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Based on a delightful and wide-ranging conversation with Pratik Patel from Elevate about Legal Project Management (LPM), we were able to boil the LPM Challenge down to a single phrase. We were talking about what clients are demanding in terms of pricing and transparency. And how clients are pushing for more project management tools and efforts from their outside firms. But more importantly, clients are starting to ask for more meaningful answers to their LPM requests.

Of course this also lead to discussing how lawyers struggle with LPM and PM in general, always citing the unpredictability of legal matters. And here’s the rub – the lawyers are both right and wrong. Yes – legal matters are unpredictable, but clients still want to see meaningful implementations of LPM with their outside firms. Clients really want to see improved efficiencies from their law firms. They want better evidence that their matters are being handled in the most cost effective manner and they are looking to LPM as evidence this is occurring.

Previously I would have argued about lack of scope and how lawyers and clients don’t engage in out-of-scope conversations. This is obviously still the case. But instead, this time the conversation centered on efficiency and unpredictability.

So here’s the $64 phrase: Law firms need to demonstrate efficiency in the midst of unpredictability.

Unpredictability, poor scope, no scope … are all part of the landscape. Court hearings will be postponed. Closing dates will be moved. Motions will be filed. But through all of this, clients still want to see their work being completed Better, Faster and Cheaper.

So the real trick for LPM is finding the best way to demonstrate this to clients. Just telling them you are more efficient is not good enough. Firms will have to be able to functionally demonstrate it. Now this is no small task. But I suggest knowing what the challenge is in such a simple way is a great starting point.

  • Unpredictability is not the same as unmanageability. The difference is whether or not you are caught by surprise. Russell Wilson and Colin Kapernick will be surely be unpredictable Sunday, but that doesn't mean the opposing defenses can't prepare to deal with it. Keep them in the pocket, don't overpursue Kapernick to the left, don't let Wilson step up-and-under. That's how you manage risk rather than let it manage you. The two QBs may have great games anyway, but at least these two defenses won't throw up their hands and say, "Nothing we can do about it."

  • Hi Toby,

    Yes, a very interesting and intriguing conversation it was indeed. I enjoyed it and your post today.

    I would say that even more important than showing efficiency in the midst of unpredictability is the ability to show that the firm has a *simple* and easily understandable method for how they plan for, monitor and manage the unpredictability. The natural result of the method may be that the firm delivers improved efficiencies, but you'll be surprised (or not) by how many corporate law departments we talk to tell us that they'd be wholly satisfied with just knowing the firm has a method in place for controlling risk related to that unpredictability. It becomes ok if the answer from the firm is "it depends" as long as we can show that we take steps to identify risk early, communicate it and try and resolve it. And to Steven Levy's point, at that point, we may even say there is "nothing we can do about it". Without LPM, that answer is unacceptable. With LPM, that answer gets entertained.

    One of the problems we commonly see is that firms question why they struggle when they have a sophisticated model in place. That is the problem – it is sophisticated. What is sophisticated may not be simple, and what is simple is actually the new sophisticated (at least in Law).

    Hence, the $64 phase may be: Law firms need to demonstrate a *simple method for delivering* efficiency in the midst of unpredictability.

  • Well, this statement said it all: "Clients really want to see improved efficiencies from their law firms."

    Project management is key, but without process improvement, firms really aren't going to deliver or demonstrate all the efficiency they could. As a former corporate counsel, I suggest clients start asking what PROCESS is being managed.

    As one of our Legal Lean Sigma Institute clients said, what good is it to be excellent at managing a totally broken process?

  • Great post, Tony, and great comment, Pratik. Thanks so much. More than anything, your points spotlight the elements lawyers should focus on when addressing risk and unpredictability. In a complex world, those who can help everyone focus on what's MOST important will get to lead the conversation.

  • Great posts and comments. One of the biggest problems with the billable hour regime is that "unpredictability" was an hourly biller's friend. All those continuances, discovery battles and motion wars filled the firm coffers, but did little to meet the client's needs.

    While it may be impossible to predict exactly what will happen in any given matter, a good attorney should be able to lay out what could happen and the best ways to stay away from unproductive tactics.

    Good LPM and better processes are necessarily transparent and collaborative and will almost always lead to a win-win for the the firm and clients.