Archive for the 'Legal Technology' 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.

Technology and the Law

Author: Debra Baker
August 12, 2011

The International Legal Technology Association annual conference is just two weeks away. I love the show because I always learn about new and innovate ways to leverage technology to improve the practice of law.

It seems by now that discussions of technology and the law should be old news but it is amazing the number of lawyers who are still resistant to technological changes that will make their lives easier.

As an example, I received a call last week from a good friend who is a solo practitioner. She was incredibly frustrated at her computer networking system — everything from the cost of maintaining a server for four work stations to her inability to create PDFs on the fly and organize her Outlook folders. She was so overwhelmed by the thought of having to change to improved technology that she failed to see how many hours she was losing because her current setup didn’t work for her.

She had finally reached her tipping point.

After an initial evaluation of her current technology related costs and the cost of moving to a new system, she realized that for an up front investment of less than $1000, she will be able to save close to 75% in monthly fees compared to her current setup. What’s more, she will be able to work more efficiently and effectively. Although we are still doing due diligence, conservative estimates right now put her savings at about $4,000 per year.

But it isn’t just the hard cost savings. If we set her up right, she will save hours of unbillable time a week. This will let her focus more time on clients or get out of the office to develop new business. God forbid, she might even choose to save some of that extra time for herself.

This is not a circumstances that impacts solos and small firms alone. So many large firms are wedded to costly and cumbersome infrastructure that contributes to inefficiency and frustration. It is hard to come to a consensus on when, how much and what to invest in. But until they do, the cost of doing business with lawyers is going to remain high.

I’ll keep you up to date on how my current project progresses. If others out there are going through similar processes, I’d love to hear more…

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 am privileged to be working with the San Diego County Public Law Library as they plan a major renovation of their main library. They launched a campaign this week called Rebuilt. Reinvented. Reinvigorated. The campaign is to raise awareness about their plans to better serve the legal community and the general public.

The changes include conference rooms and technology areas that will make it possible for lawyers to use the library as a satellite law office. They include creating new public spaces that will bring together legal organizations and community groups to better serve the public. They are revisiting their membership program to ensure they are providing value to their patrons. They are even developing a virtual community that will make legal information accessible beyond the physical walls of the library.

Why are they doing this? Because the needs of their patrons and the way legal information is delivered has changed. The San Diego Law Library understands that if they don’t find new ways to add value to their “clients,” they risk extinction.

Law firms should take notice. Instead of clinging to the old ways of doing business, they need to find new ways to add value to their clients and improve the way they deliver their services.

These changes are not easy. Some traditional services may have to go away. The professionals working there have to develop new skill sets. There is a risk that it may not work.

But what is so impressive to me is that the staff and the board are willing to take the chance to make the library a more relevant and vital part of the community. They may not have all the answers, but they recognize that the status quo is not good enough.

Normalizing Disruptive Technologies

Author: Debra Baker
June 30, 2010

Until I went to work for an electronic discovery company a few years ago, I never understood the concept of disruptive technology in the legal profession. It never occurred to me that lawyers would perceive as a negative something that has the potential to improve the way they do business.

Coming from a background in law firm client relationship management, I saw—and still see—an opportunity for law firms to adopt electronic discovery on a firmwide (“enterprise”) basis and use their ability to streamline document review as a client service strategy.

For a host of reasons, that didn’t happen. Instead, corporate legal departments saw how discovery technologies could provide them with more control over their documents and help them better manage outside counsel.

That’s not because general counsel are any more innovative than their law firm counterparts. Most GCs, if given a choice, would focus on the legal issues their company faces and ignore operational issues altogether. But corporate counsels don’t have a choice. They receive outside pressure to cut costs from the C-level suite and their boards. Technology is a normalization factor.

Law firm partners don’t have the benefit of that outside party looking in and applying pressure. It’s not that they don’t know the benefits technology has to offer. They just lack sufficient pressure to take the proactive steps. The sense of urgency hasn’t been there. They perceive the technology as disruptive.

Whether it is a document review platform, time-and-billing software or any other piece of technology, law firms need to start viewing technology the way their clients do.

Here are a few suggestions:

Incorporate technology into your client development strategy. When a client announces they are implementing a new piece of technology, find out why. Use the announcement as an opportunity to get client feedback. Ask why they chose the product; why they chose to bring it in house; whether the technology is part of a broader strategy and what that strategy is.

Ask for a seat at the table. If your client has a technology committee, ask if you can participate. It will give you the opportunity to better understand your client and the issues their executive or legal team faces. It will also give you an opportunity to provide value back to your firm.

Stop playing defense. If you think your client is making the wrong decision about their use of technology, play offense. Develop your firm’s technology value proposition and ask for an opportunity to demonstrate how you and your firm can do it better. There is not a GC in the world who wouldn’t listen to that conversation.

To me normalizing disruptive technology is as much about client relationship management as it is about matter management. There are only upsides for law firms in being part of that change.

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.