Problem 3 - We can't easily find comparable matters for pitch books, alternative fee arrangements and legal project management budgets

3. Problem: We can't easily find comparable matters for purposes of:

  • putting together pitch books to seek new business,
  • establishing fixed fees for alternative fee arrangements,
  • preparing fee estimates for other new matters, and
  • constructing budgets as part of our legal project management efforts.

Response: Establish a matters and experience database.

Discussion:

The crucial part is developing a system to capture a good description of each matter. This requires original drafting by a senior lawyer on the matter (probably the partner) having

  • knowledge of the firm's practice,
  • the perspective of future users of the information and
  • an understanding of which aspects of the matter are important to capture for purposes of determining comparability.

Most other information in the database about each matter can be obtained through technology. For example, the name of the matter, budget, actual fees charged, lawyers involved, timekeeper hours, etc. can be obtained through a link to the firm's financial system. The industry of the client can probably be derived from a database by administrative staff.

How can the senior lawyers be persuaded to develop the matter description? Some firms use a questionnaire system (e-mail or paper) at the conclusion of each matter, together with periodic e-mail reminders to the senior lawyer. Others may have a paralegal complete the questionnaire based on a phone call to the senior lawyer.

Another approach is to use after-matter review meetings. These carry greater benefits, but are more difficult to implement because they require a greater change to the way the lawyers work. This approach requires holding a meeting after completion of the matter with the lawyers who worked on it. The meeting serves several purposes:

  1. Lessons learned are discussed, both as to substantive legal matters and client relations or matter management issues. This aspect serves as a mentoring process.
  2. Substantive legal issues addressed in the matter are identified.
  3. A description of the matter is generated by the team, preferably both a polished version for external use, such as in pitch books, and a longer internal version that identifies special considerations.
  4. Information about sub-parts of the matter is collected for use in developing future fee estimates, as described in Problem 1. For example, the number of depositions taken in a litigation matter or the special due diligence subjects (such as environmental risk) investigated in an M&A matter.

The information in 2 and 3 would be recorded by a paralegal or other meeting secretary for inclusion in the matters and experience database. The information in 4 could be prepared in advance following a checklist of questions developed by the relevant practice group for each major matter type, with the answers confirmed at the after-matter review meeting.

The above changes should be piloted in a single practice group. Partners can be better persuaded to adopt the new procedures if they perceive an immediate benefit to their own practice, not merely an improvement for the greater good. Partner-specific benefits will vary from partner to partner and firm to firm, and will need to be identified on a case-by-case basis. Examples include improved partner reputation among associates (making for easier staffing), higher profile within the firm of the partner's matters (also making for easier staffing, as well as possible career enhancement) and compensation bonus for high participation (if management so decides and which could be set at a symbolic level).

Based on the pilot group's experience, the procedures can be appropriately revised before rolling them out to the entire firm. Success stories from the pilot group can be publicized to improve acceptance.

Software to run the database can be purchased or developed internally.

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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.

Jack Bostelman, President

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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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