Archive for the 'Knowledge Management' Category

Why Marketers Should Care About Legal Project Management

Author: Debra Baker
September 13, 2011

In legal knowledge management and IT circles, the concept of Legal Project Management as a discipline has been a hot topic for the last two years. In marketing circles, … not so much. Amidst client development programs, service offering launches and the support and evaluation of new business opportunities, few law firm marketers seem to be thinking about how firm processes and technologies can reshape the fundamental value proposition of a firm.

But lawyers and marketing professionals who are thinking about how to reposition their firms to thrive in the future should consider the role Legal Project Management can play in that effort. Differentiating a law firm is harder now than ever before. The market is converging. The gap between the top firms and the rest of the playing field is widening. The firms at the top are getting the choice matters and are cherry picking the talent. There are few areas in which the rest of the field can still compete…. with one exception.

Firms of any size have the opportunity to demonstrate their unique value to clients by working more efficiently. Legal Project Management (LPM) principles provide the framework around which to do this.

LPM applies traditional project management concepts to the control and management of legal cases or matters. As explained by Jim Hassett in the July/August issue of Managing Partner (subscription required), there are eight elements of LPM:

  • Setting the objective and defining the scope
  • Identifying and scheduling activities
  • Assigning tasks and managing the team
  • Planning and managing the budget
  • Assessing risks to the budget and schedule
  • Managing quality
  • Managing client communication and expectations
  • Negotiating changes with clients

These elements are inherently part of any case or matter. The difference with LPM is that these steps are managed in an ongoing and consistent way. From a marketing standpoint, that translates into the following opportunities:

  1. Enhanced Client Communication. Survey after survey reveal that client communication (or lack of it) is a primary driver of corporate decision making when it comes to hiring a law firm. With LPM, law firms have the tools they need to stay responsive and address issues in a proactive way with clients. LPM provides the tools for planning and managing a budget. It allows you to better manage quality. It also allows you to address unanticipated changes that invariably occur during the course of most matters.
  2. Demonstrate ROI. The consistency that LPM brings to the table means there is an opportunity to demonstrate a quantifiable return on investment to clients — something very few firms have mastered successfully. Consider having the ability to conduct a post-matter client debrief in which you can evaluate the actual costs incurred against the original estimated budget, and then using that hard data to discuss ways in which you and the client might be able to improve management of a particular type of matter in the future.
  3. Alternative Fee Arrangements. As we all know, everyone wants AFAs, but few people know how to put them together confidently. Fewer still know how to do so profitably. LPM provides the tools to effectively looking at the true cost of a matter, and the tools for better managing the matter during the project.

LPM as a discipline has the opportunity to make a lasting impact on how lawyers do business. But we all know change is slow to come, particularly if left up to the lawyers alone. Marketing professionals should get involved with their knowledge managers, IT and pricing colleagues to help drive this change.

Lawyers — Just Do Something

Author: Debra Baker
September 6, 2011

With full credit to the authors of the  Intelligent Change blog, I was inspired to provide my two cents on the topic of, “Lawyers — Just do something.”

Having recently returned from ILTA, I was struck this year by the inertia I felt from many of the attendees. This is not a criticism of the conference itself. ILTA continues to provide high quality programming and the event is always run seamlessly. This year, though, participants, seemed… tired.

My focus for the show was on Legal Project Management. I wanted to learn more about what firms are doing and what success they were having. I talked to at least a half dozen AmLaw 100 firms, as well as a handful of vendors playing in the space. I quickly learned that few firms are making significant headway in this space. The universal frustration: the Lawyers.

It seems that project management is much simpler than change management. Unfortunately, in the legal profession, you can’t achieve the former without the latter. Unless there is a partner driving the change, there is little energy around trying to formalize the management of legal matters to create true businesses processes that can be used for creating best practices and alternative fee arrangements.

This brings me back to the Intelligent Change post, which concisely defines the problem — Change is hard, especially for lawyers; There are other more pressing problems (e.g. cash flow); and,  it’s hard (what worth doing isn’t?)– but makes an even more valid point. Just do something. Some thing.

It is not necessary to develop a strategy — whether for legal project management or something else — that solves all of the world’s problems. Build version 1.0 and maximize that to the hilt. Then move on to version 2.0 or even 1.5. In the end making any forward progress is better than standing still.

Maybe lawyers should sell widgets

Author: Debra Baker
June 30, 2011

Reflections on the emerging Global 25: Part 2

Legal is a profession, not an industry. Law firms are different; They don’t sell widgets.

These are the theorems I was first introduced to when I started covering law practice management for the ABA Journal after graduating from law school in 1998.

I challenged the first when I saw lawyers taking stock in lieu of fees during the dot com era. Clearly the “double comma” revenue lawyers that sprouted up after a successful IPO proved being a profession and an industry are not mutually exclusive. Lawyers are in the business of making money. Revenues from legal services are estimated at $210 billion in the United States alone.

With the gap widening between the Global 25 and the rest of the law firms, it’s time to challenge the second theorem. These elite firms will get the most profitable work and will be able to cherry pick the best talent from the other firms.

The rest are going to have to compete for the remainder of the work – much of which is being commoditized. Instead of fighting the inevitable, firms have an opportunity to provide more value to their clients by finding ways to productize what they do. Law firms outside of the Global 25 will need to fundamentally rethink the way they deliver legal services. They need to start selling widgets.

By selling widgets, I’m suggesting lawyers look to productize their services in a way that better demonstrates value and is priced accordingly. Whether you call it value-based billing or an alternative fee arrangement, its about packaging legal services in a way in which clients understand what they are getting for what price.

What’s more, it may actually mean that lawyers get paid for doing less work than they would if billing by the hour. Let’s face it, the things lawyers provide that add the most value — making a vilified defendant look sympathetic or opening doors a client might not even know exist — cannot be billed in six minute increments. So instead, there is pressure to make the “stuff” of lawyering — the documents, the briefs, the filings — to be created in an inefficient way in order to create enough billable hours to make the work profitable. In the end, whether it takes 10 hours or 100 hours, the “stuff” that is produced — so long as it is right — is worth the same. Why penalize those who produce the work more efficiently?

By billing at a flat rate or on a project basis, lawyers and their firms will be incentivized to work more efficiently on the paper work and to focus their efforts on the areas that truly make lawyers valuable — their role as a strategic partner.

Why not sell the widgets and differentiate yourself on the distinct strategic services you provide?

On iPads, change management and the trust fall

Author: Debra Baker
April 6, 2011

My birthday is today (yay me!) and my husband gave me a new iPad2 as a present. It’s very shiny and has a pretty blue cover that folds backward to create a computer stand. I know it is going to make my life easier and more fun both for work and at home.

I’m also a bit intimidated by it.

I’m pretty tech savvy and no one makes it easier to learn technology than Apple. But it is still different. I’m going to have to think about the “stuff” I do each day using my computer, cell phone and other technology devices, and figure out how/if I can do them better with the iPad. If I want to get the most bang for my buck, I’m going to need to do things different than how I do them now.

It’s really about change management. Even when change is good, it can still be hard.

Probably the toughest environment to manage change is inside a law firm. There are so many easy ways law firms can make themselves better — more efficient, more responsive, more effective — yet taking those steps seems to be so hard.

Take CRM technology. Client relationship management systems are probably the single most effective way to collaborate with your partners and take a disciplined, strategic approach to business development. But it requires many people doing things different.

Consider launching a new marketing initiative that will allow you to differentiates your firm and generate new business opportunities in a way that none of your competition is doing. If you’ve never done it that way before, it’s still hard.

Embracing social media, letting go of law firm directories, saying goodbye to unprofitable clients… Like the iPad, all of these things offer benefits but law firms are still slow to embrace them.

Let’s face it, change is a trust fall with the future. There are no guarantees. But do you want to sit from the sidelines while the competition boldly dives back, or do you want to experience the potential of what is out there?

I’m diving in. Hope to see you on the other side of my new two-way camera.

Friday Musing — Second dogs and lateral integration

Author: Debra Baker
April 1, 2011
Star Loves Legal Marketing

Star waiting for Sophie

My dog Star hasn’t made an appearance in my blog in many months, but I’m thinking about her today because we are contemplating a family addition — a new dog.

It wasn’t exactly planned. My friend just moved from a house with big yard in Denver to an apartment in Los Angeles. The move is great for her but it hasn’t worked out well for her dog, Sophie. So she and her son are bringing Sophie down to San Diego on Saturday to meet Star. If the meeting goes well, we may just take her in. We’ll just have to see.

Star loves everyone, but bringing a new dog into our home on a permanent basis is unchartered territory for us. There are a lot of variables at play. Some things you can see on the surface. Others take longer to uncover.

So we’ve put together a “dog integration” strategy. We’re going to start with a meeting. If that works out, we’ll do a week. The dogs can get to know each other. We can find out if they are compatible, see if it is a fit for Star, and see if it is a fit for Sophie.

It got me thinking about lateral partner hiring. It’s a tough business bringing in a new equity partner. While there are certain “check the box” things a firm can seek out in a potential candidate, there are a host of issues relating to culture, leadership, commitment and communication that can’t be uncovered during the “dating” process.

With lateral hires there are no trial runs. Law firms have to make the best decision they can with the information they have at the time and take their chances.  The best they can do is develop a comprehensive lateral integration plan to facilitate the transition.

My money is on the dogs.


Can a database tell your firm’s story better than you?

Author: Debra Baker
January 24, 2011

The following post is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Moire Marketing Blog on January 24, 2011.

By Debra Baker

My first job in legal marketing was as a “writer” for Heller Ehrman. They wanted someone with a law degree who could work with the attorneys to strengthen their messaging. At the time I was a senior writer for the ABA Journal and was doing pro bono work on the side. The fit seemed perfect.

As a reporter I was always looking for stories, so that is the approach I took when working with the practice group leaders to develop copy. I asked the basic questions to better understand what they did and  what made them different. For example:

  • So how many M&As have you done in the last five years?
  • What size deals do you handle?
  • Do you represent the buyer or the seller?
  • In what industries are you strongest?

What I quickly learned was, like many firms, Heller didn’t have a writing problem – they simply lacked enough data to tell a good story. The firm had gone through so much growth that they no longer knew all the great work that they were doing as a firm.

That’s where database marketing comes in.

At Heller, I worked with several partners to create a database to manage and track key matters. This not only allowed us to create compelling marketing copy, it became the foundation of building out the business development arm of the firm.

Without an experience database that allows you to quickly access representative experience or compile important metrics like trial experience or deal flow, you lose the opportunity to effectively validate your marketing message and firm value proposition. What’s more, you end up in a legal marketing Ground Hog Day, where it’s “first time every time” with each new pitch or initiative that comes along.

Experience databases are a critical component of the legal marketing and business development mix, but far too often law firms avoid such projects because they feel like they will be too resource intensive and costly. The biggest challenge is turning the need into execution. Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Define your goal. Determine up front what you are trying to accomplish and what data you need to be successful. Before you start building something, you need to understand what you want to do with it.
  2. Keep it simple. For large firms in particular, it can be challenging to come up with a set of parameters that will be all things to all practice groups. One of the biggest risks of a database project is spending too much time trying to create the perfect database and, as a result, nothing gets done. Start with version 1.0 that gets you 80% of the way there and then improve upon it.
  3. Find your champions. Marketing cannot do this on its own. You need a directive from your management committee and attorney champions who are going to sell the initiative to the partnership. If the firm as a whole is not committed to the project, it won’t work.
  4. Don’t wait to start collecting current data. When a database gets built you need two things: Historic data that you can use today to tell your story and future collection so your story remains relevant and current. Don’t wait to collect all the historic data before you focus on your ongoing collection. Do it at the same time. It may take six months to collect five years’ worth of data. If you aren’t collecting the current information, you will end up with an outdated database before your start.
  5. Identify a marketing owner. Marketing can’t do it alone, but marketing does need to own both the system and the process. Without a marketing champion, your database will quickly lose steam.

Database marketing is as simple as it is complex. Typically where the rubber meets the road is with the people and the process. You need an organization that is committed to the project. You need a process to maintain the system that is simple and can be executed in a consistent and ongoing way. With an effective experience database you will not only tell a better story about your firm, you will be more efficient and effective in doing it.

I found an old email this morning that references a 2009 McKinsey Executive Insight report about challenges facing corporations coming out of the economic crisis. I no longer have a link to the year-old report, but the excerpt from the email reads:

“Companies need to integrate marketing and sales function into the day-to-day operations of the organization and apply the same rigor to defining commercial processes and systems that they have long applied to manufacturing and other operational processes and systems. This “commercial transformation” can take many forms and involves 1) a concerted, multi-year effort to substantially upgrade the effectiveness of a company’s marketing and sales processes, including aligning top management around a forceful transformation theme; 2) driving performance improvement programs around 2-3 carefully selected commercial levers and striving to lead the industry on these levers; and 3) embedding the change through a comprehensive commercial operating system, comprising not only processes and tools, but also IT systems and performance management.”

If you filter through the jargon and are not put off by words like “commercialization,” “operational processes”and “sales,” there are some salient points from which law firms could benefit, particularly those that have made a heavy investment in marketing but are not sure they are getting the results they want.

First, law firm management and their marketing departments need to be directly aligned. Many firms still fail to give marketing a seat at the executive committee and make the much needed connection between strategic growth and market position.

Second, the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” remains true. Law firm marketers need benchmarks around which they can measure their success. Real process needs to be put in place to evaluate return on investment.

Finally, IT and marketing can no longer work independently. Technology needs to be an integrated into law firm marketing strategies. There are far too many law firm marketing directors out treat technology like a “project” that can be checked off on a things to do list. Technology is a part of doing business. Combined with the right people and processes, it is a tactic for raising awareness, a tool for developing credibility and the centralized resource for tracking results.

This is not to suggests that law firms need to undergo a “commercial transformation” at the expense of professionalism. But the economy has changed and the drivers for legal services are different today. Firms need to take a disciplined approach to the way the do business in addition to the legal work they provide clients. They cannot afford reactive marketing where there is a constant state of motion and very little measurable progress.

Does Your Geek Talk to Your Client’s Geek?

Author: Debra Baker
September 1, 2010

I was disappointed to miss this year’s ILTA conference but was lucky enough to attend a post mortem at yesterday’s San Diego Women in eDiscovery meeting. There, Saeid Ahmadian of Luce Forward provided a summary of the programs he attended.

One session focused on issues facing corporate IT. Their message: They have no one to talk to inside the law firms. In-house counsel talk to their internal teams. Outside counsel talk to their teams. But the folks who handle the data directly don’t talk to each other. And it’s causing problems.

DLA Piper’s Browning Marean , who spoke at ILTA on the topic of defensible e-discovery strategies, refers to this as the “Geek to Geek dance.” (That is with a capital G out of respect to those who talk in zeros and ones).

Saeid pointed to all the positive changes that are happening as corporations get smarter about their data. They are bringing more technology in house. They are hiring more IT. These are good things. “The less time we have to deal with client data, the more time we have to focus on legal issues.”

That said, he noted, both lawyers and their clients need to rethink the way they communicate with each other and bring in the data experts to have conversations with each other.

He is right. The real hurdles that need to be overcome are human. Lawyers who try to translate complex information about data to each other are playing a dangerous game of telephone. Depending on the attorneys involved, they understand most, some or none of the conversation. Even in the best scenario, a lot gets lost in translation.

The Geeks need to be talking to each other directly.

This needs to happen at the onset of every case. Better yet, the Geeks, or at least the chief Geek, should be integrated into the broader client development strategy. Set up a lunch or a meet and greet for the litigation support groups so they can learn from each other in advance of the next big piece of litigation.

Translated: Let your Geek talk to your client’s Geek.

Client Service Lesson #3: Business Process Matters

Author: Debra Baker
August 4, 2010

It is a buyer’s market out there.

Over the last two years, more than 5,700 lawyers have lost their jobs. The demand for many types of legal services is down. Competition for high-demand legal services has never been greater.

Being a good lawyer is no longer good enough. How you demonstrate value is equally important.

Law firms who understand their business processes — how they lawyer — and use that knowledge to streamline the way they work have a powerful advantage over those who don’t.

When I refer to business process, I’m talking about looking at the discreet services lawyers provide and understanding what steps go in to providing that service and for what cost. While there may be no “one size fits all” process, there are certain steps that happen every time and there are variables — most of which are known but not always predictable.

With an understanding of how lawyers in the firm work, it becomes easier to assess costs and evaluate ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness across the firm. And, it sets the foundation for sometimes difficult conversations about timelines, communication expectations and fees.

The ability to communicate the workflow of a case or a transaction helps simplify the management of client expectations. Consider the power of providing a client — at the onset of a matter — with a high level overview of what steps are involved, explaining the absolutes and discussing unknowns. Additionally, you can tee up sometimes challenging conversations about timelines, communication expectations, and fees.

Beyond communication, a more advanced understanding of the business process also provides the foundation for developing value-based billing arrangements. The desire for pricing predictability is well established in 2010. For law firms, the key to responding to this need, is to understand the cost of their own business. Documenting the business process of common matters is the first step.

To learn more about the benefits of client service teams, check out my article, “Client Service Teams: Lessons from the Trenches.”

I’m heading up to Legal Tech West in Los Angeles today. Shows like these always remind me of the importance technology plays in demonstrating value to clients.

Legal technology tradeshows tend to be full of vendors and law firm IT staff. There is a lot of knowledge in these rooms. Too often, however, the crowds are singing to the converted rather than reaching the partners in management positions with decision-making authority. Lawyers who do attend often do so passively, securing their CLE credits and hitting the tradeshow floor to find the latest giveaway to take home to their five-year-old.

My partner Cathy Kenton just finished an article targeted toward our legal vendor clients called, “5 Last Minute Tradeshow Success Tips for Legal Vendors.” The article was focused on how legal vendors can maximize their return on investment when exhibiting at trade shows.

It strikes me that lawyers could use some tips on how to maximize their time at tradeshows as well, so here are three simple approaches I recommend for the lawyers heading to Legal Tech or any other show featuring legal technologies.

1. Have a plan. Know your firm’s business strategy and the types of technologies you use or are considering in order to achieve their goals. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you will be in a better position to evaluate what vendors at the show have to offer.
2. Bring a friend who understands the end game. In my experience, there is often a gap in knowledge between what lawyers want to accomplish and what technology does. As a result, the technology ends up frustrating. Walk the tradeshow floor with your CIO or a vendor-agnostic advisor who can help you connect the dots. For example, I like to walk the floor with my clients. I learn from their conversations with the vendors and am often able to help them consider ways to leverage technology that they have not considered before. It’s a win-win for both of us.
3. It’s not all about the next new thing. Most firms have invested significant amounts of money in legal technologies but few know how to leverage all the bells and whistles to get the best value for your money. Visit with vendors whose technology you own. Come armed with specific things you are trying to accomplish and ask them for best practices they’ve learned from their other clients.

Technology tradeshows like Legal Tech give attorney leaders the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day and start considering long-term opportunities to leverage technology to achieve business goals.