legal services from the likes of Axiom, Clearspire, Project Counsel and other tamperers of the traditional legal service delivery paradigm. Budgets for legal matters are being scrutinized with magnifying glass and fine-toothed comb, and there is decreased tolerance for increased budgets for the same work. In fact, some savvy GCs, like Cisco’s Marc Chandler, believe that budgets should decrease as a firm becomes familiar with a company’s matters. How do you like them apples?
  4. Your associates are not loyal to your firm. Really. Small wonder: as the cattle chute drastically narrows on the way to equity partnership, most associates know that their tenure is tenuous and their prospects dim. Firms are increasing the length of the walk down the aisle with no guarantee that there is any marriage in sight. Associates, hyper-specialized and increasingly undertrained, are anxious about their future, and they have become flight risks. Unless an associate is a gifted natural rainmaker/BD whiz, s/he knows it’s going to be impossible to make equity partner. Income partners or contract partners? Hell, the streets are awash with them. The era of the “service lawyer” is behind us, and the legal marketplace is saturated with lots of great talent. Moreover, law schools compound the labor glut by continuing to pump out 44,000 new law grads each year for only 21,000 jobs. In such a tight marketplace, associates are grabbing any job they can get, and they think nothing of jumping at any opportunity that looks better and safer, or that provides more career leverage.
  5. Unique Firm Cultures are a Dying Breed. Shared informal norms and values disappear quickly when competition and self-interest define the rules of engagement. “Eat what you kill” is not a recipe for collegial sharing, and today’s tightening economic squeeze and pressures on partners to deliver revenue and clients has obliterated incentives for collaboration. Your Millennials don’t buy into your firm’s culture because they see that the partners don’t walk the talk. As noted above, they can’t afford to be joiners. And your Gen Xers are not invested in firm culture because they’ve never been invested in any collective identity. As former latchkey kids, they are more autonomous and care more about business metrics than bonhomie. Your senior lawyers? They miss the good old days with their bonds of fraternity (not sorority), but they know that successor generations will soon shove them outside the igloo to freeze. Some submit passively, some kick and scream to stay atop the food chain, but none is trusting his or her future to the warm hug of their firm’s now irrelevant culture.

So, were you alarmed or comforted to be confronted by these accelerating trends? That depends on whether you and your firm are being overtaken by events or shaping events. If you are a change catalyst poised to surf the waves of change, you’re attuned to these trends and have already taken steps to maximize damage control and turn the tides of change to your firm’s advantage. If not, be prepared for the possibility that Chicken Little was right.


© 2014, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Game Your Way To Longer Life

Posted in New Normal

In our last post we discussed legal “Gamification,” that is, approaching certain legal tasks as if they were a competitive game in order to maximize both individual and team engagement and produce superior legal outcomes. In this post we look at “personal gamification” — how you can create stronger personal motivation and resiliency by drawing on some basic game principles. And oh, yeah, live longer, too.

How’s Your QWL and SWB?

 It’s no secret that many lawyers feel that they are living the Sisyphus myth, constantly pushing the same rock uphill and then having it steamroll them as it rolls back down. They report that overall they’re pretty dissatisfied with their lawyerly existence and, largely because of work demands, unhappy with their lives in general. Many lawyers report that they are overworked, overstressed, chronically fatigued, and constantly behind the eight ball.  In research jargon, this means that their QWL – Quality of Work Life – is subpar and that what scientists call their SWB – Subjective Well Being (also called happiness)is uneven at best.

This posture – constantly rocked back on their heels — puts them right in the cross hairs of various experts looking for practical ways to sustain personal stamina and momentum in the face of extraordinary work-related stresses.  Among these experts is professional game designer Jane McGonigal. In a TED talk called The game that can give you 10 extra years of life,”  McGonigal suggested that highly-stressed people (which certainly includes lawyers) should invest time creating a personal game based on exercises that produce a lot of small wins over minor but nettling adversities.

She calls these little wins “power ups.” Pursuing power ups can, she says, be made into a kind of game that you can weave into your everyday life and work. More important, it can provide positive emotional momentum that, over time, can produce what shrinks might call “a corrective emotional experience.” The result? A calmer, healthier, and actually longer life. McGonigal suggests that the entire planet – which obviously is hurting and needs a lot of healing — would be far better off if it spent a total of about 21 billion hours a week playing the kind of  resiliency-building game, she calls SuperBetter.

Thank You, Mr. Nietzsche

Here’s the predicate for resiliency games like SuperBetter: Not all trauma (including the traumatic aspects of your work) produces the damaging consequences of post-traumatic stress and its worst-case cousin, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research has shown that when perceived and managed in a certain way, traumatic events may actually trigger post-traumatic growth (this may remind you of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous pronouncement: “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”).

People experiencing post-traumatic growth report a new sense of meaning and purpose, revised personal priorities that place a stronger emphasis on what will make them happy, and increased ability to actualize their hopes and dreams. This has the admirable healing effect of immunizing them from negative stressors to some degree.

Put differently, for lawyers and other stressed-out performers, post-traumatic growth generates greater overall personal resiliency, which, in turn, is comprised of four components:

  1. Physical resiliency that allows us to resist stress better.
  2. Mental resiliency that enhances our focus, discipline, determination and will power.
  3. Emotional resiliency, that is, the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.
  4. Social resiliency, the strength we derive from relating to others in order to adapt, improve and excel.

Generally speaking:

  • Physical resiliency is promoted by engaging in frequent physical activity.
  • Mental resiliency is developed by consistently confronting and overcoming small, manageable challenges.
  • Emotional resiliency is evoked by cultivating positive mental images focusing on curiosity and relationship.
  • Social resiliency derives from personal interactions in which we consciously give and receive both trust and reward.

According to University of Chicago professor John Cacioppo, PhD, “social resiliency is not equivalent to warm hugs, unconditional positive regard and anti-competition sentiments.”  Here, he suggests, is where the competitive aspect of games comes in: “Both science and the Olympics rest on competition as well as cooperation. Both involve intense training and criticism, and both enterprises are high in social resilience.”

Where Gaming Comes In

To rebut lawyers’ natural skepticism of any activity not expressed in terms of billable hours, gamers cite considerable social research evidencing that games are not a waste of time. The psychology of games teaches that when we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, optimism and determination.

Corporate Counsel Magazine recently reported that former Kirtland & Packard litigator Michelle Moyer now works for New York-based LRN Corporation, which applies gaming techniques to law and ethics training. She became part of a team that created a seven-part series of video games called “Resolver.” “We were talking about how to reengage employees who have become bored with traditional modes of education in the workplace, so we decided to apply gaming techniques and design.”  Moyer reports that when employees played Resolver, “for the first time in our history we had employees repeating their education, so that they could move higher on the leaderboard. They became very competitive in a fun way.”

Proponents of personal gaming also pitch the health and happiness benefits of shared games in reinforcing social relationships and fostering group collaboration. Particularly striking are the results of recent ground-breaking clinical trials showing that engaging – key word here: engaging — in video games does a better job of alleviating anxiety and clinical depression than various types of pharmaceuticals.

Other research indicates that people become healthier and more resilient overall if they experience a “3-to-1 Positive Emotional Ratio,” meaning three positive experiences for each negative one. The trick, of course, is to devise a continuous supply of positive vibes while working in an environment that may not be inherently stimulating or gratifying.

Game designers like McGonigal argue that devoting half an hour a day to your “gaming face” (as opposed to honing your lawyer’s “game face”) really can produce significant improvement in stamina and your personal SWB quotient.

Building Your Own Private Resiliency Game

To develop the most effective kind of resiliency-building game for yourself, gamers suggest that you first actively practice small, short reframing exercises – the “power ups” we mentioned earlier — intended to bring a bit of positive juju into otherwise oppressive days and events. Can you make a game out of answering 20 pages of repetitive interrogatories? You can if you create a set of performance metrics, no matter how trivial, for the task. How fast? How efficiently? When your self-defined metrics create a win for you, you have a power up. Should you turn everything you do into a competitive game?  Why not – as long as it does not impair the quality of your legal performance or efficiency?

Next add another twist: five years of Stanford research has shown that playing a game in which you create an idealized and powerful alter ego – an avatar – can actually recast your sense of your “true self” and make you more ambitious and more courageous.

In other words, in your personal resiliency game you mentally create a powerful, self-actualized version of your self, and set it to the task of combating the challenges of your work and personal life. You can keep score, if you like, just like in video games, to reinforce your increasing sense of mastery.

Your own personal version of McGonigal’s SuperBetter game should therefore integrate five elements:

  • Inventing and adopting powerful personal identity.
  • Battling bad guys (or negative forces you depict as bad guys).
  • Recruiting supporters and allies to share your game with you.
  • Continually activating different kinds of power ups to produce a robust stream of success experiences.

The Play is the Thing

If you feel a little silly recasting your work and life as if they are pieces to be moved about in one long challenging game, remember that playing games can add to your longevity; you don’t have to tell the judge or your litigation adversary that you are recasting them as part of a resiliency-building game. They may note your inscrutable smile, more assertive demeanor and calmer personal “game face,” but they don’t need to know what’s going on. That’s between you and your avatar.


© 2014, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

It’s All in the Game: Managing Partners Come to Grips with “Gamification”

Posted in Law firm practices

Many managing partners tell us they are struggling to get their arms around new tools and techniques for driving more efficiency and cost-effectiveness into legal service delivery. Firms are seeing more and more RFPs in which clients make increasingly draconian demands for better management and control of legal work. AFAs (alternative fee arrangements) are reshaping not just pricing and profitability, but the whole way in which matters are staffed and billed.

LPM (legal project management) and LPI (legal process improvement) map out prescriptive approaches for scoping, budgeting, performing and monitoring engagements. And, in a threat to traditional law firm turf, LPOs (legal process outsourcers) and other alternative forms of service delivery threaten to take over huge amounts of commodity tasks that were historically handled by law firms.

Game On

Now another neologism has popped up to bedevil law firm leaders:  “Gamification.” In plain English, this describes approaching work as if one were playing a videogame. Gamification is not the same as game theory, which describes the study of strategic decision-making using mathematical models. Gamification, which first took hold in Silicon Valley and has since gone viral, involves translating the features that motivate players in video games into non-game settings – settings like litigation, transactional work, business development and other high-stakes legal activities.

When applied to law, gamification is not about making legal service delivery into a game, or even about having fun. It’s about knowing the score. A fundamental axiom of legal project management is that “if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed,” and let’s be clear: today’s legal services need to be driven by effective performance metrics. New generations of legal software are popping up that, if embraced actively by law firms, can help lawyers budget, track costs, and measure productivity in unprecedented detail. The bottom line of all this measuring, of course, is the goal of providing clear, consistent, and cost-effective value to the client.  Unfortunately, however, most law firms have an abysmal record for adopting even the most basic metrics and tools.

But all is not lost, because we know one thing for certain:  in any setting, and particularly in law firms, employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.  So what do law firms do?  They measure billable hours, they incent billable hours, and they celebrate (that is, give bonuses for) billable hours.  So, guess what clients get?  You got it  — billable hours, lots and lots of them (and as we’ve often said, there is no direct correlation between the number of billable hours and the amount of value conferred).

Conversely, what do law firms fail to do?  They fail to measure, incent or celebrate the types of behaviors that clients value — like efficiency, creative ways of resolving matters faster, cost predictability, adhering to realistic budgets, and effective monitoring of legal activity and legal spend in order to avoid surprises.

Getting Lawyers into the Game

So here’s where gamification comes in. As Frank Strong, communications director with the Business of Law Software Solutions division of LexisNexis puts it, “gamification is a novel idea, and while the label itself may not endear itself to the nature of law, the concept is spot on: using the concept of games to drive user engagement and solve problems…If we as an industry can tap into [lawyers’] competitive nature to drive change…then we’ll be in a better place.”

We all know that lawyers are challenge junkies: they love personal success experiences where excellence is clearly established by objectively-measurable outcomes. If and when it evolves more broadly within law firms, gamification will engender a work environment where – just like videogames:

  • Every action is meticulously tracked and scored
  • Everyone aspires to progress upward through discrete levels of achievement
  • Points and awards are given
  • Work processes are structured to keep performers engaged and focused on producing the highest level of performance.

What You Want is What You Get

Theoretically, gamification incentives can be engineered either to spark greater  individual initiative or to foster better collaboration among disparate team roles and functions. In either case, the idea is to drive a powerful sense of engagement into tasks that performers find inherently tedious or repetitive.

Ray Bayley, CEO of Novus Law, a global legal services firm that boasts “measurably faster, more accurate and less expensive” ways of handling document-related discovery, contract management and corporate governance functions, is a self-professed metrics freak. The former head of North American business process outsourcing (BPO) for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ray is high on the motivational value of gamification.

We have long used analysis of metrics to improve work processes, but the challenge in dealing with complex work that requires a high degree of focus is to keep our performers’ heads in the game. Using gamification practices, we are moving beyond ‘Total Quality Management’ to ‘Total Engagement.’

“To do this,” says Bayley, “we are now focusing more on the human aspect, repurposing process metrics so our performers can use them to assess and measure their own progress – to see how they are doing and how they stack up against their prior performance. We can do this both individually and collectively, asking ‘How are we doing both as a group and as members of the team?’”

Can Law Firms Do It?

As a firm built around metrics and the efficient, accurate handling of high volume and increasingly sophisticated tasks, Novus Law obviously represents an ideal platform for gamification.  But can law firms, accustomed to seeing all matters and all lawyers as unique, motivate project task teams to collaborate better by turning to gamification?

“Some firms really get it,” says Bayley, speaking of law firm responses to escalating client demands for cost control and efficiency. “Some have no problem partnering with us – with our enormous emphasis on efficient processes and measurable quality management. But for most firms it’s still a stretch to be metrics-driven.  They just aren’t ready to rethink how to keep their lawyers consistently engaged, and they aren’t yet ready to retool.”

Yet as Frank Strong suggests, despite all the concerns of the doubters and scoffers, the whole legal landscape would appear to be a fertile ground for gamification techniques, particularly where different types of service providers collaborate to optimize value rather than compete for the same business.

For example, the article “Who’s Eating Law Firms’ Lunch?”, describes how Deanna Johnston, General Counsel of Fireman’s Fund, required her outside firms to collaborate with Novus Law in handling various litigation tasks. This hybrid service delivery approach has saved Fireman’s Fund between 15% and 30% per case on outside counsel fees, and Ms. Johnston is, of course, very pleased.

On the Other Hand

Not everyone thinks gamification is such a hot idea. In a recent column entitled “The ‘Gamification’ of the Office Approaches“ Wall Street Journal columnist Farhad Manjoo acknowledges gamification’s momentum: “If you work the information business; if you sell, market, create, track or are involved in any other endeavor that can be quantified, gamification is coming for you.”

But, he adds, “I, for one, am dreading it.” Manjoo questions whether the translation of every work action into winning or losing “as part of a system engineered to keep you addicted” won’t result in performers who are “crushed by metrics, constantly watched over, and infantilized by your boss’s attempt to turn you into an automaton.”

Skeptics like Manjoo are worried about what they see as manipulative tactics to  turn the unmotivated aspects of performers’ jobs into a more highly motivated competition. Manjoo notes that “what we can’t tell is whether these measures are worth the psychic cost.  What worries me is the potential for stifling creativity and flexibility in the workplace, and the growing sensation of being watched, and measured, in everything we do.”

As the legal profession as a whole becomes increasingly metrics-driven, the successor generation of lawyers and other types of legal service providers all will grow up in an environment where various forms of points and scorecards are the norm, from “competency-based performance evaluation” to partnership decisions made exclusively on the basis of quantitative measures.

Even Manjoo senses that the tipping point is upon us: “I’m not asking you these questions as if your opinion matters. In fact, it does not. All evidence suggests that your work one day will operate like a videogame to be conquered, rather than a craft to be perfected.”

So is gamification a passing fad or a performance enhancement technique destined to be an integral part of the legal profession’s “New Normal?” Stay tuned for late-breaking developments, but you’d better be prepared to play along.


© 2014, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Notes On The New Year – 2014

Posted in Legal Project Management

A young American follower of Shinryu Suzuki, the famed founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, was bewildered by the Master’s abstruse, fractured-English lectures. He finally asked Suzuki if he could summarize the essence of Zen Buddhism in a single paragraph. After pausing for thought, Suzuki smiled at his student.  “Everything changes,” he said.

Welcome to the Land of Change in 2014…and Beyond

Followers of this blog know that I have tended to focus on the continuing evolution of Legal Project Management (LPM), a discipline reshaping the face of legal service delivery. 2014 will see the continued acceleration of trends that are fundamentally changing how law firms and legal departments think about and implement LPM. First of all, because LPM has achieved baseline acceptance and entered the common vernacular, firms will talk less about whether to embrace LPM, but more about how to best embrace it. The pace of change will soon pass foot-draggers by.

New Game, New Players, New Equipment

Second, the two-party system – law firms and clients – is rapidly giving way to a matrixed service delivery environment that includes a bevy of new and specialized contributors, most notably legal process outsourcing (LPO) firms here and abroad. Clients and law firms are having new kinds of conversations centering around the question, “Will all the legal work be done in the firm?”  Increasingly, the answer will be no; savvy clients now are now partnering with a variety of vendors wherever their use can help manage or cut costs.  This requires law firms to get comfortable with collaborating with outside contributors and vendors they may not fully control (and obviously may not bill for, either). The impact on both planning and profitability is going to be significant, but there is little choice: we are well into a change or die era of legal service delivery.

Third, the rise of new types of service vendors is being paralleled by a dizzying array of new LPM-specific software, platforms, products, dashboards and tool, both to help introduce LPM and, where appropriate, to enable enormously sophisticated project planning and management capability. These products will take some time to shake out in a competitive marketplace, but already best practices are getting better and new LPM tools are vastly improved over prior generations.

Shift to “Vertical” Training

Fourth, LPM implementation and training are changing direction and content. Large-scale introductory-level “horizontal” LPM training programs are giving way to more “granular” skills-building workshops targeted to particular clients, client teams or even particular matters or engagements. This “vertical” approach to training will continue to trend toward deep dives, rather than skimming the surface. Learning optimal project planning, staffing, and workflow means that the line between legal project management (LPM) and legal process improvement (LPI) will blur, and the two disciplines will join at the hip.

The corollary to this trend is that not every lawyer, paralegal or other time-biller will (or should) receive LPM training, at least not initially. Right now, LPM implementation is best focused on those who need it the most (because of client demands for increased value) or want it the most.

In sum, by this time next year legal service delivery will have become less firm-driven, more client-driven, more collaborative and more complicated.  More players will contend for a piece of the pie, and more tasks are likely to be taken out of the hands of lawyers and assigned to innovative forms of service delivery as clients become still more vocal in their demands for value, efficiency and predictability.

Some Personal Notes

To align my own consulting work with these trends, in 2014 I will be shifting my practice away from large-scale LPM rollouts and training and toward providing substantive advice and counsel to particular practice groups, client teams and individual lawyers. If my clients are turning to deep dives, I intend to dive with them, advising both law firms and corporate clients on a constellation of LPM-related issues: law firm and vendor selection, alternative fee arrangements, effective management of specific engagements, and business development.

Finally, you also should note a change in our At the Intersection  heading, three small but important words, “With Doug Richardson.” Doug is a former large firm litigator and federal prosecutor, and for two decades he was an award-winning Dow Jones columnist. Regular readers of this blog have seen Doug’s wit and wisdom in numerous guest posts, and Doug and I collaborated effectively in our new ABA-sponsored book, Legal Project Management in an Hour for Lawyers.  As Edge International colleagues, we have designed and delivered numerous LPM programs worldwide, and he knows his LPM stuff, particularly insofar as communications and collaboration are concerned. Accordingly, I have asked Doug if he will contribute his perspective, insight and distinctive voice to At the Intersection on a regular basis.

© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Signs of the Times

Posted in New Normal

When you spend a lot of time looking at the world through the lens of developments in the legal profession, sometimes the ironies of happenstance can slap you right square in the face.  Take, for example, page B3 of the November 14, 2013 Wall Street Journal.

Apparently coincidentally, two articles sit side-by-side above the fold. One, entitled “New Paths Sought for Young Lawyers,” talks about the attempts of a New York City Bar Association task force to address the challenges caused by fundamental shifts in the legal profession that have led to thousands of new lawyers entering the market when jobs in big firms are in short supply.

New York City Bar President Carey Dunne points out that, “well-paid jobs at big law firms are shrinking as clients push back on price and lower-cost alternatives, such as legal outsourcing firms, take on work that law firms once performed.”  He concludes that “connecting the issue of supply and demand is the most critical issue. Looking for other ways to practice law successfully is something people ought to be focusing on more.” Amen, Brother.

Adjacent to this article calling on lawyers to break away from traditional patterns of thought and practice is another article entitled “Final Opus for Pleyel Pianos.” It seems that Pleyel, for 200 years a manufacturer of pianos of uncommon craftsmanship (and extraordinary price), has gone belly-up, a victim of the successful invasion of high-quality but lower-cost Japanese and Chinese products.

Speaking of supply and demand, Pleyel, once the official piano supplier of Frederic Chopin, “tried the high end route,” says the WSJ. It decided to go up-market, cut back its annual production of top end pianos from 2000 to 20 a year, while pushing the price point through the roof (think €200,000). This dodgy strategy of choking off supply ran headlong into the tightened purse strings of even wealthy consumers during the global recession. Eventually Pleyel announced that it was laying off all the craftsmen and ceasing production at their fabled Paris workshop. In an attempt to forestall impending doom — and outlast the recession — it focused on selling pianos from its stock of already finished instruments.

Citing “a person familiar with the situation,” the WSJ  noted that “Pleyel’s business model was slow to adapt. High overhead costs combined with irregular orders made the company’s situation challenging.”

Sound Familiar?

Yow! Does this strategy of denial, resisting change, and too-little-too-late remind anyone of  today’s rapidly morphing legal landscape?  Does the piano manufacturing tsunami of Japan and China remind anyone of the current bloom of alternative and far less costly legal service delivery methods, including Axiom, offshoring, legal process outsourcing, “smart” technology platforms, and other harbingers of an utterly new order? And finally, does confining sales to already-finished pianos — a strategy that has no future — resemble those law firms who try to maintain profits per partner by hiring laterals rather than investing in training and developing young lawyers?

Pleyels are indeed exquisite instruments, the absolute zenith of quality, beauty, craftsmanship and applied experience. Yet by attempting to sell into a market that no longer exists, Pleyel’s demise calls to mind the protestations of today’s legal Luddites who contend that each legal matter should be treated as unique and each lawyer should strive to be a unique exemplar of steadfastly traditional service delivery methods and attitudes.

So, there you have it, an object lesson taught in the juxtaposition of two articles, one about innovation and the other about ossification.  Actually, there are two object lessons here.  The first is that in business, legal and otherwise, you can’t buck change with reactive strategies.  The second is more blunt, more brutal and altogether inevitable: Innovate or die.


© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Successfully Implementing Legal Project Management

Posted in Legal Project Management

I had the privilege of working with Michelle Mahoney to introduce LPM at King & Wood Mallesons.  She recently asked for contributions to the ILTA blog on best practices for implementing LPM, and I have reproduced my answer below.

LPM is all about people communicating and collaborating effectively with other people — people in firms, people who are clients, people who are supporting vendors of legal services.  And to realize the greatest benefit from LPM, lawyers must understand — and accept — WHY LPM matters to them, their practices, and their clients.  As method acting guru Lee Strasberg put it, “you have to know your motivation.”

Getting With the Program

Blind acceptance of new legal service delivery methods and disciplines is not enough. In firms that have successfully embraced LPM, lawyers display that they really do understand WHY LPM is so important.  On a practical level, they appreciate that being careful stewards of clients’ money is every bit as important as providing excellent legal services.  They get it:  today, providing predictable pricing, keeping clients constantly in the communication loop, and making sure their law firm teams are aligned with client needs and priorities, is the way to delight clients and keep them coming back for more.

The Paradigm Really is Shifting

Because LPM delivers immediate benefits even at the “101″ level, its burgeoning number of adherents believe it is the benchmark for excellence; they believe it because they see it.  In short, WHY motivates and inspires lawyers at the most important level — ground level. They also appreciate that this is not the way it’s always been.  Until recently, you did not find lawyers talking much about efficiency, predictability and effective communication. Why are they talking about it now?  Because clients are making it clear that these qualities are the benchmarks of value.

Seeing LPM as a Value

Successful firms might say that their lawyers “have LPM in their DNA,” meaning that they walk the talk.  Those lawyers practice differently, not just when a client twists their arm, but all the time.  Any lawyer or consultant who says you should only use LPM when someone forces you to, totally misses the boat.  Ideally, a commitment to LPM becomes an attitude, a value that informs all aspects of providing legal service.  With practice, LPM becomes an integral part of who you are, not something you turn on and off like a faucet.

WHY Comes Before WHAT

The WHAT of LPM focuses on steps such as how we scope, plan, and budget.  Firms that focus only on the WHAT of LPM see low adoption rates because the lawyers perceive it as a burden and resist “adding another layer” of work.  But in firms that inspire attention to WHY, lawyers genuinely want to be the most valuable resource to their clients, and they actively seek out ways to do so.

When you start with WHY, you build enthusiasm, acceptance and a willingness to adapt ways to make legal services better fit clients’ goals. Now there’s a paradigm shift.


© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

A Practical Slant on LPM Implementation

Posted in Legal Project Management

Guest Post by  Katie Crosby Lehmann, Partner

Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi

It’s little wonder that law firms struggle to integrate Legal Project Management (LPM) into their lawyers’ legal service delivery.  The firm’s LPM champions face a double bind: on one hand, many of the firm’s lawyers are skeptical independent thinkers who scoff at the idea of hard and fast rules for managing their matters. On the other hand, these same lawyers are frustrated that their firm cannot provide them with a nice, pat LPM cookbook with a complete set of easy-to-prepare recipes for managing all their legal projects effectively, efficiently and predictably.

That said, our firm’s experience with rolling out and implementing LPM provides some practical lessons for creating, launching and institutionalizing this practical case management approach across the firm. There may be other approaches, but this one is working for us.

A Curious Irony

A key benefit of LPM is that it promotes effective and “aligned” interaction among disparate performers and stakeholders. Once LPM is up and running, it becomes a keystone to collaboration, both among the firm’s internal project team members and with people on the client side. Once fully operational, LPM works best when all essential stakeholders are in the loop and have some skin in the game. Ironically, however, and as counterintuitive as this may sound, forced collaboration at the formative stages of LPM implementation may ensure that the firm’s LPM initiative never develops traction, gathers momentum and takes off.  Too many cooks, too much jockeying, too much inertia.

Sometimes, the most significant innovation starts in a quiet conference room with but a handful of thoughtful and highly-motivated people. Once the undivided support of senior firm leadership for the LPM initiative has been assured, it may be far more effective to empower a small “Delta Force” team of zealous implementers than to assemble a huge committee of divergent interests, departments, voices and styles (we’ve all heard that “a camel is a horse designed by a committee;” we also should emphasize that a camel is considerably slower than a horse and provides a far rougher ride).

Mobilizing Your First Adopters

How do you make your firm’s internal Delta Force work? First seek out one or two attorneys who are already dedicated to efficiency (as well as to legal excellence) and who already have mastered practical LPM skills. They may not know their well-developed personal skill set by the name Legal Project Management, but these designated early adopters should have proven their ability to deliver what LPM delivers: superior scoping, planning, managing and monitoring.

Give these designated Delta Force recruits strategic and tactical authority, and make it their responsibility to undertake some initial heavy lifting – to incubate, systematize, and document a set of LPM best practices suitable for adoption by the whole firm.

Under The Cone of Silence

At the outset, this initial design-build work should be kept low key and away from prying and nay-saying eyes. Rollout comes later and louder. Systematizing the LPM skill set of your Delta Force also will require administrative support – in the form of a non-attorney professional to assist in the task of translating the Delta Force’s case management savvy into a set of practical tactics and techniques. It also will be this professional’s responsibility to help design the firm’s LPM implementation – the training, tools and resources the practicing lawyers will require over months and even years.  This initial design work may benefit from the support of external consultants expert in LPM design and rollout, but overall ownership of the LPM initiative must be exercised by the firm and not farmed out to “outsiders.”

Go Big, Go Loud

Once the early adopters and the non-attorney professional have completed the basic architecture of the firm’s LPM program, it’s time to sell it forcefully to firm opinion leaders (not the firm’s executive management – you should already have their strong sponsorship – but the practice group leaders, client team leaders, top rainmakers and other big dogs who command widespread attention and respect). Your Delta Force now must serve as point people for the LPM initiative, assuming a role similar to a vendor asking partners to “invest” in LPM in much the same way that the firm invests in a new piece of technology or software platform. Your core team should create a five-minute pitch that showcases all of the “wow” factors illustrating why the firm can’t live without LPM – and back them up with case studies, success stories and positive feedback from delighted clients.  Relationship partners and heavy-hitting rainmakers need to understand how LPM provides a powerful business development lever and gives the firm a marketplace advantage over its competitors.

The Broadcast Stage

Once powerful firm leaders understand the operational, business development and profitability value of LPM, it’s time to get buy-in from the entire partnership. In our firm’s case, we were convinced that we had to orchestrate a roll-out that had real punch, one that emphasized the uniqueness of LPM yet tied it to our firm’s history and culture of innovation.

To put our own unique brand on LPM, we designed our own software program for LPM budgeting, called OneBudget. This is a simple, user-friendly software program, developed entirely in-house, that pulls all key budgeting and monitoring metrics up on a one screen.  By looking at this single screen, our lawyers now can monitor overall legal spend for a matter – the all-important “budget-to-actual” metric – and manage each matter’s monthly budget for all billers on the file.  OneBudget shows both our lawyers and our clients that we understand the significant financial metrics of litigation. And because OneBudget is home-grown, we can be receptive to suggestions for changes and improvements: OneBudget keeps getting better because our own lawyers keep improving it, and this is inspiring a powerful brand loyalty that adds momentum to our LPM implementation.  Unlike proprietary software programs developed external, OneBudget is a tool that will not end up on the shelf.

The Vertical Dive

After selling LPM’s value to firm leaders and partners as a whole, it was time to take a vertical dive.  That is, it was time to increase LPM traction by introducing LPM training as a hands-on set of skills with particular practice groups or client teams.  In vertical training, lawyers and staff who actually work together are trained to collaborate on efficient approaches to client service and shown practical tools and techniques for driving immediate value into even their most formative LPM efforts.

Who comes first in this “teach a few at a time” phase? Put simply, the teams that want or need it most should get it first. By having these initial LPM champions use LPM on their matters, word of LPM’s value will spread rapidly to other teams. Once that word gets out, the stampede for training is on.

Celebrate Success

After LPM gains momentum, firm lawyers will soon recognize that they are building stronger client relationships, simply because in addition to greater predictability and efficiency, LPM also triggers far better client communication at all stages of a matter. We’ve had new clients tell us that OneBudget and our evident commitment to LPM was a key factor in their decision to retain our firm. When this started happening, the number of skeptics and naysayers declined sharply.  Interest in and commitment to OneBudget began to accelerate and LPM stopped being seen as a threatening development. It is an exhilarating experience to see – and feel – LPM take hold, gather momentum, and become part of the fabric of the firm.

 UPDATE: October 21, 2013

Corporate Counsel was so interested in the LPM post, above, that reporter Marlisse Sweeney (@MarlisseSS) interviewed Katie Crosby Lehmann and penned a further article, “Building a Better Legal Project Management System.”  Be sure to check it out.

© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Adventures in Magical Thinking – Part III

Posted in Law firm practices

In our last two posts, we’ve been discussing “Magical Thinking,” the tendency of firm leaders to assume that rank-and-file partners can and will divine the reasoning of the Executive Committee and will take all necessary steps to keep abreast of firm economics, strategic decisions and operational guidance. This tendency produces frequent disconnects between the way firm leaders and managers see their world and the perspectives of individuals toiling away in their personal practice disciplines.


Magical Leaders, Magical Managers

What is true at the leadership level (i.e., the land of vision, strategy and firm culture) is no less true at the management level (i.e., the direction and control of lawyers’ here-and-now activities).  These two levels often intersect – and sometimes conflict — in the Practice Group Leader (PGL) role. PGLs must articulate and champion the firm’s strategic vision, as well as translating leadership policy mandates into practical action. In managing specific engagements, however, they must supervise individuals and client teams with highly self-interested motives. But, all too often the PGLs are the big rainmakers of a practice area and truly lack the interest or skills to lead a practice group.

Herding those Cats

Engineering cat collaboration is hard because it involves trying to align all sorts of very different incentives, rather than painting a rosy abstract picture to which all the cats can swear allegiance without seriously impairing their personal autonomy.

For example, we heard recently from a litigation PGL who regularly needs to draw on partners in different practice disciplines, or partners in far-flung firm offices to serve as local counsel in various matters. “I’m invariably on a very tight budget, and I tell them I really only need them to help with a narrow band of tasks. What do they do? They read every filing, document, email and mailing label in the entire matter, merrily running the billing clock all the while. Their quest for billable hours creates real problems for me and triggers serious friction between me and my client. I can’t bill the client for the time, but if I have to write off a lot of time – and I do – it negatively impacts the lawyers in the other offices and makes them less likely to collaborate with me in the future.  There is just no managing these people.”

Escaping MTS

Both firm leaders and practice group leaders need to learn basic skills for avoiding MTS – Magical Thinking Syndrome. Neither leaders nor followers are well-served by making untested assumptions about the other’s motives and priorities. Avoiding MTS involves focusing on a variety of communications-oriented action steps:

1)      Make Implicit Things Explicit. That is, engage in upfront discussions (okay, negotiations) about goals. At the leadership level, this involves painting a true and detailed picture of the impact the firm’s strategic and tactical priorities are likely to have on all levels and areas of firm operations. The troops need to know what they are in for, and they must be given a chance to assess how change will impact their personal self-interest. At the management level, this means translating the big picture into what the lawyers must do (sometimes called “action steps”) to pull the strategic priorities into daily reality.

2)      Eschew Obfuscation. In their drive to avoid personal confrontation and discord, lawyers commonly employ euphemisms, vagaries and broad generalizations that mask the true implications of their communications. This is a false comfort, because it is poor trade-off to swap some initial friction and discomfort for the furious blame-throwing and name-calling that accompanies poorly-managed crises and damage control.

3)      Quantify Expectations. To some people, the phrase “we have a little problem” means that we have a little problem.  To others, it is an understated coded signal that something potentially catastrophic impends. Far better to cast expectations in specific terms: “We need to generate $40 million more in revenue by the end of June, 2014.”

4)      Delegate Responsibility Specifically. Yes, it’s time-consuming for leadership and management to drive expectations down to the interpersonal level.  It’s far easier (and less accountable) to say, “We all need to work harder to pull our weight,” or “We all should be mindful of the budget constraints of projects we’re brought in to assist with.” These broad imperatives really are no imperatives at all: they impose no specific responsibility, standards or accountability. They are utterly easy to ignore.


© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.

Adventures in Magical Thinking – Part II

Posted in Law firm practices

In the last post we discussed “magical thinking” – the wishes and hopes of firm leadership that the lawyers they lead will exhibit certain desirable behaviors just because leadership wants them to or hopes they will.

Magical Thinking Building Blocks

There are five common components to magical thinking:

1)      Reality Disconnects: Leadership may “get it,” that is, comprehend the economic shifts and realities that drive today’s “New Normal” in the legal profession, but a lot of rank and file partners believe that the old days will return so that it will be sufficient to keep doing what they have always done.

2)      Mind Reading: Firm leaders often assume that rank-and-file partners can and will divine the will and reasoning of the Executive Committee and will make the effort to keep abreast of firm economics, strategic decisions and operational guidance. Neither leaders nor followers are well-served by making untested assumptions about the other’s motives and priorities. In fact, however, many individual partners just don’t seem much interested in their firm’s overall well-being – it’s just a place to “do their thing.” Several firms have told us that they have stopped making comprehensive firm financial performance data available to all partners because no one was bothering to read it.

3)      Cloudy Communication:  Just because followers don’t crave clear and explicit communication does not mean that leadership should be exempt from providing it. All too often strategic and tactical decisions and policies are communicated in vague generalities and without clear and convincing authority. Goals are expressed in sweeping overgeneralizations, and performance standards and consequences are subjective, unclear or non-existent. Once-a-year strategic updates and policy summaries at the firm retreat are not enough either to spread the news or build broad scale buy-in.

4)      No Consequences: If changed priorities are not accompanied by clear performance standards and clear consequences for substandard compliance, partners have no incentive to alter their behavior or their personal priorities.

5)      Responsibility and Authority Muddles: Change initiatives bog down and suffer from “friction loss” where there is: a) a lack of role clarity that defines which lawyers bear particular task responsibilities, and b) fuzzy, “gentlemanly” or inconsistent lines of authority.  This results either in org charts that do not adequately reflect real pathways of power or individuals who cavalierly ignore the org chart and go their own way.

In our next post we will have a deeper look at the practical implications of Magical Thinking and some suggestions for escaping Magical Thinking mind traps.


© 2013, Edge International US, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.