By Pieter van der Hoeven.
In early October I was lucky enough to take two days out of a hectic schedule to attend this year’s Legal Geek conference. Back after the 2020 hiatus, it was an opportunity to reconnect with many in the legal innovation community and listen to an array of fascinating speakers. As usual the second day was packed with workshops, with one in particular causing buzz among fellow conference goers: LEGO Serious Play.
This particular workshop looked at the power of LEGO as a visual metaphor and a source of creativity in jointly developing complex ideas. In particular, working together with LEGO ensured that all participants were able to make equal contributions to the collective ‘idea’ so that every voice was heard.
The enthusiasm towards this unique take on LEGO in the workplace seemed a fitting way to round up this series on LPM and Pricing.
For the past year I have explored how the development of activity ‘building blocks’ can make matters more predictable, improve the sophistication of your pricing efforts, and can even lead to more accurate trend insights when working with portfolios. But just like LEGO, these building blocks can be more versatile than their original creators ever intended. So, in this final installment, we are going to look at how the entire firm can make use of the building blocks developed by their Pricing and LPM teams. It’s LEGO Serious Play, but firmwide.
The versatility of LEGO
While many of us buy LEGO sets to build the picture on the front of the box (after all, who wouldn’t want to build a fully-functioning rollercoaster) we are all aware that LEGO is versatile. That rollercoaster could as easily be an ice cream truck, a flamingo, or even a domino placing machine. The same can be said for the matter building blocks that support Pricing and LPM teams. Clearly, their primary purpose is to make matters more predictable, easier to manage, and more profitable for the law firm. However, data on activities, timekeepers, and clients, is also going to be useful to a broader audience.
I want to offer some food for thought by breaking down a few key groups that stand to benefit from the LEGO approach to data analysis. These can broadly be broken down into the following categories:
HR and talent Management
I’ll be diving into each of these in more detail but want to emphasise that this list is not exhaustive. Rather, it is a starting point for any firm looking for inspiration.
Knowledge Management at its core is about identifying and retaining a firm’s expertise. Rather than reinventing the wheel for every matter, firms build on existing knowledge. This improves service delivery, ensures matters can be (and indeed are) delivered as expected and that the lessons learned at each matter close are collected and stored for the next opportunity. In short, they are also using building blocks to develop insights.
One of the most important ways firms can make the most of their LPM and Pricing building blocks is by aligning them with their Knowledge Management systems. After all, these building blocks can identify experts within the firm by allowing searches for lawyers who have performed specific activities. This means it is faster to identify the right lawyer for the job, which can be difficult, but particularly difficult when you operate from multiple locations.
In a broader sense, this data can also be used to identify the most profitable or successful practice groups. This can then inform how and why a firm positions itself in the market and can even support the winning of new clients through evidence of success. Finally, efficiency insights can be developed by testing the effect of new processes on matter delivery. In doing so, Knowledge Managers can develop best practices for the firm’s operation in a data-driven way.
In essence, Knowledge Management is about creating a catalogue of ‘builds’ which can be developed from the blocks you have in-house. By understanding fundamentally what building blocks, or activities, your firm can perform (and how well) it is possible to show how these can be put together. The act of identifying and cataloguing them mean a Knowledge team can always identify whether a firm has the right tools for the job in-house.
HR and Talent Management
Recent employment news from the US has been focusing on the “Great Resignation.’’ The mental toll of the pandemic has forced a lot of us to rethink our work life balance and it is more important than ever for HR and Talent teams to be proactive in supporting employees. To that end, matter data can be an essential tool in ensuring that lawyers aren’t overworked and that the right work is allocated to the right people.
In my last installment, I looked at the way portfolios can be built out to monitor trends. For those in HR, these portfolios could equally be an easy way of keeping an eye on everyone’s workload. Employees at risk of stress or burn-out could be supported with portfolio insights, making sure that they aren’t having to juggle too many projects simultaneously and that work isn’t assigned to them without prior agreement.
The same sort of analysis can also be used to ensure that the work performed by lawyers matches their seniority level. One of the easiest ways for an employee to feel undervalued is by assigning them work below their seniority level. HR and Talent teams can monitor the division of work where matters are broken down into building blocks and use this information to better support and engage their teams.
Business development and other client-facing roles arguably stand the most to gain from developing matter LEGO blocks. As clients push for transparency and a deeper understanding of their business, law firms need all the data they can get on their clients. This is equally true for getting new business on board, as it is for retaining existing relationships.
In practice, matter blocks offer certainty. Pitching for new work is about building a relationship of trust between yourself and a client. You need to have confidence in your ability to deliver on the RfP, for which you require data. As I discovered when talking to Levi Remley of Barnes and Thornburg, even work which is new can be won on the basis of a quote created from building blocks:
“We had the opportunity to pitch for some wage and hour class action work, which is complex, expensive work. Our data set for this sort of work was somewhat limited over the past decade and we had very little time to build a quote. The client was looking for fixed fees and capped fees by phases, so we were able to identify tasks and classify them into phase categories and constructed a quote from that. Because of how detailed our quote was, we pitched an AFA and won the work.”
For existing clients, the greatest fear of most law firms is that a Senior Partner will depart, taking all their clients with them. This single point of failure is a possibility that matter data could also help avoid. At Clocktimizer, we use a relationship graph to map who is working with each client. While this doesn’t have to be the only solution, it is built on the premise that once you are identifying who is working with a client, it is easier to analyse whether that client needs greater diversity in firm representation or not.
Finally, and most simply, cross selling opportunities are far easier to identify when you have building blocks. Diving into clients and cross referencing which practice groups they are working with is an incredibly simple way of identifying who to introduce them to internally. Increasing your relationship with an existing customer is far more financially beneficial than forging a new one. This type of cross selling analysis is one of the most cost-effective returns on investment for matter building blocks.
One of the last key groups that can take advantage of matter building blocks are firm executives. Arguably, executives need to have the best insights of anyone about how their business is functioning. But beyond reporting, building blocks can also reduce bad financial exposure in times of crisis, or even keep an eye on important clients.
Again, portfolio analysis is an extremely useful way of identifying trends for this group. Recent years have been tough for the service and travel industry. Working with too many of these clients could lead to negative financial consequences through bankruptcy or delayed payments. Analysing the industries of clients, through portfolios, can help executives keep track of their spread across industries and prevent negative economic consequences.
But what if your firm has less of a broad spread of clients, and instead works with five or ten key accounts? In this instance, creating a dashboard that covers the important metrics and insights from these clients is a simple way of making the most of your building block data. It allows executives to be aware of which matters a client has running and who they are working with. This in turn leads to more informed conversations with clients, deepening the relationship.
Indeed, the great thing about LEGO blocks is the way that they are even compatible with other building materials. While designed for the Pricing and LPM teams, they can as easily feed into other law firm intelligence tools. Within Litera, matter data can support goal setting in Objective Manager, or support knowledge collection with Foundation.
Building blocks are just the starting point
The examples here represent only a few of the many ways that firms have already taken the building blocks of data housed in their matters and put them to use throughout the firm. What they all share is a recognition of the flexibility of the data ‘block.’
The reason that the LEGO Serious Play workshops are so engaging, and indeed the reason that firm building blocks are so successful, is that they take something recognisable and allow us to use it in a way that is unique to our perspective. Whether you work in Finance, Client Value, or LPM, you want to make informed decisions built on a real understanding of the way your firm is operating. Thus, these blocks offer the opportunity to understand, play, and test out your theories without needing to learn a new language or implement a new system.
By learning from LEGO and breaking big objects down into small, versatile shapes, we open a world of possibilities for firmwide analytics. They make data bitesize and give the opportunity to compare like for like. Just like LEGO, the only limit will be law firm creativity.
About the Author Pieter van der Hoeven, a former M&A lawyer with 15 years of experience in the legal industry, is the co-founder of Clocktimizer, which was recently acquired by Litera. Clocktimizer is an award-winning legal technology solution that helps law firms to understand who is doing what, when, where, and at what cost. Global 100, Am Law 100, and Am Law 200 law firms use Clocktimizer to make data driven decisions around matter management, budgeting, and pricing.
Before starting Clocktimizer in 2014, Pieter was an M&A lawyer at DLA Piper and earned his MBA from Rotterdam School of Management and IE Business School. Pieter can be contacted at email@example.com