Welcome to the new site for At the Intersection. We are settling in to our new address and relationship with Lexblog, and are delighted to commence the kickoff with a GUEST POST.
Proving that great minds and great firms think alike, I’m pleased to share a guest post contributed by Sheri Palomaki, Director of Practice Management at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, a 425 lawyer firm with 6 offices in the US.
Pam was absolutely right when she used the word ‘Eureka’ in her September 26 post to describe the feeling she had when talking to ‘Lex,’ a large-firm transactional practice group leader, about the varied virtues of legal project management (LPM). I’ve had the same feeling as we continue our own LPM implementation at Sutherland. Those of us who work daily with lawyers can testify that ‘Eureka’ moments are few and far between. But they seem to be recurring a lot since we started our LPM initiative. Perhaps our ‘Eureka’ insights echo those experienced by others similarly situated, but I think they are worth sharing.
Eureka Insight #1: Every lawyer, every matter, every practice can benefit from legal project management. When we began implementing legal project management training at Sutherland, I heard plenty of dismissive comments: I already do project management. Or, that ‘stuff’ does not apply to my practice. Or, the legal work I do is too complex to use project management. I love that last comment: How can we tell our clients, who are building renewable energy projects or drilling for oil in 4,500 feet of water, that our work is too complex to prepare a scope of legal work and a budget? Our phases and tasks surely are no more complex than theirs!
The most effective way I have found to address this kind of resistance is to host a training session with team members who work together and ask them some pointed questions. How do you scope projects with your clients? Do you put the scope in writing? How do you address scope creep? What are your best practices for developing a budget and sharing it with your client? How do you manage all the tasks in the matter? Have you ever exceeded your budget? If so, what happened, and how did you ensure it would not happen again? The answers – or lack thereof –usually enlighten everyone in the room.
Eureka Insight #2: Your clients likely have an opinion about your legal project management skills – and it may not be charitable. At a client feedback interview in July, I met with a general counsel from one our firm’s top clients to ask how satisfied he was with our legal services. He was effusive in his praise for the lawyers who work on his matters: They understand my business. They understand my company. They understand me. I could not be happier with the lawyers at Sutherland. After an hour of listening to his praise, I asked if he had any suggestions for improvement. His response: Well, there was this one time when we (nice of him to take responsibility) did a poor job of managing the scope and budget of a certain matter. The next time, we would like to work with the team to better communicate and track who is doing what, how long it will take and how much it will cost.
Our next step was obvious: we arranged joint LPM training with the client’s internal team and all the lawyers at Sutherland who provide services to that client. The training session was 90 minutes of intense but cordial discussion about how we can work together better. And our lawyers heard. They heard how we can scope projects together (our lawyers heard the client say that he prefers the initial scope in writing), how we track budgets (our lawyers heard the client say that he likes extra communication around the status of the budget), and best practices for conducting post project reviews (our lawyers heard the client say that we need to take the initiative to ensure that post project reviews are done after EVERY matter). My “Eureka” moment? I already knew these things, and our lawyers had been taught all these things… but they only really heard it when the client voiced them.
Eureka Insight #3: Training our clients and our lawyers together in legal project management has been an amazing client service tool. Consistent with the lessons learned from the client meeting described above, Sutherland lawyers are now armed with a list of best practices to use when serving the legal needs of this particular client. This is a list of best practices that the other law firms who work with this client do not have (at least not yet), a list of best practices that were developed from our joint 90-minute discussion. Not incidentally, that session ended with the client saying: Now let’s talk about the matters I will be sending to you next month…(I’m not exaggerating for impact here; new business is on the way).
These Eureka moments are teaching us powerful, positive messages. Bring more, please.