As we approach the three-month mark of the pandemic and alternative working environments, it is important to remember that we still provide a service that is focused upon the needs of people. On the In Seclusion Podcast last week, I talked with four consultants and business development professionals to see how they are adjusting to these unique times. The common theme was that we needed to have more personal and professional discussions with our clients, not less. What that means, however, is that those conversations need to be sincere, relevant, helpful, and empathetic. Clients are drinking from a fire hose of information and it is our job as a trusted counsel to guide them through complex issues and make it simple and easy to understand. Listen in on the insights of four leaders in the industry.

Tuesday, May 26 – We’re Getting Used to This New, Ambiguous, Different, and Uncomfortable Work-Life – Marcie Borgal Shunk

Marcie Borgal Shunk of The Tilt Institute, Inc. is used to working closely with attorneys and law firm leadership. Traditionally, this meant gathering large groups of lawyers into a room for hours, or days at a time, and walking through scenarios together. With the current situation, it means having to adjust to fit the online nature of education and training. For many lawyers, this is new, it’s ambiguous, it’s different, it’s uncomfortable… and they’re actually getting used to it.


Wednesday, May 27 – It Turns Out That Law Firms ARE Pretty Adaptable – Tim Corcoran

Tim Corcoran advises law firms on how to improve the business delivery side of things. One of the positive aspects of the pandemic has been the ability for firms to actually look at the processes of their business, and not just focusing on the tools. As we begin to develop a hybrid office where some people will be working in the office, and some will continue to work remotely, it will test how good our management skills really are. Maybe now we’ll give some real management training.


Thursday, May 28 – It’s Time to Put Our Energy Into New Engagement Models – Roy Sexton Continue Reading We Are Still In The People Business

Before the world turned upside down, one of the issues we were following was the Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org case where the State of Georgia brought a lawsuit claiming copyright protection on the annotations for its Official Code of Georgia. Our three podcast series (unintentional) started out with Tom Gaylord discussing the initial filing with the Court, Ed Walters and Kyle Courtney breaking down the oral arguments, and finally, we have today’s final episode with Ed Walters returning and bringing Cornell Law School’s Kim Nayyer, and the Legal Information Institute’s Craig Newton along to discuss the Court’s final ruling.
The Court ruled in Public.Resource.Org’s favor, but our guests aren’t sure how far the opinion actually goes to cover state material beyond the Georgia Code. Could it mean the end of deals between states and vendors like LexisNexis or Thomson Reuters? Does this mean that other materials, such as Regulatory Codes are fair game? We discuss… you decide.

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We spend the entire episode on this topic. Don’t worry, we’ll bring our Information Inspirations back next week.
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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

This week on the In Seclusion Podcast, the discussion began a pivot away from how are we adjusting to working remotely, to how are we planning the slow progress toward reopening some offices. Let’s be honest, it is very possible that some legal professionals never go back to the office full time ever again. But, for some, getting back to the office is seen as essential for both their job, and maybe even their sanity. Take a listen to the five episodes from this week from a diverse group of legal professionals around the globe.

Monday, May 18th – Navigating So Many Rules as We Start to Reopen – Mary Jenkins, Accufile

Mary Jenkins, Director of Research Solutions and Senior Law Librarian at Accufile, contracts with multiple law firms and corporations ranging from smaller firms companies all the way up to some of the largest national, and international law firms. Trying to navigate the individual rules of the businesses, the buildings, and the local, state, and federal governments can be quite complicated, but it gives her some insights on what is working, and where she thinks we are heading as we look to reopen offices, and how this pandemic is going to affect us long term.


Tuesday, May 19th – The Distance has Kept Us Together – Colin Lechance, VLex

One of the themes I’ve picked up on with the now 41 episodes of this series, is that the transition to remote working environments caused by the pandemic was helped immensely by the increase in cloud and communications technology, as well as our need to work between multiple offices across vast distances. Colin Lachance from vLex solidifies that theme and tells how his recent international merger didn’t seem to slow the transition at all, in fact, it may have helped make that transition even more efficient.


Wednesday, May 20th – Expanding Community, Creativity, and Clients during a Crisis – Aurelia Spivey, Digitory Legal

While we may be in the middle of a crisis, there are certain processes and relationships we need to maintain in order to make sure we have those as we make our way out of the crisis. Aurelia Spivey from Digitory Legal and the host of the Pricing Matters Podcast discusses the need to maintain our community, be creative, and focus on the needs of our clients. These three C’s will be determining factors on how well we perform both during and after the pandemic and economic troubles.


Thursday, May 21st – Continuing our Connectedness… Just in a Different Way – Sherry Kapple, Litera

Sherry Kappel from Litera, flew back to the US just in time to avoid the travel ban on March 11th, and then immediately began preparation and action to move employees across the world to work from home. In the more than two months since this time, she has focused on interacting with her fellow workers, customers, and the legal community through virtual conferences and even daily tv-style presentations. She sees a future that continues to stress our ability to connect to one another… it’s just going to happen in a different way.


Friday, May 22 – We’ll Be Two Meters Apart, But Still Face to Face – Justin North, Janders Dean

Janders Dean founder, Justin North, has seen many downturns in the economy and legal industry before but he thinks that the ability for us to keep our stories alive on how we handled downturns before, has helped many navigate this particular situation. And through a bit of planning, and a little bit of luck, he finds his company accidentally ready for this pandemic. When we make our way back to the office, we’ll be two meters apart, but we’ll find ways to essentially be face to face.

While most of us in the legal industry were still finding their sea legs when it came to working from home, today’s guests were planning a moon shot experiment of creating a virtual legal conference completely from scratch. Haley Altman and Alma Asay from Litera Microsystems talk with us about their experiences in creating and producing The Changing Lawyer LIVE! virtual conference back in April. There were some victories, and some challenges along the way, but the end result was pretty impressive. As we enter the Summer, many other organizations are looking to do some type of online/virtual conference to make up for the cancellation that most organizations had to do because of the pandemic. There’s a steep learning curve, so we are grateful that Haley and Alma shared their experiences with us.

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Information Inspirations

Google is shutting down some of its diversity and inclusion training programs because of either political pressure (which Google denies) or to establish global, scalable diversity programs (whatever that means.) Diversity and inclusion don’t just make the workforce look better, many studies have shown that it actually creates a more effective workforce, and drives profit to the bottom line.

Harvard Law School helped its incoming students with an online preparatory program called Zero-L. This series of videos and online training helped incoming students understand the processes behind the daily activities of a law student. Now that program is available this summer to everyone. We ponder if a top BigLaw firm might think of creating a Zero-Year Associate online training course that would prepare law students to understand the daily life of an associate and help them understand what the business of running a law firm looks like.

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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

 

One of the most consistent themes of the over 40 people I’ve interviewed for my In Seclusion Podcast, is that everyone is handling the stress of the pandemic in their own ways. As with companies like Twitter, it is very possible that some of us may never return to an office permanently ever again. For some people that is a godsend. For some people that is a nightmare. Just as in diversity and inclusion, the broad range of how we are looking at our future is a good thing. (I’m looking at you Google… diversity and inclusion is a good thing!)

This week, I talked with association leaders who are guiding members through the process of how to work, manage, and stay physically and mentally healthy through this pandemic. At the same time trying to rework the business model of their own organizations. I’ve talked with those in faraway places who understand the major, minor, and unchanged processes that they are going to face over the next weeks, months, and years. And, I had a conversation with someone questioning the idea that if you work remotely, you still have to be physically close to an office that you don’t really need to go to.

In other words, I had some great discussions with some very thoughtful people.

Monday, May 11th – Young Lawyers Working and Living Through the Pandemic – Victor Flores, City of Plano and President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association
The pandemic and the changes in our overall work structure can be challenging to even the most experienced of us in the legal industry. For younger lawyers, those just starting off, or those who are having to take care of younger children at home while balancing work, this can be overwhelming. I talk with Victor Flores, Assistant City Attorney at the City of Plano, who is managing all of these challenges and is leading some 27,000 of his peers through his work as the current President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association.


Tuesday, May 12th – Providing Access to Justice in Paradise – Jenny Silbiger, State Law Librarian/Access to Justice Coordinator, Hawaii State Judiciary
The pandemic is sparing no one, even in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. I talk with the Hawaiian State Law Librarian, Jenny Silbiger about how she led her staff through the transition to remote work and service to the courts, the bar, and to the citizens across the multiple islands of Hawaii. As many law librarians do, she reached out to others across the country and sought best practices guidance from librarians, museum curators, and government agencies like the CDC. It shows that even those who are thousands of miles away are still not alone. Continue Reading The Consistent Theme of this Pandemic – We Are All Handling It Differently

On my In Seclusion Podcast miniseries this week I’ve talked with government law librarians from across the country to see how they are continuing services through the shelter-in-place rules, and how they are preparing to reopen as states start to ease these restrictions. The common emotions are a mix of frustration and determination. One of the traits of librarians, especially those who serve the public directly, is that nothing should get in the way of access to justice and the open availability of government resources and information to those people who need it to protect their personal freedom and their property. But this pandemic is different. Whereas libraries have been seen as a safe haven for our communities, the physical closeness that comes with public libraries is now a threat to those communities. Unlike many businesses that can simply take a computer home and operate with little limitations, public libraries serve a group who struggle with technology, may not have technology at all, or may not even have a home to use the technology. All of these factors are discussed with the six law librarians I interviewed this week.


Monday, May 4th – Serving the Public’s Legal Information Needs During a Pandemic – Joe Lawson, Harris County Law Library
May 1st began phase one of the reopening efforts for the State of Texas. Governor Abbott’s order specifically lists libraries as one of the businesses which can open at a 25% capacity rate (and social distancing), but not all libraries are ready to open right away. I talk with Joe Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library about how he and the staff in Texas’ largest metropolitan area are preparing to open later this month, and how they are providing vital services to the courts, the bar, and the general public.


Tuesday, May 5th – How Do We Continue to Serve People Who Are Far Away? – Amy Small, Texas State Law Library

One of the bright spots of this pandemic, when it comes to the legal industry, is that many of us are realizing that the important thing we provide is tied to our services rather than our physical location. Law Librarians have been saying this for well over a decade, and now other parts of the industry are realizing that we are much more than an office in a tall building. Today I talk with Amy Small, Assistant Director of the Texas State Law Library, who is coordinating efforts across the state to provide services to a public who is in need. Amy sees the future of her services as being focused on how do we create services that focus on providing help to those who are far away. Continue Reading How are Government Law Librarians Handling the Pandemic?

It’s episode 75!! We think we look fabulous and that we definitely don’t look a day over 50.
While most professional associations are experiencing significant changes due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, today’s guests have launched a brand new network and say that this might be one of the best times to enter the market. The Legal Value Network (LVN) focuses on the delivery of services and connecting professionals from law firms, corporate legal departments, alternative legal services companies, and technology providers. Kristina Lambright and Purvi Sanghvi are part of the LVN Executive Board and discuss the launch of the network, and how they are providing content and connections to those in the network.

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Information Inspirations
Denton’s Managing Partner wrote an excellent article in The Hill entitled “Let’s stop asking ‘When are We Going Back to the Office?’” The leader of the world’s largest law firm had some sharp criticism for many of the partners at his firm who are pushing for a return to the office. He points out the privilege that many of these partners are expressing without consideration to the staff, and the gender disparity that will occur if there is a rush to get back to the office.

Yesterday (4, 21,20), while I was putting the finishing touches on this post, the AmLaw 100 was released. As always upon release there was lots of analysis, conjecture and even some predictions about the future of the legal industry post pandemic. This post as you will read is not a prediction about the economic viability of firms, nor about the business models that will survive, but more about the cultural and human changes that are coming out of current moment and the good that I hope we can sustain.

“ You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life”

I’ve had the theme song to Facts of Life (one of my all-time favourite shows for dozens of reasons) running through my head for the last few weeks.  Nothing has prepared any of us for what the last several weeks has brought into our lives.  Like many I am scanning the TV/Newswires/Twitter stream for update real and fake news, and I have text streams and real-life conversations with various friends/colleagues all about what is changing in our daily lives – as parents, as professionals and as people.  We check in with one another to see how everyone is coping with the work-from-home with our kids/partners/pets and trying to keep our heads above water as we juggle it all. As we each deal with this crisis in our own ways, the legal industry, which is not known for being quick, adaptable or accepting of change is dealing with a whole bunch of challenges too.  For many firms the challenges were as basic as getting enough laptops for the whole firm – lawyers, paraprofessionals, assistants, business development practitioners, HR and so on to work from home. For other firms the stress came and is still coming as States individually declare what is, and what is not “essential” and whether law firms can stay open for business. For all firms the challenges are around keeping their people healthy and safe while still being able to access shared resources – documents, research, case files etc.  The challenges are many.  I have only touched on a few here to illustrate how quickly an entire industry had to literally change the way it worked. Face time (not the Apple application) was (is?) still so much at the core of the legal business and the physical offices were a point of pride for many firms.  It makes my head spin to think of all the people who have been putting long hours into moving firms to a work from home model in  an industry that until now rejected the notion of remote working.  I don’t want to talk about the complexity, the cost and the overwhelming nature of the challenges.  I would rather spend some time musing on what has changed for the positive in this very short period and how we can turn our collective energy to making those changes everlasting.

I want to applaud about how far the industry has come in such a short time. “Necessity is the mother of invention” said Plato, but in the case of Covid-19 and the legal industry, necessity is the mother of mindset and workflow change. Here are four shifts I have seen in the legal industry that I hope are not just shifts but will become Business As Usual (BAU) whenever we emerge from this period.

  1. Health, safety, and mental well-being are top of mind for everyone, maybe for the first time as a collective. Even before State/Provincial and city “Rest in Place” orders were made, firms and legal service providers were making sure their people were safe, not coming into the office unnecessarily and making preparations. Now that most people are at home – with all kinds of mitigating circumstances, I see many of those same firms, departments and companies instituting virtual happy hours or coffee breaks to make sure that people are connected, not just with technology but also socially. We are concerned about engagement on a whole new level.  We worry that people are getting what they need to work from home but also eat, stay healthy and active and that people are not feeling too anxious.  As Neil Sternthal noted in his interview with Greg Lambert on In Seclusion, keeping warmth and connectivity vibrant is critical and this is a leadership moment.   Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, the industry was all abuzz about the need for mental wellness, diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.  The numbers and facts were stacked against the industry in all aspects. We were over-worked, over-stressed and overly homogeneous.  Today, if the virus has brought anything to light, it is that we are all the same – the virus does not care who it infects in what corners of the world, the size of their office or their role in the world or the industry.  Mental health affects each and every one of us, we know our chosen industry is not an easy one, from the challenges of access to justice to the stress of Big Law hours and client pressures. We all need to work in environments that are free from any kind of discrimination, we need cultures that are inclusive, and workplaces that are flexible and nurture a healthy frame of mind.  Not just now when we are working still for client service of Big Law or access to justice under unprecedented circumstances – but always. Let’s hope that this moment has provided the catalyst for taking a pause and really paying attention to mental wellness in the legal industry and that much of the new found camaraderie and community rallying for wellness and flexibility continues well beyond a return to BAU and becomes the new norm.
  2. Agile and Quick(er) Decision Making – We’ve often heard that laws firms are slow to change. But within 6 weeks, law firms no longer look like they did two months ago. Who knew a law firm could take quick and decisive action? I’ve always believed it was possible, we would see glimmers of it here and there but nowhere as consistently as we have in the past month.  We have seen many different reactions from firms, as each firm culture and client needs are unique, but most firms have acted quickly in the context of this pandemic and demonstrated that they can make quick decisions and act on those decisions too. This is good.  Necessity is the mother of invention and decision; and while not all decisions need to be made quickly, I think it says a lot about the way firms will make big decisions in the future as well now that  there is a precedent in place, it is easy to refer back and act the same way a second and third time until habits change.  Firms have learned to be agile, to make decisions in the moment for the moment with an eye on the long term post Covid-19 recovery, but they are being responsive now, today to their clients, their partners and their staff. That’s a huge win for everyone. [For an insightful look at what recovery may look like and how decisions may be made, check out Law Vision’s Covid-19 Recovery Playbook.]
  3. FaceTime is what you really need. Or MSTeams, or WhatsApp, Zoom, iMessage, Skype, whatever software you are using to communicate and work remotely today should be the primary communications tool of offices in the future. Law firms and buyers of legal services are all in this together right now. We are all working remotely and it’s ok. Work had changed, but work is still getting done. There are two trends I hope remain once we are back to business as usual in this context. Remote work that allows people to balance work and life (see diversity and inclusion comments above) is the way of the future. Work anywhere, is still work; we are still productive but the measurement and KPI has flipped from time to output. I hope the industry learns to move beyond in the office face time and the long-term adoption of online collaboration tools continues beyond the pandemic. Problem solving is about getting to the right answers effectively, quickly, considering all perspectives and data inputs and problem solving is about the value of the results, not the time it took to get there. Maybe we can finally stop equating face time with productivity. To achieve this level of productivity, we need to embrace not just in talk but also in walk -the digital transformation – in the biggest, greatest possible way. This situation we find ourselves in, where people need to collaborate, work online and practice from anywhere (with all kinds of easy distractions) really highlights the need to reduce paper.  I am a writer, and still take notes all day everyday. In an AriKaplan #virtuallunch I recently attended someone commented that we should think of paper as a scratch pad, where we formulate ideas and scope out plans but the real work has to happen digitally.  I like that and while print publications, like paper will not go away, now more than ever we need to make content available in all formats so people can consume where they are rather than having to go to the content. Mobility, digital transformation and online collaboration necessitate the vision of a central repository for all software, easily accessible on any device – the interoperable Utopian ideal of end to end workflows for the legal industry is coming closer to fruition every day.
  4. Vulnerability. The practice of law is predicated on facts, on rules, on anticipated outcomes and mitigating risk. All of which has been replaced today by uncertainty and lack of clarity. No one has all the answers, and there is no precedent to study, no past cases to refer to and no previous outcomes to uphold. If we were to anthropomorphize the legal industry it would be a strong A-type character, bold and aggressive, properly sophisticated and highly valuing success with a formidable aesthetic.   All of which could no doubt explain the stress and difficulty around mental well-being in the industry which I already discussed.  Now, in the midst of this pandemic the legal industry is like every other industry. For the first time in my 20 years in the field, we can’t say legal is impacted differently. The challenges are the same – get people home and keep them safe while still maintaining client service as a productive business.  The legal industry is vulnerable and that’s an image, a self-perception, a definition the industry has not donned before.  But vulnerability is not a bad thing. In fact, vulnerability can be the birthplace of something new and fantastic. Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Dr. Brené Brown, renown for her work on the topic including several books and viral status Ted Talks says that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” These are all the things the legal industry needs to embrace, to grow and to continue to use as strengths when it emerges into a new business as usual.

Somehow we will all get through this and the legal industry will be in a better place (eventually). Of this I have faith, I have already started to see the changes in just a few short weeks. I know it will take hard work, determination, change, grit, more hard work and vulnerability. But in the end those are just the Facts Of Life.

Many of the Luminaries agreed that we are likely to see a big increase in demand for LPM services.

Legal Value Network Council of Luminaries Meeting Report: COVID-19 Crisis Series

As director of (what is to the best of my knowledge) the largest legal project management team of any law firm, I was not the source for the above. But it was music to my ears and consistent with my lived experience. My team has observed a spike in demand for LPM services.

There are, however, limits in the legal ecosystem’s overall ability to immediately satisfy this demand for better project management. The near-term constraint creates longer-term doubts about the sustainability of the uptick in demand in many organizations where there is no current LPM capacity to meet the urgent need. Sustained commitment is required, and worthwhile.

While I reflect here on LPM, I submit that what is true of LPM is equally true for many other items on the legal innovator wish list. Opportunities abound but an inflection point does not automatically translate into changes that best serve the collective interest. We face hard choices—followed, unavoidably, by hard work.

WFH was feasible and imperative

In considering the surge of interest in LPM (or anything else that addresses some of the fallout from the challenges we all face) it is worth examining why legal service delivery was able to pivot to work from home given that the speed of the transition to WFH is now being cited as evidence of how quickly legal services can adapt.

Consider two critical elements of the velocity with which WFH became standard operating procedure: (1) we had no choice and (2) the infrastructure was already in place.

The lack of choice is conspicuous. WFH is necessary. The alternative was ceasing to serve clients in a moment of crisis. Yet while I submit our current challenges, including the need to maintain the cohesion and coherence of completely remote teams, has made the compelling case for LPM all the more salient, I would stop well short of labeling LPM as “necessary.”

The infrastructure component is less prominent. Imagine if C19 hit in 2008 (as part of the Great Recession). An immediate transition to a completely remote legal workforce would have been unthinkable and an unmitigated disaster. The mix of hardware, software, broadband access, information architecture, and ways of working simply were not available at the scale necessary. Fortunately, we have the general WFH infrastructure in place now. In this narrow respect, we were mostly prepared for the pandemic. Unfortunately, we lack a general LPM infrastructure—for now, we only have discrete pockets of LPM excellence, unevenly distributed.

Thus, while this crisis should accelerate the integration of LPM into the multi-disciplinary delivery of legal services, this ascension is not assured. “We’ve always done it this way” remains viable, if sub-optimal, in many respects. Conversely, organizations that have not previously made serious investments in building their LPM capacity may be hard pressed to do so amidst a liquidity crunch and severe economic downturn.

The concise case for LPM

To leave no doubt, I welcome the increase in demand for LPM. I want to contribute to a period of industry-wide punctuational change, including the broader deployment of LPM. It can absolutely be done but requires sustained commitment. We need to “build.”  LPM is not a quick fix.

Quick or not, I submit the argument in favor of LPM remains fairly unassailable.

All projects are managed, the only question is whether they are managed well. LPM applies the disciplines of project management to legal service delivery. LPM makes legal work trackable, tractable, and transparent for lawyers and clients. Quality outcomes, on time and on budget, are the purpose of professionalizing project management of legal matters and portfolios. The larger and more complex, the greater the impact of LPM.

LPM is not “the answer” to every question because there is no singular answer. But a well-integrated LPM function can serve as connective tissue—instrumental in helping lawyers take advantage of, and optimize, the variety of tools at their disposal. A legal project manager involved in matter planning can assist lawyers in marshaling the full array of available resources, from technology to knowledge assets to cost-advantaged service centers, to meet client needs.

While a strong case, the foregoing is not simple, not obvious, and not easy.

LPM is not obvious

Superficially, the easiest sales pitch for LPM is: the legal project manager will take on many of the more mundane management tasks currently being handled by lawyers. And do so at lower costs.

Saving money while unburdening lawyers from labor-intensive tasks tends to land well—at first. But then many lawyers will, correctly, start to wonder about the additional costs, like communications overhead, associated with an additional team member. A new “non-lawyer”, in particular, raises questions about the divisibility of work (different than the division of labor). Is it really worthwhile to add a new person take on tasks lawyers were handling?

Yes. Yes, it is worthwhile. But not obviously so. The labor arbitrage is real. It should, however, ultimately be a minor consideration. Working differently and better is how LPM makes a major impact. But different is, well, different. Different is, almost by definition, non-obvious. And definitions do not close the obviousness gap:

Legal project management is a process of defining the parameters of a matter upfront, planning the course of the matter at the outset with the facts you have at the time, managing the matter, and, at the end, evaluating how the matter was handled (from both the firm or law department perspective and the client perspective). (here)

We define legal project management as a proactive, disciplined approach to managing legal work that involves defining, planning, budgeting, executing, and evaluating a legal matter. Simply put, it is a step by step approach to help lawyers clarify the scope and potential cost of services they are providing for a client, proactively managing the services consistent with the client’s expectations, and using each engagement as an opportunity for learning and improvement. (here)

Sounds great, in the abstract. But vague. What does this actually mean? How does it work? Like my “strong case” above, the standard definitions of LPM are not automatically accessible to the uninitiated. You only understand once you understand; everything is obvious once you know the answer. As is so often true across the ever-evolving legal service delivery landscape, this is ignorance in the least pejorative sense of the word—individuals lacking knowledge they should not be expected to possess.

The deficit of automatic understanding of what LPM can offer is only exacerbated by the divergent ways LPM is deployed. Even in organizations where LPM is well established, legal project managers can serve rather different purposes.

When I was consulting law departments on their legal buy, I put the following questions in RFIs:

  • How many legal project managers does the firm employ?
  • What specifically will the firm’s legal project managers do to add value to [client]?
  • What are the conditions under which LPM will be deployed to benefit [client]?

It is well established I consider such questions essential and have found considerable entertainment in many answers, good and bad, I graded over the years (though, candidly, I was a victim of my own bombast and reluctant to write about my new role until I was confident we could answer these questions better than our peer firms).

In surveying the landscape of LPM in law firms—LPM in law departments and ALSPs is more opaque; LPM at the Big 4 is a different story entirely and demands another post about segments of the market where LPM leaps from competitive advantage to competitive necessity—you find, first and foremost, most law firms employ relatively few legal project managers. Not that many law firms with over 500 lawyers even break double digits with respect to their ranks of legal project managers.

Next, you find the LPM remit varies greatly. At some firms, legal project managers are focused on process improvement. At some firms, they are more akin to account managers, supporting billing and reporting to augment specific client relationships. At only a small minority of firms are legal project managers regularly deployed to help actively manage the firm’s largest, most complex matters. There is nothing wrong with any of these (my team does all three—though we prefer to setup the client-specific processes for billing/reporting and then hand those off). But the diversity speaks to the intelligibility, or lack thereof, when busy lawyers first encounter the suggestion they incorporate LPM into meeting client needs.

LPM is not simple

For the initiated, the end state of LPM is appealing.

The lawyers get to lawyer. They manage by exception—i.e., address critical issues early while avoiding racing down rabbit holes to gain clarity on the status of the many items that are going to plan. They conduct constructive, data-informed conversations with clients because the necessary status and budgetary information is immediately available and well-organized into visually enhanced reports useful for decision making. The lawyers deliver quality results, on time and on budget, by ensuring the right mix of tech-enabled resources are working cohesively and coherently.

The legal project manager facilitates this by bringing the appropriate tools and templates to bear. They serve as a central organizing force, not only engineering but also refining and maintaining a workflow that results in a reliable single source of truth. The attendant ability to report on status, finances, risks, and issues, including dependencies and downstream impacts, lends itself to simplified dashboards that highlight where lawyer/client attention is required, and where it is not. This is a product of skill and savvy. It is also the product of intense, focused labor—the immense effort required to collect and collate disparate data while ensuring it is current, clean, and concise.

The LPM end state is appealing. The beginning, less so.

Where do you find that first legal project manager? This is not a rhetorical question. We have hired a couple dozen legal project managers around the world in the last year and need to fill a similar number of new openings in the years ahead. Locating quality candidates is a challenge. As mentioned, there are few legal project management teams and most of the ones that do exist are small. If anyone has recommendations for me, please share. Because we have the infrastructure, we are exploring how to ‘make’ legal project managers—legal project manager being both a role and a set of skills / disciplines that must be learned, applied, and refined.

Next comes the first project. The new legal project manager is unlikely to have available the fit-to-purpose tools or templates that underpin a well-structured matter. These are born out of experience. Iteration. Operationalizing lessons learned. Finding what needs to be fixed and fixing it in ways well calibrated to the lawyers and matter types being supported. The new legal project manager can add value immediately. But their contribution will be circumscribed. Repeatability is central to the LPM value proposition—but there is nothing being repeated on the maiden project.

Then comes the paired challenges of growth and teaming. Having one legal project manager in one location working in one practice area is not an LPM function—which consists of individual legal project managers but also, in aggregate, assumes responsibility for more systemically instilling project management discipline and process excellence, including for the large majority of matters that will never have a designated legal project manager. The individual journey must be reproduced with different lawyers working in different areas of law. Then, at a certain point, to reach its potential as a contributing team, LPM has to establish and enforce consistency across the organization. This is far harder than it sounds. It requires legal project managers, who are cast in a supporting role, to be proactive in shaping the way legal services are delivered at scale. The legal project managers not only need to supply their lawyers with good tools and processes, they have to shepherd lawyers into standardized tools and processes, which are then fine-tuned to specific needs [I’m getting nodding agreement from peers in legal operations, technology, pricing, knowledge, et al. who appreciate the vigilance and fortitude required to maintain consistency in large organizations populated by smart, successful, autonomous, action-oriented professionals].

This maturation occurs against the backdrop of the siren song of gap filling. To the extent legal project managers prove themselves adept at unburdening lawyers, there is a natural tendency to look to LPM to solve whatever problems arise. A continuous dialogue about continuous improvement should be encouraged. But, unless some level of rigor is maintained, mission creep can undermine LPM being put to its highest and best use. This is a delicate balance—pushing a burden back on the lawyers tends to be the worst possible outcome—that speaks to the need for parallel investments in complementary aspects of the legal service delivery infrastructure (those other resources LPM is meant to help marshal). There are many questions to which LPM is not itself the answer.

Creation and subsequent progression of an LPM function is worthwhile. It is also entirely achievable. But it can only go so far, so fast. The commitment required extends beyond the momentum of this crucial moment.

LPM is not easy

On-boarding new people is time and labor intensive. Legal project managers more so. Legal project managers do not merely need to be acclimated to “what we do here,” they are required to ask why things are done the way they are. In the beginning, these will not all be good questions or always lead to useful conclusions. Yet even where the legal project manager identifies a better way, better is still different. Different comes at a cost. The implementation dip is inevitable. There is no LPM pixie dust.

Ramp-up requires investment. Iteration never ends. But no matter the maturity and stability, hard work remains.

Take, for example, the insights from Alexandra Guajardo, Pricing & Analytics Officer at Shell, on a Legal Value Network webinar that preceded the Council of Luminaries report I quote at the beginning of this post (also, pay attention to LVN). In commenting on the impact of the current crisis, Alex zeroed in on the importance of law firm “LPM reports”—which she defines as matter status and financial updates broken down by phase, workstream, jurisdiction, etc.—to facilitate data-informed dialogue between inside and outside counsel.

In addition to applause for Alex, I offer an observation: these types of reports are hard work, especially on the large, complex matters where they are the most useful.

For this detailed report to be provided quickly and accurately, it must be anticipated. At the beginning of the matter when everyone is keen to get moving to meet some important business objective, the stakeholders need to pause, sit down, and have a conversation about what kind of reporting will best serve the project/client needs. These decisions will demand trade-offs and ultimately drive the matter’s data strategy.

The data strategy then requires ongoing data discipline. In particular, in the example Alex offers, the time recording protocol will need to be setup in a way that will enable closed time to be mapped to the appropriate phases, workstreams, etc. Then all the timekeepers will need to be diligent in closing their time in accordance with the protocol. This is doable but not easy. [More nodding from everyone who has ever been required to regularly close time with numerous mandatory fields (e.g., task and activity codes). Even more vigorous nodding from anyone who has been responsible for getting a large number of timekeepers do so consistently.]

Doable but not easy. Not easy, in part, because there are strict limits to what LPM can offer on its own. The reporting example—with its reliance on leadership buy-in and stakeholder compliance—illuminates how LPM is not an independent variable that delivers independent value. LPM must be integrated and integrative. My friend John Grant once phrased it so well, “LPM is something we do with you, it is not something we can do for you.” John shared that wisdom with me after he penned a marvelous essay about a failed attempt at establishing real LPM at a large law firm—my RFI questions above played a starring, if unfortunate, role in that situation coming to a head.

LPM is about not just coordination but collaboration. Collaboration has a cost. The cost is well worth it. The return on investment in good LPM is substantial. But the return is hard earned—over time. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Wrapping Up

I’ve meditated on LPM. I agree with the Luminaries that now could, and should, be a moment for LPM to shine. While the crisis warrants our attention and our effort, it is worth projecting how our re-actions today will shape our tomorrow—a concern that extends well beyond LPM.

My desire is for near-term needs to translate into long-term investments that serve the sector and our clients well, in good times as well as bad. Yet I know from plodding through the Great Recession and its aftermath that strategic innovation is far from a natural consequence of hard times. The Great Recession changed a great many things but not always in ways or to the degree so many hoped.

Hope—that I still have. My career is premised on the genuine belief that, over time, constructive dialogue and deep relationships can drive systemic improvements that serve our collective best interest. We can, and should, pursue better together. But I am not a naif. I do not believe in magic. I do not expect spontaneous, organic, and immaculate transformations that are quick, clean, and free. I recognize the limits of incremental improvements. I know obvious ≠ simple ≠ easy. But I also know complicated ≠ hard ≠ impossible. This is complicated. This is hard. But it is not impossible.

I began with an observation that WFH took so quickly because it was imperative and the infrastructure was already in place. I noted we would not have been able to meet a similar mandate back in the Great Recession. While I know, generally, we are not where we would like to be with respect to evolving the way legal services are delivered—the mandate of the moment is murky and the infrastructure to meet it uneven—we are closer than we’ve ever been. The last decade-plus has not been wasted. We’ve been laying the groundwork for today. The readiness is all.

 

It’s not unusual for law firms to invest $1M or more in recruiting, hiring, training, and retention of Associates over the first four years of their legal career. However, if you look at the actual retention rates through the fourth or fifth year, it is essentially a coin flip on whether the firm retains, or loses that talent. Bryan Parker, CEO of Legal Innovators thinks that it is not a good return on the law firm’s (and the Associate’s) time and capital investment. Parker believes that you can take a more holistic approach to the recruitment process and evaluate the best talent out there, in particular, women, minorities, and those from underrepresented backgrounds through a two-year process that more resembles the European apprenticeship model than the US on-campus recruiting and Summer Associate method.

In addition to this fascinating discussion, we also have a deep (and fun) discussion of Bryan’s sneaker obsession.

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Information Inspirations

The cancellation of in-person conferences is on the mind of all of us who usually attend these conferences for our professional development and networking needs. There are alternatives, however. For example, Stanford’s CodeX Future Law conference is available online, and Greg is on a panel for Litera’s April 23rd online event called The Changing Lawyer LIVE! Go check out both conferences.

We want to say how happy we are in David Lat’s recovery from his COVID-19 hospitalization. Bob Ambrogi interviewed David after his release from the hospital for his LawNext podcast.

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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.