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How to Enable Value with Clients: Part 1

03.04.20 | Susan Duncan

Firms continue to make efforts to better understand and deliver more efficient and effective services by utilizing systems, people and technology. However, many partners in firms still resist change and are not aware of or comfortable with the many ways that their firms can and should be aggressively pursuing alternative and innovative processes to both create and deliver value to clients.

The Association of Corporate Counsel published a document called “Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships” authored by Casey Flaherty and sponsored by ACC’s Legal Ops External Resources Interest Group. It provides detailed guidance and practical advice for in-house lawyers and their legal ops professionals on the questions to ask of their outside law firms to push them toward better alignment with client goals and needs. This resource serves as an excellent starting point for lawyers and firms to determine how they can move forward in creating and delivering measurable and impactful value to clients in 2020.

We will explore four of the core components of Value Enablement described in the Unless You Ask Guide:

  • Knowledge management
  • Process and project management
  • Data and data analytics
  • Scoping/staffing, budgeting and billing

In this first article of a two-part series, we will review the concepts of the first two components: knowledge management and process and project management.

Implementing Knowledge Management (KM)

Knowledge management in law firms is derived by creating systems, platforms and processes to capture knowledge assets, expertise, experience and prior work product. If effective, KM enables firms to capture/collect, store, share and refine knowledge that provides value to clients and the firm. KM prevents firms from reinventing the wheel or the common problem of different lawyers in the firm using their own forms or pricing models or cutting and pasting from prior documents which creates inconsistency, uneven quality and inefficiency.

In order to develop an effective KM system, firms should:

  1. Hire a knowledge management professional to direct and oversee the design process, technology platform and ongoing management
  2. Define KM goals – for what purpose and how knowledge will be used
  3. Determine the type of information to be gathered and stored and where that information will be found (you may want to include client preferences in this assessment)
  4. How the knowledge will be accessed by the right people at the right time, including those in the firm as well as clients
  5. How to create a culture that supports knowledge creation, new knowledge development, education and sharing
  6. Methods to continuously assess current and future knowledge needs, keep knowledge current and cull outdated information/forms.

ACC’s “Unless You Ask” Knowledge Management Questions

If your client followed the ACC’s Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, could you and how would you answer/respond to the following suggestions the authors make to in-house lawyers to ask of their outside law firms:

  • “Detail the firm’s KM practices and platforms that affect the work the firm handles for client
  • How do attorneys who work on our matters utilize the firm’s KM?
  • Summarize respective roles of attorneys and allied professionals in utilizing and updating firm’s KM systems
  • Specify how much and to whom firm awards billable credit for KM activities
  • Report available statistics applicable to KM practices:
    • Volume of material
    • Frequency and percentage of lawyers/staff who access KM platform
    • Frequency/volume of and percentage of lawyers/staff who update KM platforms
    • Average time per lawyer per year recorded for KM activities
  • Outline KM projects you are currently working on (with the timelines of start to finish) and projects you have completed in the last three years that improve the firm’s delivery of legal services to client. For completed projects, provide whatever measurements will be available on usage and improvement. For current projects…specify what success looks like and what its indicators will be.”

Implementing Process and Project Management (PM)

The role of project management is to ensure that cases, matters and transactions are completed using: (1) the right staffing in terms of skills, level and cost, (2) processes and timelines to map and monitor workflow against schedules, and (3) objectives/outcomes and budgets that are developed and met, all while still achieving desired outcomes or results. Law firms now often use project management software and technology, employ certified and experienced project managers and train their lawyers to work beside these resources to better manage client work and expectations.

There is a beginning and end to each project (or matter.) Effective project management helps projects stay on track, in scope and within budget. In the law firm context, the components typically involved in project management include:

  • Scoping matters, case assessment, establishing goals and outcomes
  • Process mapping, assigning tasks and timelines
  • Effective management of and communications with and across the team
  • Planning and managing a detailed budget; assessing and assigning risk
  • Monitoring scope, quality, budget, outcomes; negotiating change orders

Business process improvement is a systematic approach to help an organization optimize its underlying processes to achieve more efficient results. Process improvement is also a method to introduce process changes to improve the quality of a product or service, to better match customer needs.  The Lean Six Sigma framework called DMAIC often is used as a tool to engage in continuous improvement:

  • Define the problem/client need and why it needs to be solved
  • Measure the process’ current performance using a process map and baseline measures
  • Analyze the root causes of and opportunities to reduce waste or consider variations
  • Improve the process by designing, testing, implementing and validating changes to the process
  • Control the process to ensure that changes to the process “stick” – are permanent and sustainable

While there is still push back from lawyers who believe they cannot predict the path a case will take (this is especially true for litigators,) or cannot estimate budgets, clients will no longer accept these objections. Most work plans allow for out-of-scope modification and “work change orders” if the client and the lawyer agree that a different or additional workflow is needed once entrenched in the mater.

In order to develop an effective process and PM system, firms should:

  1. Interview clients to assess their current usage of and views on project management tools, platforms and successful application
  2. Assess your own firm’s technology tools and platforms to determine whether/what new resources will be required to monitor budgets and matter progressions in real time
  3. Analyze project management support roles required for each practice area and hire accordingly
  4. Train lawyers on tools and to work alongside PM professionals on current/new matters and to engage in ongoing updates and discussions with clients on open matter status, budgets and timelines
  5. Develop rigorous monitoring, reporting and feedback mechanisms

ACC’s “Unless You Ask” Project and Process Management Questions

If your client followed the ACC’s Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, could you and how would you answer/respond to the following suggestions the authors make to in-house lawyers to ask of their outside law firms:

  • “Define (i) process and (ii) project management (PM) from the firm’s perspective and explain how the firm approaches both of these with the client and the affect it has on the client’s work
  • Provide copies of all existing process maps for matter types handled by firm on behalf of client as well as maps for sub-processes
  • Where possible, provide a future state process map
  • Describe how the firm plans, budgets and allocated resources to client mater and tracks performance
  • Detail how, when and where the firm uses PM including standard approaches like Agile, Lean and Six Sigma
  • Specify when, where, how and which tools the firm uses like decision trees, after-action reviews, to aid, assess and improve handling of client matters
  • Identify firm personnel whose primary function is PM, explain their roles and indicate when/why they were assigned to the client’s matters
  • Describe your reporting capabilities with a specific emphasis on tools that provide client with real-time visibility into status of client matters, including staffing performance against budget
  • Detail your quality control/assurance protocols

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at [email protected].