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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.

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