Building Bridges with Clients in Mind

Our theme in this particular issue is law firm finance. The bridge of law firm finance needs to be constructed with the client in mind. Gone are the days when clients routinely pulled up to the law firm pump and stood idly by while the legal services charges spun wildly out of control. In today’s legal market, clients insist on accountability. To this end, legal project management has become the preferred method for attorneys to plan, execute, manage and control a legal engagement to obtain a favorable solution for the client at a predictable cost.

Over 13 years ago the ABA Commission on Billable Hours published its report evaluating alternative fee models to the billable hour, citing various legal industry concerns:

  • Client solutions that lacked sufficient planning and rewarded inefficiency and a lack of productivity.
  • Case management practices that resulted in rework, duplicated effort and flawed staffing.
  • Legal costs that did not reflect value and could not be determined until a matter closed.
  • Rate differentials that failed to account for actual experience and productivity.

Five years later the Association of Corporate Counsel issued the ACC Value Challenge calling for the adoption of management practices that allowed all participants to achieve the key objectives of lower costs, higher predictability and better outcomes. Attorneys and law firms were challenged to increase the value and reduce the costs of their services, while clients and corporate counsel were challenged to drive this change by managing their outside counsel.

These catalysts, as well other market forces, are placing increased pressure on legal practitioners to provide more transparency and to implement more efficient management practices to achieve predictable legal costs, whether based on the billable hour or alternative pricing arrangements. After decades of operating by means of the billable hour, the majority of the legal industry still lacks the expertise and ability to dramatically change its habits. In the absence of an industry standard for change, a new concept emerged: legal project management.

Legal project management is evolving as a method for attorneys to plan, execute, manage and control a legal engagement to obtain an effective solution for the client at a predictable cost. Attorneys customarily perform some of these processes when undertaking an engagement. However, the methods employed are inconsistent, episodic and, except in repetitive engagements, rarely provide the client with a reliable expectation of service or cost.

Noting that no standard for legal project management exists, LP’s Council, at its Spring 2015 meeting, established the Legal Project Management Task Force. The mission of this committee, led by David Reuff, is to evaluate this evolving area and provide the profession with guidance as to:

  • Using legal project management to improve attorney-client relationships and the delivery of services, including a closer adherence to ethical standards.
  • Implementing process improvement techniques to streamline and improve the efficiency of matters.
  • Using project management information systems to capture, manage, report and evaluate case management activities.
  • Evaluating the “legal project manager” in legal organizations.
  • Integrating legal process outsourcing into legal service offerings and developing best practices to guide lawyers and their legal organizations.

This LP committee is leading the profession in building one of the many bridges that clients require. It’s assessing the present state of legal project management in the profession, evaluating the body of work to date and developing new tools to improve legal case management workflow, as well as standardizing case evaluation and management and training materials, forms and best practices to offer the profession.

Working together, LP and its new committee are building the bridge that our clients require-a win-win proposition where attorneys provide quality legal services for value. LP

About the Author

BoltTom Bolt is the founder and managing attorney of BoltNagi PC in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and is the chair of the ABA Law Practice Division.