Welcome to the final instalment in our LPM at scale blog series. In previous weeks we have covered how to set the foundations of a scalable process, the technology and systems needed to support that process, and finally, how to manage stakeholders and communicate effectively. This week we will be taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. How to ensure your scaled LPM process can manage the entire lifecycle of a matter.
What is the entire lifecycle of a matter?
Because good LPM, at its core, is about delivering matters as promised, it has to be an evolving process. Identifying and understanding what went well and what went wrong presents an opportunity for improvement. Furthermore, it is impossible to determine whether a matter has even been delivered as promised if there wasn’t a plan, to begin with. For this reason, a scalable LPM process must begin before a matter is started , and it should continue after the matter has ended.
In practical terms, this means a scalable LPM process should comprise of four parts:
- Scoping - In this phase, the aims and objectives of the matter are established. LPM teams should use this as an opportunity to understand the client’s needs and translate them into a matter plan.
- Planning - Having scoped the matter aims, LPM teams should translate these into a concrete proposal - the matter plan. This includes details like budgets, activity types and seniority levels.
- Monitoring - Once the matter has commenced, the role of LPM is to monitor its progress against the matter plan. Are things still on budget? Are the right people performing the right activities? Is there out of scope work happening?
- Reviewing - Finally, having completed a matter, LPM teams can now evaluate its success and feed this data back into the planning phase for improved processes.
How to effectively scope a matter
One of the greatest challenges in scoping a matter is that every client has different priorities. While one aspect of the scope is identifying the purpose of the legal action, the other aspect is in determining how the client would like the legal action to proceed. Do they want to prioritise speed or keep to a strict budget? Do they have specific ideas about who they want to work with and where the legal action will take place?
It is difficult and often ill-advised to attempt to automate the scoping of a matter. There are so many variables, and it is an opportunity to deliver true value for clients by deepening your understanding of their priorities. However, it does make sense to identify how to streamline the scoping process itself. Ensuring that a Project Charter and a Communication Plan have been put together are two key ways to guarantee sufficient information has been collected and that the right people are informed before kick-off.
We have already dived into how to develop and what to include in a communications plan in a previous instalment. So what should a Project Charter include? In principle, this document can be defined and developed to suit the needs of the firm. However, most Charters will cover the following:
- Key players - this covers all contact on the client-side (and their respective roles) and those internally working on the matter. It is important to identify a broad leadership structure for the matter and align this with the communications plan.
- Project description - what are the main aims of the matter, and what are the client’s priorities in achieving these aims?
- Project scope - what work will be included, and importantly what work will not be included.
- Key assumptions - this can cover both the legal assumptions and also resource assumptions for the project.
- Risks – from the outset, what are the risks to the matter going over budget or not proceeding as planned? This can also include an assessment of the financial risk to the client or even possible negative PR.
- Timeline - A realistic look at what needs to be delivered when and by whom
It is important to note that clever scoping of a matter is more than just an exercise in planning. As noted by Levi Remley of Barnes &Thornburg Law, detailed scoping is often the reason a firm wins an RFP.
“We had the opportunity to pitch for some wage and hour class action work, which is complex, expensive work. Our data set for this sort of work was somewhat limited over the past decade, and we had very little time to build a quote. The client was looking for fixed fees and capped fees by phases, so we were able to identify tasks and classify them into phase categories and constructed a quote from that. Because of how detailed our quote was, we pitched an AFA and won the work.” Levi Remley, Director of Pricing, Barnes & Thornburg
Scaling your matter planning efforts
Having defined and communicated a broad matter scope, it’s time to dive into the detail: the matter plan. Unlike the scoping phase, there are several ways that firms can automate this process and thus reduce the admin work that goes into developing it. We would be remiss in not mentioning Clocktimizer, which enables budget creation so detailed as to assign specific costs to activities and group them in phases. The added benefit is that having established a budget in Clocktimizer, matter progress can automatically be tracked as hours are logged. Budget notifications keep LPM teams notified and ensure out of scope work doesn’t get out of hand and that the matter stays on track financially.
But what can firms do if they don’t have budgeting software? Even an Excel spreadsheet can be an excellent tool in developing a project plan. Creating a matter plan template, which includes all the important metrics you need to monitor during a matter (as discussed here), is an easy way to scale the process. Your template should include places for LPM teams to fill in milestones, schedules, responsibilities, and costs. If possible, try to break budgets down into smaller pieces or phases. It makes the job of monitoring considerably easier and helps identify where (or if) things went wrong once the matter is completed.
Remember that the purpose of a matter plan is to set out everything you will be monitoring as the matter progresses. It should link back to the client’s priorities and identify important data points. If this matter needs to be resolved quickly, set clear milestones and timelines and make sure you are ready to monitor that during the next phase.
Monitoring matters can have hidden benefits
In previous webinars, Royale Price of Greenberg Traurig has touched on the possibility of having different ‘flavours’ of LPM. In some instances, the LPM team will not be brought in during the scoping or planning phase. In others, principles may choose to evaluate the success of a matter themselves. However, one of the key interventions LPM teams provide across the board is monitoring a matter. Monitoring a matter is not only good at ensuring write-offs or out of scope work are avoided, but it also contributes to transparency, keeping clients informed of matter progress and budget use.
Again, there are low tech and high tech ways of monitoring matters. Excel spreadsheets are still the norm for some firms, and it is perfectly possible to manually transfer timecard data and check up on progress. However, this is highly labour intensive and will be one of the first bottlenecks as you scale LPM processes. Realistically, automatically tracking timecard data using tools like Clocktimizer is the only way small teams can monitor multiple matters simultaneously.
However, alongside tracking budget and work performed, there are other important factors LPM teams should be keeping an eye on:
- Risk management - Regularly checking up and (and where possible trying to mitigate) the project risks established in the Charter is a way of preventing unnecessary challenges from materialising./
- Communication & team management - Most matters are made up of multiple moving parts. Tracking the ongoing communications (per the plan) and evaluating the workload of the team is equally important for successful matter management
- Project updates - Sometimes, priorities and matters change as they progress. Regularly updating the project plan and then reflecting this in what is monitored ensures that the correct metrics are always being tracked.
Finally, it is important to note that monitoring matter budgets can be an effective tool in maintaining the financial health of a firm. Beyond reducing write-offs, tracking pre-litigation costs for new clients prevents unnecessary exposure as Alex MacDonald of McCarter & English discovered:
“These are matters we would not have previously tracked because they were $50,000 pre-litigation reviews or $25,000 provisional patent applications. Using Clocktimizer has helped us manage our financial position through the pandemic with budget alerts that enable us to cut off bad work much sooner than we otherwise would have or ensure we are seeking appropriate retainer replenishments.” Alex Macdonald, Chief Client Value at McCarter & English
What to include for effective matter reviews
One of the most crucial phases for effective scaling of LPM is the final phase. The matter review is the way that LPM teams identify how to improve their processes, how to more accurately scope and plan matters, and how to better understand the way matters proceed internally. On a client level, matter reviews are a clear way of showing that the firm recognised, tracked, and then delivered on the client’s wishes. Furthermore, they create an opportunity for clients to identify what they would like to do differently in the future and ensure that it is integrated into the next matter.
A simple way for firms beginning to scale LPM activities is to return to the matter plan and compare this with what was delivered. Compare the estimates for cost, people, and activities against the matter data. It is important to identify not only what was inaccurate but also what was accurate. Accurate insights can be immediately taken forward into new matter planning efforts. Inaccurate estimates should, of course, lead to an investigation of why this deviation occurred.
It can be useful to break down the causes behind inaccuracies into broader categories, like human error, scheduling errors, external factors, client inaccuracy etc. If you notice that matter plans are often inaccurate as a result of client errors, try to develop methods that address this. Perhaps include an LPM specialist in scoping phases with clients. Or work with multiple client-side stakeholders to collect a wider amount of data. Additionally, consider regularly comparing similar historical matters to identify patterns. Are large-cap M&A matters more likely to run over budget than small-cap M&A matters? Does litigation often suffer from external delays? Again, this sort of work can be done manually at the beginning in a spreadsheet, but consider upgrading to an automated tool as LPM scales.
Finally, matter reviews are only effective if the lessons learned are integrated into the next process.Firstly, part of your communication plan should cover the sharing of the matter review with stakeholders. Secondly, develop an effective way of improving your process. If you have a large LPM team, developing a guide or wiki for effective LPM can help. If regularly updated, it can include best practices and important information to be taken into consideration at the matter planning phase. Thirdly, regularly hosting learning and training sessions on the basis of improvements is a simple way to keep the team up to date. Where possible, try to hard code the changes in your process by including them in the software you currently use to plan a matter.