On Thursday, May 16, the New York Metro Legal Marketing Association met in New York City to hear a distinguished panel discuss Legal Project Management. LPM is a subject of great interest to corporate counsel because it encourages law firms to adopt a disciplined approach to the matters they handle. From the standpoint of corporate counsel, this is a very positive development. “Convergence” occurred because leading general counsel pushed law firms into it. LPM is being pushed by the law firms themselves. For information about LPM, do an Internet search, and you will find a plethora of software vendors.
A distinguished panel moderated by Alicia Brown, director of strategic relationships, Bloomberg Law, discussed the subject of LPM. It included Michael Caplan, director of operations, office of the general counsel, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.; Wendy Bernero, chief of strategic initiatives, Proskauer Rose LLP; and Nat Slavin, founder & partner, Wicker Park Group.
Michael Caplan set the stage from a corporate counsel perspective. He said his job at Marsh is working with outside counsel and that his primary concerns were outside counsel spend management and getting away from the billable hour. His main goal is not low price, necessarily, but “predictability” in billing.
Operationally, Marsh views its matters as projects to be managed, and that cost certainty is essential to planning. Increasingly, Marsh wants to work only with law firms that are willing to embrace fixed pricing. When it replaced its billable hour model with a bonus model, this led directly to fewer outside lawyers being involved, fees going down overall by one-third and settlements being arrived at more quickly than originally planned. Caplan made it clear that Marsh has “zero” interest in reading detailed itemizations of the tasks performed by lawyers and other staffers.
In addition, Caplan emphasized that in most cases law firms get only one chance to make an impression. He stressed that any engagement with a potential client, especially the first meeting, should be treated with absolute professionalism by the law firm.
He said that before a firm is hired by Marsh, it needs to have a good grasp of the facts and the law and a track record of handling similar matters. He mentioned that he carefully checks among other things the credentials of the law firm lawyers to be assigned to a matter. He counsels law firms that they should treat their pitch to Marsh as a first date and schedule a follow-up meeting, if possible, to keep interest in their firm alive.
Wendy L. Bernero picked up Michael’s engagement thread. Using his “dating” analogy, she said you should treat potential clients the way you would a first date you found interesting. Ask them what they need from the potential relationship, answer their questions directly and solidify a plan to follow up.
Ms. Bernero said that you only have about 90 days until people forget about you and what you said. So, prompt follow-up is essential. She also emphasized how important it is to treat all meetings with potential clients from an LPM perspective. Sketch out the expected timeframe, set benchmarks, establish the particulars of the deliverables and detail the staffing model. Marketers should provide lawyers with the advice, tips and metrics to manage the engagement process. To accomplish this, they need to teach their lawyers the language of LPM. Clients will be happy to learn that project managers run the project management and report to the clients – and higher-paid lawyers practice law.
She said that law firms should make it clear that they provide their lawyers with LPM training and apply it to the way they handle matters. This provides the client with assurance that the firm will effectively control costs
Nat Slavin framed the issue by saying that lawyers need to cease thinking of themselves as lawyers and begin thinking of themselves as business people who manage a legal function. Marketers should remember that general counsel of corporations are also business people and do not appreciate surprises. They expect law firm bills to reflect the current economic pressures. He said that law firm marketers should try not to make their RFP pitches too complicated. “Your best approach is to fit your presentation on an Excel spreadsheet.” He advised that, given the current economic situation, corporate counsel may no longer have sufficient staff to untangle complexities in a presentation, so keep it simple. He emphasized that the marketer’s job is to deliver the tools to their lawyers that are required for effective marketing, including the use of LPM.
In selecting an outside firm for an assignment, LPM can only take you so far. You also need to assess the skills of the lawyers who will make up their team because their skills will be crucial to achieving success. Be sure to look at our current issue of MCC and our beautifully indexed website to find articles and interviews by lawyers that meet your requirements.
As LPM gains momentum, we will, as we have done with e-discovery, be the “go to” place for more articles and interviews to keep you apprised of developments of which you should be aware.