Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 200 firm, is reflecting on a white paper about law firm change recently issued by the Association of Corporate Counsel. He has an idea about how to turn this new pressure from ACC into a business development project. In the white paper the ACC recommends that law departments partner with their law firms on a matter that involves developing a process improvement for the law firm that benefits the client and the firm and is, at least partially, paid for by the client. Keith and a group of his partners to develop six partnering ideas that will improve the firm's efficiency and a plan to speak to six clients about them.
How a practice management technique called knowledge strategy can help law firm leaders achieve strategic goals – ideas from a former AmLaw 20 senior partner.
The June 30 free ABA 30-minute webinar explains how a practice group can readily create a system - without new software - to make it much easier for colleagues to find relevant documents.
The next webinar in the free ABA Practice Smarter webinar series is March 24. It will address practical tips for becoming more efficient, including checklists, managing e-mail and contacts, reinvigorating practice group intranet content and improving practice group meetings.
Join my ABA CLE webinar 12/9 discussing top 10 ways to improve client service and profitability through knowledge strategy
I will moderate an ABA CLE webinar addressing ways to improve client service and profitability through knowledge strategy, emphasizing the large firm experience. The 90-minute CLE program will be held Dec. 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm, Eastern.
Here are six strategies for improving collaboration and efficiency within a firm: (1) introducing profitability of matters rather than realization rate as the financial metric for evaluating partners, (2) apply methods to overcome lawyer resistance to organizing work product for more efficient re-use, (3) institute checklists to guide practitioners, (4) create a search system that adds subject matter and other filters to full-text search to bring the efficiency of on-line shopping sites to law firm work product retrieval, (5) institute a system to identify on a timely basis when a matter has been completed in order to trigger information collection for marketing and fee benchmarking, enable league table submissions, schedule after-action reviews and improve lawyer utilization, and (6) begin conducting after-action reviews.
“We like to say our work is so high-end that every deal is unique, but only 20% of what I do on a given deal is original,” admits a thought leader in the mergers & acquisitions group of an AmLaw 100 firm. She's speaking to Keith Mayfield, chairman of her firm. Keith is interviewing some of his colleagues for ideas about how to make their practices more efficient. In experienced-based practices, such as M&A and commercial litigation, nothing is cookie-cutter, but the majority of the work involves rearranging pieces of work done before, sometimes in a complicated way but not in a truly original way. By taking a pragmatic approach to enhancing efficiency and collaboration within the practice group that embraces piecemeal improvements, substantial progress can be made at a fraction of the effort required to overhaul the whole practice. Also, a culture of continued improvement can be cultivated for the long-term.
This post describes seven ways that a law firm can efficiently assimilate new learning among its lawyers. The main goal is to improve the quality and consistency of service to clients. This makes clients happy and reduces risk to the firm. A further benefit is that junior (and lower-cost) lawyers can more quickly get up the learning curve, which reduces the cost to the client. These lower costs generally lead to reduced write-downs and write-offs, which improves realization rate and profitability.
“It's been a year and $100,000. Now you're telling me we have to start over?” exclaims Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, to the director of the firm's IT Department and the head of the firm's Corporate Division, which is by far its largest lawyer group. Keith is referring to a high-profile system being built to automate the semi-annual process of Corporate Division partners providing performance reviews of associates. During a painful postmortem, the following facts come to light: business requirements kept changing, the IT Dept. just went along, partners were not committed and the system imposed a big culture change on partners.
Several law firm leaders are sharing ideas over drinks after a leaders' roundtable. They're discussing the final session, which covered value-adding information a firm can gather at the end of a matter, such as experience data and after-matter reviews. A lively discussion then ensues about how hard it is to accomplish the seemingly trivial task of learning on a timely basis when a matter has been completed.
Over drinks at the annual partner retreat of an AmLaw 100 firm, several partners in the healthcare group are talking shop. They’re based in different offices and are still getting to know each other, even though they work in the same practice group. Jeff, a partner based in Dallas, describes a difficult question he recently fielded for client Metro Insurance under the Affordable Care Act. “I was dealing with that same question for County Healthcare System last week!” exclaims Mary, a partner based in New York. “I’m actually working through that issue right now,” interjects Carlos from the San Diego office. “What did you guys tell your clients?”
Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, is reading the recent press report on the survey by Wells Fargo’s private bank of law firm results for the first nine months of 2013: Gross revenue increased 2.5%, Expenses also increased 2.5%, Total hours billed declined 0.75% and hours per lawyer declined 1.1%, and Effective rates increased 3.6%. Keith reads a press report about the Citibank survey for the same period, which is in line with the Wells report, though showing that revenue gains outpaced expenses by 0.4%. Citibank concludes with, "[T]he underlying challenges facing the legal industry remain: tepid demand and excess capacity." “That’s about where we are,” Keith thinks to himself. “Our expense increases have cancelled out our revenue gains from rate increases, client demand is soft and we have too many partners.”
“You didn't check the by-laws!” exclaims Andy in exasperation to a junior associate at an AmLaw 100 firm. Andy, a capital markets partner, has just been pulled out of a meeting on a new deal to fix a corporate authority problem on another deal that is supposed to close tomorrow. The problem, which was missed by Andy's team, has been belatedly raised by underwriters' counsel at the pre-closing for a $200 million SEC-registered bond issue by Andy's corporate client. The company's by-laws contain an unusual provision, inserted years ago by its recently retired founder, requiring a super-majority board vote for any borrowing exceeding $20 million. The company had not borrowed in many years. As it turns out, the telephonic meeting to authorize the bond issue was attended by only a bare majority of the board.
“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.
Keith Mayfield, Chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, is shaking his head as he enters his office. He has just returned from the monthly meeting of the Commercial Finance Group in his firm. This was Keith's practice area before becoming chairman. For the umpteenth time the status update of the Group's standard forms was “no progress”. The assigned partners have been too busy with client work to review the associates' drafts. It's been three years since the effort began. Several of the associates who drafted the forms have left the firm. The forms project has been restaffed at the partner level several times because of the problem of delayed review. One meeting of the assigned partners to address big-picture comments resulted in an unresolved disagreement about how to address several provisions. Clearly there's something wrong with the process, not the individuals. Later that day Keith happens upon The Checklist Manifesto[*] as he's looking for airplane reading at the airport newsstand. He's read it already and moves on, but it gets him thinking.
There are gaps between what law firm leaders acknowledge they should be doing and what they are actually doing, according to Altman Weil's annual “Law Firms in Transition” survey, released last week. For example, while 96% of respondents believe more price competition and a focus on improved practice efficiency are permanent changes in the law firm environment, only 55% of firms with 250 or more lawyers have significantly changed their strategic approach to efficiency in delivery of legal services. This post comments on improving efficiency in delivery of legal services, then presents a summary of the full survey, which also covers other topics.
Recognizing that without more lawyer input the administrative staff cannot gather accurate and complete profile data about concluded matters, Keith has started a lawyer-driven project to collect this information. This experience data will be used to assist lawyers in identifying comparable matters for purposes of finding precedents, preparing pitch materials, staffing matters with lawyers who have relevant experience and identifying internal experts on a particular type of matter. The data can also be used for more complete league table reporting. The project envisions associates submitting the required data at the end of each matter, using an on-line form. Keith had asked a partner in the firm's capital markets group to head this project, but progress has been limited. The partner has been diligent in pursing the initiative, but has been getting limited traction with her fellow partners and the associates in the practice group. The main challenge has been getting the many involved lawyers to attend meetings and follow up on their individual commitments.
The after-action review meeting also presents a unique opportunity to collect other valuable information that otherwise may be unavailable. These include: capturing key substantive issues addressed, recording the main factors affecting the fee, and verifying matter parameters and description. After-action review meetings also serve a training and morale-building purpose for associates. This meeting may be the only time during the matter where some associates get a sense of the scope of the entire matter and how the part on which they worked contributed to the whole. Also, merely participating in an after-action review meeting and being treated as an equal team member will contribute to more positive morale among associates.
“Why are people talking about after-action reviews?” wonders Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm. The topic has been coming from many directions recently. One of his lateral partners has just left his office after suggesting the firm begin after-action reviews for all matters, as they did at the partner's previous firm. Last week Keith lunched with the general counsel of a prospective litigation client, who asked whether the firm regularly conducts after-action reviews. Last month Keith attended a managing partner leadership meeting, where he now remembers the subject came up briefly during a breakout session. Keith's now curious to learn more. Keith calls the consultant who ran the breakout session, who has law firm experience, to ask why after-action reviews are being talked about.
Having compiled a list of the commercial real estate group's existing internal and external resources, Tony, the group's chair, gets input from partners and associates at the group's next monthly meeting as to which of those existing resources are most important. He also asks what new resources the group's lawyers would like. Two or three ideas become projects to add in a future phase of the intranet, such as a database of internal firm experts on various subjects. Based on the practice group meeting, Tony develops a good idea of the three most important internal resources that will drive users to the site. He makes a note that Carlos, the associate tasked with supporting the group's intranet, should make it a priority to keep these current.
Keith Mayfield, Chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, is dismayed. He has just finished a meeting with his chief operating partner, who raised a problem with the functioning of the firm's practice groups. A review of how the groups operate revealed that associates feel lost within most groups: They are unsure where to find practice resources, unaware of current developments, inattentive to training opportunities and lacking a feeling of community. Even many partners feel this way, especially laterals. Delving deeper, the review revealed that the practice group intranet sites were by-and-large not being used, readily confirmed by a review of usage statistics kept by the IT Dept. The main reason, discovered through associate interviews, turned out to be that the content was stale. There were generally no lawyers charged with maintaining the sites. Names were assigned, but the responsibility was not taken seriously because practice group leadership did not press the importance of the sites or hold the content maintainers accountable. Associates also complained that the sites, which had been established a decade ago, were difficult to navigate and not invitingly designed when compared to current web sites.
Keith Mayfield, the chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, has just returned to his office from an internal planning meeting with the chairs of the firm's key practice groups. The chair of the intellectual property group expressed frustration that his group had a rich store of resource materials, but had trouble making them available to the group's lawyers. The group has a paralegal to organize the materials, a resources page on the practice group's intranet and access to the firm's enterprise search engine. Still, group members are constantly e‑mailing around asking for good examples of certain documents, insights into certain issues and experience with certain types of transactions and disputes. This triggered the voicing of similar concerns by several other practice group chairs. It was resolved that the problem was sufficiently pervasive within the firm that an initiative needed to be undertaken.
While Keith believes that getting lawyers to file e‑mail is his biggest e‑mail problem, he's also concerned about the daily deluge of all-lawyers e‑mails. They ask if anyone knows local counsel in State X? Or if anyone has ever worked on a thus-and-such transaction with the following unusual features? Or knows about a certain type of transaction in a certain industry? Or knows of an expert witness in a specified subject matter? n today's part, Keith addresses a different e‑mail problem – how to reduce the flood of e‑mail sent to all lawyers and other broad groups within the firm. Those e‑mails are annoying to 90% of the recipients, and replies-to-all are even more annoying to those recipients. Those all-lawyers e‑mails are of great interest, however, to the other 10%. Moreover, that 10% is also interested in the replies, which they often don't see when a respondent replies only to the sender.
After speaking with other law firm leaders and some outside consultants, Keith decides that his first step should be to identify the various reasons behind his lawyers' non-compliance with the firm's e‑mail filing policy. This involves interviewing a sample of lawyers of different seniorities, offices and practice areas. It turns out there are many reasons, and therefore many solutions to be devised. No single solution applies even to one lawyer. The insights that come out of these discussions are ...
Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, is sick to death of e-mail. It's not that there's too much (which, of course, there is). It's the risk and the waste. (1) Lost client advice. Every hour his lawyers send dozens of e-mails containing valuable client advice and don't save them anywhere central, depriving the firm of needed records and denying their fellow lawyers access to useful work product for their research. (2) Lost research. The same thing happens with internal research. (3) Annoying all-lawyers e‑mails. Intrusive All-lawyers e-mails are sent within the firm many times a day asking who knows the answer to a particular legal question, looking for an outside expert or asking about local or foreign counsel. What's worse, the answers and any follow-up questions aren't seen by the lawyers who are interested or kept anywhere central. (4) Incomplete client files. The e-mail traffic generated during a client matter isn't systematically reviewed, with the important ones organized and saved as a record of the deal, the way paper used to be.
Having addressed partner buy-in, Larry turns his attention to gaining associate support. The most important aspects of the associate training are attendance and assimilation of the material. The mid-level and senior associates are the main audience, yet they are subject to the greatest pressures to put client work first. Accountability for training attendance and participation, and support from the partners, are the key ways to address attendance. Larry's key steps are ...