Although we know that many of you 3Geek readers are extremely shy about expressing your opinions, we invite you to share your thoughts, visions, and suggestions here to help shape one of the BarCamp sessions at the upcoming ILTA Conference. Note that we encourage you to comment whether or not you’re planning to attend the conference. The session, entitled Making an Impossible Engagement Possible, will be led by John Alber, Rudy DeFelice and yours truly, and will take a crowdsourcing approach to solving a business problem that is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s legal world. The problem statement is described below — please read it, and comment on this post to tell us how YOU would address this issue. No holds barred. Let your creativity shine. Your suggestions here will provide the fodder we need to jumpstart discussion and brainstorming at the live session. Here’s the problem statement:

Your firm has had a long relationship with a major financial institution–Mega Mega Bank. As a consequence of the housing bubble bursting and the ensuing recession, the bank is dealing with a number of defaulted consumer and business loans. It’s facing hundreds or even thousands of lawsuits. Each suit is, on average, not a major matter, ranging from a few thousand to a few hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk. But collectively, they pose a significant expense to Mega Mega Bank. Rather than asking the law firms that serve it for price estimates to do the lawsuits, the bank has set a not-to-exceed price for each suit. That price is extraordinarily aggressive. It is a fraction of the average your firm has been charging for such suits to date, and you regard your teams working on the suits as already quite lean, leveraged and efficient. Your firm views the business with Mega Mega Bank as strategic and it has decided to do a portfolio of some hundreds of cases at the price proposed by the bank. The lawyers, project managers and technologists who will assist in handling these matters do not, at present, have any firm ideas how they will do the work to a high quality standard while, at the same time, controlling costs so as to make the engagements economically feasible. Your job is to work with others on the team to find a way, or many ways, to accomplish high quality work at a much lower cost than has previously been possible. The firm will invest as necessary to preserve the relationship–within reason. But time is of the essence. The longer the team does business the old way, the more money the firm will lose.

What steps can the firm take immediately to meet its goals here? What steps can it take over the medium term? What technologies and process improvements can be brought to bear? What can the firm do to increase the likelihood of success? In thinking about this, don’t limit yourself to your area of expertise. Cross boundaries. And don’t limit yourself to conventional solutions. If a conventional solution worked already, the client wouldn’t be pressuring your firm for radical innovations. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions for solving this problem. Provide your input in the Comments section here, or via Twitter by including #ILTA11 #ORG2 in your tweet. If you’d like to see how others have reacted, check out the comments on our cross-posting on ILTA’s KM blog.

  • My "two cents", which actually means about 15 minutes:

    TALK TO THE CLIENT: Make sure you understand the client's business objectives and risk tolerance. Learn who at the client knows what about these matters. Figure out whom you can consult on an ongoing basis, sources of information, escalation, metrics, and governance for the project.

    STREAMLINE: Interview your lawyers and staff who have worked the matter to map the typical flow of cases already handled. If client has done the work, include them in discussion. Create the "as is" map. Then, in a team setting, review as is map for where steps can A. be eliminated or made more efficient and/or B. be delegated to a lower cost resource (see below). Make sure you come away from exercise with good process flows and checklists. And identify tasks for automation.

    ANALYZE and STREAMLINE AGAIN: Immediately require all timekeepers to use accurate task codes for all work on these matters. After one month or 20 cases, whichever comes first, apply business intelligence / analytics software (including visualization techniques) to identify patterns. Use results to refine processes.

    CENTRALIZE: To the extent the work has been spread out across the firm / offices, consolidate it one place with people focused on it full-time. Consider moving some or all of it to a lower cost location.

    IDENTIFY LOWEST COST RESOURCES: Once process is streamlined and documented, identify the lowest cost resources. This could include paralegals, college grads, contract lawyers, offshore LPO, or onshore LPO.

    AUTOMATE: Be careful not to automate a broken process. Shoshana Zuboff in Age of the Smart Machine used the term "informate". After two months or 50 matters, identify where document assembly, expert systems, or other COTS or custom software we save labor.

    THINK CREATIVELY: Would a smartphone or table app in hands of the client accelerate? Should you do a decision tree for each matter and have client review it? Can you develop statistical profiles of matters that help identify likely course and therefore appropriate level of investment?

  • As these are all similar types of matters related to a single bank there should be a great deal of overlap on many cases. The key is to filter the cases by Category, then by degree of difficulty, maximizing the overlapping work within each team of lawyers.

    A small Management Team made up of senior members of the Mega Mega Bank client team will quickly review each matter and assign it to a Category of like matter types, making the categories as specific as necessary. Each category will be assigned to a Category Team focused on that particular type of matter.

    The senior members of the Category Team will assess the value of each individual case to determine its degree of difficulty.

    Straight forward cases will be given to the Category Group One, made up primarily of junior lawyers and legal staff with minimal, but experienced, senior-level supervision. These cases should primarily be “factory work” with a great deal of overlap. Hopefully, this will be the largest group in each Category, as these will be the cases you will be most likely to exceed the client’s aggressive pricing expectations.

    Slightly more complex cases will be given to the Category Group Two. This group should be composed of more experienced attorneys preferably with some experience in the type of matter. There should still be a good deal of overlap between cases, but each case will have some unique aspects. It will be a struggle to meet the client’s pricing on these cases, but they should be fewer than Group One.

    Finally, Category Group Three will get the outlying, unique, and complex cases. This should be the smallest group and it should be made up of your best, brightest and most experienced attorneys within the type of matter. You will not meet the client’s pricing on these cases, but you don’t need to. You only need Group Three to not overrun more than Groups One and Two have saved. Assigning your most experienced attorneys to these cases will maximize that possibility.

    Email communications about any of these cases should be strictly disallowed. The firm should immediately adopt a micro-blogging service for all attorneys and staff working on the Portfolio Team and tie in any important individuals or teams at the Client. Each person is assigned to a Group (One, Two, Three) within a Category. Through the micro-blogging service, they can quickly communicate within their Group and within their Category. The primary role of the Management Team, after assigning Categories will be to oversee the overall operation. They will be responsible for reassigning matters and reallocating resources as necessary, and will broadcast relevant communications to the entire Portfolio Team.

  • While Legal Project Management is not something you can implement in detail overnight, there are many aspects and practices that can deliver efficiencies in the the timeframe posed in the hypothetical. These practices that build on what attorneys and other legal professionals already know. They don't require a slew of new software tools (that are inevitably hard to implement and fall short of expectations).

    These practices will deliver benefits to the client, the firm, and the individual legal professionals in a relatively short time.

    This is not the place to go into detail, but my book on the subject might be a good place to begin: Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks, and Maintain Sanity.

  • While speaking generally it is often the law firm rather than the client that creates issues in not meeting deadlines appropriately, one aspect that doesn’t seem to get much discussion is when the client does not respond to the firm in a timely manner.

    The firm may be left scrambling to play catch-up simply because, for whatever internal reason, the client has not provided the appropriate feedback soon enough.

    While the timelines identified in a project plan need to identify deliverables for both parties, there needs to be a discussion as to the ramifications of either party not meeting the timelines.

  • I really like this question for what it raises about the future of the practice of law. Hourly billing is nice for lawyers, it puts all the risk on the client. This approach shifts much more of the risk to the law firm.

    In this project there is a strong incentive to be efficient. Ron lays out a good approach from the legal process perspective, I want to add a few comments from a technology perspective.

    One of the good things about treating a number of these cases as a portfolio is that there is a lot of overlap in the information that is required. There may be emails, for example, about the criteria used to decide whether to issue a mortgage and at what rate. These emails will be common to the whole portfolio, so they only have to be processed once.

    Predictive coding can be used to identify these documents. Because the whole portfolio uses a common repository, searching for any matter-specific document is likely also to be easier.

  • The comments here and on the ILTA KM blog have focused a lot on human factors and processes. What about technologies? Which are most apt for such an engagement? The volume of work and the number of people involved suggest some sort of workflow management. Can that be implemented in a reasonable timeframe? What about document assembly? And what about more basic technologies used to preserve and categorize work product for re-use?

    And what about timeframes? Workflow and document assembly tools might take 6 to 9 months to implement, even on an accelerated schedule (in part due to the amount of attorney input required). Still worthwhile?

    What other technologies could be brought to bear quickly?

  • Anonymous

    Just ran across the discussion on this post. With apologies for being so late to the party, a few thoughts:

    Herbert Roitblat points out that the hypothetical is great for what it suggests about trends in the practice of law. Particularly for big banks and big firms.

    However, not all trends always point in the right direction. The hypothetical brings to mind the recent “robo-signing” scandals–which are real world examples of what can happen if big institutional clients insist upon arrangements that can’t possibly make sense for honest lawyers working in top-notch law firms.

    See the first link below for an interesting in-depth description of how cost cutting measures can create problems. See the second link for a reminder of just how big the problems can grow.