Tag Archives: innovation

Innovation in Legal Project Management

Innovation is a hot topic, and when I was recently asked to edit and contribute to a book to be titled Innovations in Legal Project Management, I was challenged to find a useful definition. As a lawyer, consultant, expert on legal project management (“LPM”) and as an author, I needed something more useful than “I know it when I see it.” I began by developing a baseline understanding of LPM practices that are the norm, in order to be able to identify those that are different – and possibly innovative.

The current state: In the past ten years, client needs and expectations for the delivery of valuable legal services have created significant pricing pressure and competition among law firms and other service providers. Law departments, inside counsel, and other professional staff numbers have also grown. Demand in meeting the needs of the business (internal clients of in-house counsel) in a cost-effective manner has accelerated. Legal project management, process improvement methodologies, data analytics, knowledge management, the increased stature of legal operations professionals (previously referred to as “non-lawyers”), and technology are all included in the portfolio of resources that are available to meet the challenges of providing cost-effective and valuable legal services. During this time, LPM has gone from being perceived as another management fad to broad acceptance and increasing usage. In many organizations, lawyers rely on a support role so that LPM also involves a stand-alone or well-integrated and respected function. In some law firms, LPM collaborates with pricing professionals, or reports to those with titles like “chief value officer.”

A baseline of LPM practices at law firms has developed; a cadre of LPM professionals have self-organized in trade groups and networks; and training programs for lawyers and paralegals that build awareness abound. Corporate law departments have adopted LPM practices through their systematic approach to intake of (or declining) client requests, and allocation of work internally and to external counsel. Both the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium have developed frameworks and playbooks for LPM. All provide useful tactics.

With this baseline, I believed that a book on innovation needed a different lens. I sought examples of the difficult work of harnessing the relevant aspects of LPM as a strategy that is explicitly aligned to a law firm’s or legal department’s business objectives and culture. My search was rewarded. I found law firms with communication strategies and techniques to train, coach and mentor those acquiring the skills to implement LPM practices as a core aspect of the firm’s business strategy, operations, and commitment to delivering quality legal services. Others integrate LPM in the firm’s essential focus on the client experience. I invited the International Institute of Legal Project Management to contribute a chapter, since it has the most comprehensive approach to professional development and government-approved accreditation in LPM in the world.

Innovators in LPM see around corners to improve the legal profession. They create value for their firms, clients, and organizations. I found examples in both domestic US and global organizations, with case studies from both practicing lawyers and other industry experts. There is a common denominator that may be used as a working definition of innovation in LPM. Innovators systematically and continuously:

  1. Use deep insights about particular clients to create new services and ways of doing things that impact the client’s business goals;
  2. Incrementally improve the speed, value (cost/margin), and quality/benefits of the product or service they deliver; and/or
  3. Rely on technology that is home grown or highly customized to meet users’ needs.

The first is the most difficult to achieve and appears to be the least prevalent in LPM today. Support from technology and service-delivery professionals are part of the baseline of LPM practices. But how many lawyers and supporting professionals thoroughly understand what it is really like to be the client unless they have been a client?

Innovators in LPM incorporate these techniques – for example, during the scoping of a matter – by asking such questions as:

  1. What is the business background and context for the situation that requires legal advice, services or other counsel?
  2. What is the definition of a successful outcome from a legal perspective? Is it the same as the business perspective? Are there stakeholders with conflicting views? How will this be reconciled?
  3. What are the metrics and the process for capturing them in evaluating the performance at the matter and organizational level for all stakeholders in the matter?

Effective use of LPM will assess whether the answers to these questions at the outset continue to hold true over the course of handling a matter. Finally, innovators will go beyond a basic after-action review to actively engage with the client to capture a deep understanding of the client’s needs, business and the extent to which the lawyer’s legal services made it easier for the client to do his or her job.

Where to start? Other disciplines provide a path: the design thinking methodology requires empathy with the customer; lean and process improvement frameworks require hearing the voice of the customer; and marketing and business development provide opportunities to convey differentiation in client-service delivery.

Yes, I do know innovation when I see it. We have just begun to understand how to unpack the buzzword of 2018 to make it concrete and practical for those seeking to maintain their edge.

Gerry Riskin’s Immutable Laws of Law Firm Success

When Edge International was formed, I was optimistic that by this century, we could all make the following statement – and it would be true:

Dateline 21st Century: Most professional firms today and their practice groups are led by individuals who have not only mastered practice skills but are equally adept in organizational behaviour. They understand group dynamics and the art of facilitation. They conduct highly effective meetings, coach individuals to achieve their personal best performances, and create an environment in which professionals thrive. Managing partners are masters at “managing the managers” by ensuring that they are working toward relevant, well-defined and achievable goals. That is why most firms are highly profitable, achieve very high levels of internal satisfaction, and give exemplary client service. Turnover has dropped to nearly zero and clients are extremely loyal, thinking it absurd to even consider switching firms.

“Dream on” you say. Well, yes, I do dream on and as a perennial optimist I believe that what I have described is still very much achievable. The major ingredient missing in 99% of today’s professional firms is simply “The Will to Manage.”

The following 12 immutable laws represent my assessment of the most critically important components of successful firm management.

Law #1. The Managing Partner Must Be Willing to Manage: The managing partner must assist the partnership in achieving a clear vision complete with a describable, quantifiable destination. Firms cannot succeed with managing partners who were selected for their uncanny ability to ruffle no feathers and who discern the predominant direction of the firm and then run out in front to give the appearance of leadership. Management requires courage.

Law #2. Leaders Need Power: Most leaders are chosen because of their seniority, rainmaking prowess, and book of business. How does such a leader get influence over others who may outrank them on any one of those attributes? The power comes from understanding what the members of the group aspire to, and then helping them achieve it. This requires “asking” and “listening” — not “telling.”

Law #3. Leaders Must Coach: The art of coaching is to strike the right balance between being supportive and continually demanding. Talented, rich and famous athletes accept coaching, and when they see the benefits, your partners will also.

Law #4. Managing Must Yield a Financial Return: Unless a leader understands the mathematics of the return on investment that is realized as a result of the managing effort, the role may be seen as honourary and not critically important.

Law #5. Leaders Must Motivate: The only way to change a practice group is one person at a time, and the only way to motivate an individual is to find out what they want and help them get it.

Law #6. A Group Requires Shared Ambition to Function: You cannot move forward until you’ve got some sense of where you want to go together. Each individual needs to answer the question: “What can I accomplish in this group that I cannot accomplish alone?”

Law #7. Teamwork Requires Enforceable Rules: Your strategy is not what you aspire to; your strategy is what you are prepared to enforce. To have a strategy you have to decide: “What sensible rules are we prepared to establish for our club?”

Law #8. Profitability Comes From “Smarter,” Not “Harder”: If the way you are making more money is by working harder, you should take that as a sign of personal failure, not success. Profits come from being ever more valuable, not from working eight days a week.

Law #9. Build Skills and Foster the Sharing of Knowledge: Intellectual capital walks out the door each night. Too much of it is a heartbeat away from being lost to the firm forever. By ensuring that appropriate skill dissemination and knowledge sharing is occurring, a firm can create tremendous additional value and an insurmountable competitive advantage.

Law #10. Give Recognition and Celebrate Successes: Brilliant leaders have a knack of setting goals that are sufficiently stretching to be worthwhile — but achievable — and then fueling the behaviour by fostering encouragement and celebrating successes.

Law #11. Encourage Innovation and Remove Obstacles: The essence of having a competitive advantage is not waiting for others to pioneer the way, but to constantly ask: “What are other people not yet doing that we have a suspicion clients might like?”

Law #12. Differentiate With Perpetual Action: When virtually every firm has essentially the same strategic plan, the real competition is not about having a better idea; victory goes to those who are better at execution. Effective leaders help individuals break their objectives down into bite-sized incremental bits and then relentlessly follow up to ensure that progress is continuous.

Estée Lauder, the business titan, said in a television interview many years ago, “I am not famous for my ideas but rather for what I have done” (italics mine). Therefore the management game is ensconced in what I call Law #13: Get to your war room and start creating your action plan. What is your first small step… and then… and then…? Only by doing will you join the ranks of the greatest achievers and, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Estée Lauder and whomever else you regard as heroes. People will wonder how you did it — or think you were just lucky. But we’ll know differently, won’t we?

What will you do to breathe life into these laws in your firm?

Note: Those of you familiar with the work of David Maister will see his profound influence on my thinking in this article…. I am forever grateful to him as a mentor and as a friend.