By Chuck Baldwin
The legal industry has changed — not much of a spoiler alert. Law firms are now keenly focused on innovation, improved service delivery models, and technology to be more efficient and to deliver more value to clients. Successful law firms embrace these changes and invest time and resources in these initiatives.
One of today’s popular innovation initiatives — legal project management (LPM) —grows out of old-school roots of delivering high-quality legal services.
“Legal project management is really just good lawyering.” We often use this expression to help simplify and explain our approach to LPM. Long before artificial intelligence, lawyers assisted clients in achieving their goals in a creative and resourceful manner.
Law firms are focused on responding to the voice of the client and many have created a branded approach to LPM that distills and refines old-school practice points.
At Ogletree Deakins, we accomplished this goal with our trademarked Blueprint, and distilling down to five key areas: scoping and defining; planning and budgeting; executing and monitoring; evaluating and improving; and, most importantly, communicating.
To scope a matter, attorneys need to have early and deep discussions with the client to outline a statement of work. Together, attorneys and clients create refined strategies to help the client achieve the desired result in a manner that helps achieve its company’s business goals.
Then, you should assign hours to each task to create a budget and a case strategy, a predictive ledger of the inputs required to implement the plan and achieve the client’s objectives.
We do this, based on experience, results of prior matters, and risk analysis; but we also research past matters to determine how much time we have spent on similar tasks in the past. Between the two, we can create a pretty good gauge of the future.
Throughout these processes, we are making sure the right people have the right information at the right time to make informed, proactive decisions in furtherance of the objectives. Communication becomes even more important when executing the plan. To stay on time and on budget, there must be constant communication about progress and successes and challenges. Even more importantly, to keep our eye toward the client’s goals and exercise agility in adapting to change, we must know where we are with respect to those goals and that budget always.
Many law firms want to incorporate technology to enhance their LPM service delivery. If you want to look broadly and deeply at data, there is technology available that allows you to ramp up and achieve a level of knowledge sharing and analysis that would never be possible the “old fashioned way.”
There is an array of LPM software systems available that offer, among other things:
1. search capabilities for historical comparison across clients and matters;
2. search filters based on firm taxonomies (e.g. matter type, practice group, office, etc.);
3. features allowing simplified matter planning, budgeting, and forecasting;
4. automatic tracking of budgets to actuals;
5. alerts and notifications for various thresholds;
6. task management; and
7. customizable dashboards displaying key information.
Of all these areas, the two where technology can have the biggest impact are searching historic matters and analysis of matters.
Some firms are not satisfied with the current selection of off-the-shelf technology solutions, particularly big law firms with sophisticated client needs. Instead of settling for the available legal project management products on the market, they often work with software companies to develop an LPM software tool that is tailored to meet the needs of the client.
These customized legal project management software tools allow attorneys to easily plan, budget, and manage activities through easy-to-use web-based systems. These technology tools provide a platform to actively identify, assess, and convey matter variables and risks that may affect the outcome. They also allow case team members to track and update tasks, mark tasks as complete or highlight aspects of a matter that need attention, and employ automatic notifications to trigger action by the team.
The ability to enable active monitoring and a collaborative approach allows both the client and the firm to feel confident about matter status, likely outcomes, and the joint ability to manage unforeseen risks.
Sharing of information and partnering with the client to achieve their goals is what LPM is about. While LPM may have grown out of old-school good lawyering, it is an innovative improvement to the legal service delivery model that efficiently delivers more values to clients. One more spoiler alert: An LPM-based service delivery model with modern technology tools is our future.•
• Chuck Baldwin is a managing director of Ogletree Deakins, an international labor and employment law firm representing management. He is recognized for leadership in law firm innovation, legal project management and technology by a number of prestigious organizations, including the College of Law Practice Management, International Legal Technology Association, and Association of Corporate Counsel. He is the Chair of Ogletree Deakins’ Technology Strategy Committee and R&D Council. Opinions expressed are those of the author.