David J. Kearney

January 31, 2014

Client Value with Project Management and Efficiency Practices

Filed under: LPM,Management,Project Management — davidjkearney @ 8:18 am

Client Value with Project Management and Efficiency Practices

The past few years have brought unprecedented change to the legal services industry and even the smallest of legal service providers are not immune to these changes.  The challenges that lawyers and firms are now grappling with are those never experienced in the industry.  The need for lawyers, law firms, and other providers of legal services to provide client-based value during any and all engagements has become a client expectation, with clients in many cases understanding their legal, resource, and cost needs like never before.  Providers of legal services need to embrace, or at least be prepared for, alternative ways of providing services and pricing for those services differently than how the majority of work has been handled in the past.  What has sustained providers of legal services in the past will not be the same to what sustains them in the future.

There are many factors beyond bottom-line pricing that clients now expect to understand.  Clients do have an expectation of cost management/cost containment, but also how a matter is staffed, the tasks involved in a matter, and alternative recommendations for providing the required services.  Providers of legal services need to be able provide alternatives to service delivery, which may include creative pricing models and even outsourcing some of the tasks.  In order to meet client expectations, a granular understanding of matters and associated costs are a must.  Scoping a matter correctly at the onset of an engagement is one of the key components to accurately agreeing upon what work is needed and what that work will “look like” when completed.  Once a scope of work is agreed to, clients expect  to know what risks may arise during a matter, what risks are most likely, and what impact those risks have to the scope of work.  Risk management is an area that needs to be a part of any engagement, so any risks that materialize are a part of the overall risk management plan and corrective action is no surprise.  Communication is another critical component of an engagement.  A communication plan and vehicle needs to be determined, so both the provider of legal services and the client knows how a matter is advancing when compared to the original scope of work.  Clients want to know the status of their matter(s) without necessarily having to inquire.  Counsel needs to provide threshold communications of resourced used, estimates to completion, and variances from original estimates on a regular basis.  Clients don’t want to be surprised by unexpected occurrences, bills, and task durations.

There is an opportunity for providers of legal services to truly reach beyond traditional hourly rates for, at least, some services driving efficiency and value and also providing a stronger relationship between counsel and clients.

Value needs to be identified by and for each client, such as efficiency, predicable processes, pricing, the services being delivered, and other items that the client sees as value.  To address what the client deems as being of value, legal service providers must utilize tools that help drive improvements in the business processes.  Tools are not exclusively software applications, but part of an overall strategy that includes matter management practices within the context of providing legal services.  Traditional project management techniques can be mapped directly to the practice of law to provide a more methodical process to matters including thoroughly scoping a matter, time needed on a matter, the costs of a matter/improved budget estimating, its work breakdown into tasks, human resource allocation, communication management, and risk management.  Project management practices applied to the practice of law, also known as Legal Project Management, is a way of enhancing the value to a legal engagement.

Project management practices are in no way a static set of sequential steps that can’t be elaborated upon, but a flexible way to help ensure that the provider of legal services can manage the matter as it evolves.  Legal project management can be implemented in a very disciplined and thorough manner and also in a customized way.  It can be implemented to take advantage of developing complete scopes of work, applying tools to manage risk, monitoring and controlling of a matter’s progress, and to develop and manage a communications plan.  Once the key components of project management are implemented, greater rigor can be applied to managing and tracking of tasks during a matter utilizing tools, such as a Work Breakdown Structure; estimating methodologies, and financial forecasting analysis.

Project management, continuous improvement, quality management, process  improvement, and efficiency methods are not new concepts, but these practices applied to legal services will be a large part of how legal services are priced, managed, and delivered.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution for providing client value, but  building transparency, cost predictability, efficiency, risk management, and communications into an engagement will undoubtedly resonate with clients of legal services

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