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Strategies for improving practice efficiency and quality – an ABA group white paper

Posted by Jack Bostelman on Oct 06, 2013 | 0 Comments

A practice improvement guide for law firm leaders

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“Top 10 Knowledge Strategies for Larger Law Firms,” a 57-page white paper for law firm leaders, is now available from the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group, which I chair, in the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association.

Knowledge strategy focuses on improving efficiency and quality at the practice group level through better collaboration and sharing of what lawyers know

  • about client work,
  • about clients,
  • about markets for their services, and
  • about their firms as businesses.

Knowledge strategy also emphasizes involvement by the firm's senior-most leaders, which is the main driver of change in law firms.

The white paper is free of charge for all members of the ABA Law Practice Division (formerly called the Law Practice Management Section). Joining the Division costs $50/year for ABA members. Details for joining the Division and obtaining the white paper on-line are at the end of this blog post.

Topics covered

The white paper covers the following topics:

  1. Make finding practice group work product as easy as shopping on Amazon.com
    Trying to make law firm search work like Google is doomed. Instead, search should work like on-line shopping, with relevant filters that can produce pinpointed results. Most firms probably already own the necessary software. They need the right approach:  design for the individual practice group (not a one-size-fits-all firm-wide solution), establish an internal process for collecting and tagging documents that engages the lawyers, and enjoy the power of filtered search that large corporations have already proven can succeed.
  2. Interconnect matter experience data
    Many firms are missing an easy opportunity to leverage important information about their matter experience they are already collecting. If the data collected by the Marketing Dept. were interconnected to other firm systems, lawyers would have an easier time finding comparable matters for purposes of
    • benchmarking fee estimates and establishing alternative fee arrangements,
    • identifying precedents,
    • consulting firm experts on those matters, and
    • staffing the matter with lawyers having relevant experience.
  3. Use checklists instead of standard forms
    Checklists can do most of the work of standard forms with a fraction of the effort. Standard forms take a long time to show results, if they are ever completed. Checklists are easier to produce, can be more nimbly updated and can be enhanced over time. Ultimately, they could become standard forms, if desired. Start the next standard form project as a checklist and see almost immediate results.
  4. Establish practice group intranets with updated content
    Allowing each practice group to take control of the content and design of its intranet site can improve the group's efficiency and restore its sense of community. There are several techniques for engaging the lawyers and implementing this initiative. Through being engaged, the lawyers will acquire a sense of ownership and assist in maintaining the fresh content that is key to a successful intranet.
  5. Close the gap between e mail filing policies and actual practice
    Noncompliance with firm e mail filing policies is widespread. The result is inability to know what advice the firm has given, inability to find prior research and incomplete client files. There are many different reasons for lawyer noncompliance. The firm's technology platform is rarely the issue. The solution involves investigating the many reasons and crafting individual solutions for each. Visible and active senior lawyer involvement is also essential.
  6. Conduct after-action reviews
    After-action reviews focus on lessons learned – what were our goals, what actually happened, why did it happen and what have we learned? This common practice in other professional services firms is beginning to catch on in law firms. These reviews lead to greater efficiency, better financial results, higher client satisfaction and improved morale. Starting with a pilot in a receptive practice group is the best way to get a sense of the challenges and potential benefits. Involving an interested client can also reinforce desired lawyer behavior.
  7. Use lawyer psychology to get things done
    Lawyers are different – being more skeptical and having a greater sense of urgency, lower sociability, lower resilience and greater autonomy. These personality attributes, which can lead to doing great client work, can also make lawyers difficult to manage within a law firm. Three case studies illustrate techniques for addressing these personality challenges in getting lawyers to fulfill their internal responsibilities, including those relating to improving practice efficiency and quality.
  8. Focus efficiency improvements at the practice group level
    Improving law firm efficiency should start with individual practice groups. The practicing lawyers can best identify changes that will make the most difference. Pilot the effort in two or three practice groups. Their suggestions likely will be descriptions of problems, requiring interpretation to become actionable solutions. Select the solutions that best align with the firm's strategic goals. Involving the practicing lawyers in this way not only produces the best ideas, it also creates buy in on the part of the lawyers, which improves their acceptance and cooperation.
  9. Minimize – but do not eliminate – lawyer involvement in implementation
    Implementing practice improvement ideas should minimize lawyer involvement. Make the lawyers believe they are creating a solution, without relying on them to do it. A lawyer who knows the practice must run the initiative, and the practitioners must be periodically consulted, including for sign off on a written description of the initiative. The majority of the work should be performed by non lawyers, though. The team should start with a pilot, follow a written plan, roll out the changes gradually and include lawyer marketing and training.
  10. Prioritize projects based on value and difficulty
    Practice efficiency initiatives should not only align with firm strategy, but also be prioritized by their value to the relevant practice group and by their difficulty to implement. Start with the high value initiatives, ranked from easy (if any) to hard. A few easy but low value ideas could also be included to demonstrate quick results. Avoid difficult, low value initiatives.

About the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group

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The ABA Knowledge Strategy Interest Group sponsors CLE programs and webinars on improving practice efficiency and quality through better collaboration and know-how sharing, emphasizing the need for firm leadership to be actively involved. The Group focuses on people and process, not technology. The Group also produces white papers. More information is contained on the Group's home page at:  http://ambar.org/LPMKnowledge. The Group is part of the ABA Law Practice Division (formerly the Law Practice Management Section) and is chaired by Jack Bostelman.

How to get the white paper

To access the white paper for on-line reading or downloading:

  • click the following link:  http://ambar.org/LPMKnowledge. This will take you to the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group's web page;
  • in the section on the top right of the page called Join Us, click the link called Join Our Committee;
  • you will be directed to relevant pages that ask you
    • to join the ABA if you are not a member (dues vary) or to log in if you are,
    • to join the Law Practice Division if you are not a member ($50/year for ABA members), and
    • to join the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group (free for Division members); then
  • wait a minute or two to receive the automatic welcome e-mail that contains a link to the white paper.

If you have problems with the above process, or questions about it, please e-mail me at jack.bostelman@kmjdconsulting.com.

If you'll be in Phoenix on Oct. 11 …

I'm chairing a live CLE program called “Work Smarter, Not Harder – Introduction to Knowledge Strategy for Practitioners” at the regular Fall Meeting of the ABA Law Practice Division in Phoenix at 10:15am on Oct. 11 at the Biltmore Hotel. Attendance is free for Division members. Click here for the meeting registration and here for the materials for the program.

[Top photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / SimFan]

About the Author

Jack Bostelman

Jack Bostelman is the president and principal consultant of KM/JD Consulting LLC. Before founding KM/JD Consulting, Jack practiced law in New York for 30 years as a partner of pre-eminent AmLaw 20 firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

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KM/JD Consulting LLC renders impartial practice management advice to law firms on improving efficiency, increasing profits and reducing risk, emphasizing knowledge strategy.

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Before founding KM/JD Consulting LLC, Jack practiced law in New York for 30 years as a partner of pre-eminent AmLaw 20 firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

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