The business of law continues to evolve, and at the heart of this are changes through people, process and technology. Shearman & Sterling is a 145 year old firm with a long and distinguished history of supporting its clients wherever they do business globally. Over the last 18 months a multi-disciplinary, global Legal Project Management (LPM) team has grown to provide services to internal and external clients. The team is comprised of project management, legal operations, pricing, process improvement and change management professionals and acts as a centre of excellence to support embedding of LPM behaviours globally. In this article, members of the team outline the programme, its origins, the key techniques that are being applied to drive change and lessons learned as part of navigating the current business of law landscape.
Law firms have always applied LPM, but traditionally its application had been seen as more of an art than a proven methodology. In the last 10 years, project management as a discipline – and as a growing function – has developed and matured in global law firms. Given the nature of legal services as an experience good, it can be difficult to evaluate the service in advance. LPM falls into this category and many will have felt the impact of LPM in practice – for better or worse. This article looks at a non-traditional LPM programme, which puts change management at the heart of improving project management outcomes. Members of the team discuss the programme from a variety of perspectives and share some of their learnings for those getting started on their own LPM journey.
The genesis of the firm's LPM programme
LPM at the firm dates back a number of years. In the years following the global financial crisis, it was clear that clients across all industries and geographies were facing budget pressures and were seeking greater certainty on costs, increased transparency and changes in the way projects were delivered. At the same time, LPM became seen as one vehicle by which firms could enhance client service through the application of tried-and-tested project management disciplines – the very same disciplines that law firms' clients had been using in their own businesses for decades.
The programme commenced as a grassroots campaign, which was spearheaded by Excutive Director, Kim Gardner. It started by spreading the word and building awareness amongst the partnership and thereafter moved to the hiring of dedicated LPM professionals and up-skilling our people in the fundamentals of LPM, and crucially, how to apply it in their roles. In these early stages, LPM was discussed with internal and external opinion leaders to determine the most appropriate way to shape it to suit the needs of the business and its culture. In parallel, areas most in need of support were identified based on a review of key data points, including where pricing pressures were the greatest and where evidence indicated a need for greater application of legal project management principles.
Whilst LPM has created a lot of debate in the sector, it can be challenging to scale efforts within a global organisation without a suitably sized team. This became clear very early on. Looking at the most established LPM programmes in law firms globally, ratios of LPM professionals to lawyers are quite high. Just focusing on the number of partners in global firms, research shows that ratios range from 50:1 to 100:1 plus. However, not every project requires dedicated LPM support, nor would it be practical or cost-effective to have growth of a centralised or decentralised group of resources across a global business. A smarter approach was needed. Rather than developing a large centralised function and cost centre, the firm focused on an incremental and prioritised rollout of LPM, and on embedding the capabilities within the business to integrate LPM within ways of working. This created the bedrock for LPM to be expert led, but partner and associate driven, creating the conditions to succeed and ensuring that a structured project management ethos and mindset could become an even greater part of the firm's DNA over time.
What projects are most in need of LPM?
The framework in Figure 1 helps identify projects most in need of Legal Project Management support. Based on a variety of inputs linked to project variables, the framework calculates a score that informs the user of the need for project management – and the type of support that may be required. The higher the score, the greater complexity inherent in the project. This signposting helps guide users to appropriate internal service offerings, and helps the LPM team to prioritise their efforts. Other project variables can be added and the scoring and be adjusted to meet the needs of the firm and its own project management framework.
LPM at the firm today
Since spring 2018, LPM is part of the firm's newly formed Client Value team, which also includes the Knowledge & Research and Conflicts, Records & New Business Intake teams. Meredith Williams-Range leads the team, which plays a key part in increasing value-add for the firm’s clients.
Anthony Widdop, who leads the global LPM team had previously created and led a pricing change programme for another international law firm a decade ago. This experience, and background from working in management consulting, highlighted that the key to sustainably integrating LPM was to treat it as a long-term change programme. Consistent with LPM offerings in many firms, the team has developed a core offering that maps all stages of the project lifecycle. This includes pricing and matter budgeting, scoping and planning support at project outset, internal and external reporting, analytics and scope tracking once a matter is in progress and lessons learned sessions and analyses post project completion.
To increase adoption, the team has applied the principles of complex contagion, which is based on social norms and the power of influence. This is centered on the propensity for certain behaviours – desirable and undesirable – to be copied by those who observe them. With this in mind, the team has worked with some of the most influential business leaders to support them in applying LPM. Consistent with the tipping point theory from Malcolm Gladwell, it is the little things that make a difference when multiplied across a large number of projects, teams and geographies. Enhancing this approach, the team continues to apply regular "nudges" at each stage of the matter lifecycle to support the small behaviour changes needed at each stage of a project.
Spotlight on three techniques that add value
1. Project pricing and budgeting
The first entry point for any LPM programme to add value is in supporting partners with project pricing and budgeting. Given the wide variety of pricing models and volume of data available, this is an area that presents significant opportunity to develop offerings that support "win-win" outcomes for the client and law firm. Debate about alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) goes back many years. However, these alternative models can be simplified into one of three categories: time-based, budget-based and value-based.
Time and budget-based models are still the most frequently used throughout the sector. However, there is often a missed opportunity in the use of value-based models. Donald Wiezik, who focuses on matter budgeting, analytics and what drives cost, sees some opportunities: "sometimes the best opportunity is the one you don't take, so it is crucial to lay out all the options available”. In this regard, providing choice allows the client to choose the appropriate model based on a holistic understanding of the pros and cons of each option. Although this could be viewed as a quantitative effort, applying value-based models only becomes possible when there is a true interest in understanding the depth of data points that are available (e.g. scope, jurisdiction, schedule, expected steps other parties may take etc.). These data points allow the team to work with a partner to fully appreciate the inherent risks and opportunities of a matter so that an appropriate option may be developed.
If you can correctly profile a subset of matters and then interrogate the data within that subset, you can construct appropriate billing arrangements, provide clients with improved matter budget ranges, and have data-driven conversations, which have been validated by experience and professional judgment. In this regard, smart use of data has the ability to augment pricing decisions. The wealth of historic matter data and the development of sophisticated analytics tools enable the creation of predictive models based on experience. Whilst data analysis will never be a true science, there is still the opportunity to analyse trends and patterns and use these to create informed matter budgets.
2. Using LPM to embed the voice of the customer
One of the most powerful advocates for internal change through LPM can be your client. The role and influence of legal operations teams is increasing and legal project management disciplines are a central part of their role. Developing and building relationships with your legal operations counterparts is a powerful way to help strengthen the client relationship and add value. This provides the law firm with an additional feedback loop outside of traditional account management mechanisms.
Neil Pollio had previously spent over 20 years working within legal operations teams in the banking sector. He uses this experience to present a balanced view of legal operations teams' aims. He highlights five key learnings, which are illustrated below.
The growth of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) movement is a further indication of the rise and relevance of these teams. Developing close working relationships and regular engagement enables both parties to learn and share knowledge in equal measure. These learnings can subsequently be integrated in how future projects are delivered.
Looking at a project through a client's eyes – having walked in their shoes, appreciating the challenges they face and understanding the varied drivers of commercial, business and legal operations stakeholders, helps open up further opportunities for the growth of LPM. You have one opportunity to make a first and lasting impression – and disciplined application of LPM helps improve that perception of the service offering to create the foundations upon which improved project management outcomes can be delivered throughout the relationship – for the benefit of all stakeholder groups.
3. Creating a “process-first” mindset
Whilst the primary focus of your LPM programme is likely to be on matter management, emphasis will often shift to legal processes as a subsequent area of attention. This looks beyond project management to identify how tasks are performed, and who performs them. To do this we need to challenge existing assumptions and question whether current processes are optimum for 2018. Changing client expectations, alongside the continued rise of AFAs make a focus on efficiency paramount. Ultimately, clients may not care how tasks are performed internally – they value the outcome, speed of delivery, cost and quality outcomes. Legal tech, increasingly discussed with clients, can further augment project outcomes and is considered as part of every process initiative – client value and business need driving technology procurement, then supported by process innovation to integrate use of technology into our processes and ways of working.
Kara Redmond who leads the team's process innovation efforts is continuing to build and expand our application of process improvement, with identification of opportunities and early successes across several business areas globally. To do this, opportunities are identified through LPM activities and existing relationships, then a project is set up using Lean Six Sigma tools and principles and drawing upon the right internal expertise and collaboration with associate 'champions' to move projects through to completion.
Premium legal services are one of the last areas faced by the need to adopt a process-first mindset; process improvement methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, common place in almost every other industry, are still fairly new to many in law. Lean Six Sigma embodies a focus on ‘value’ and the ‘voice of the customer' to determine what value is through the eyes of our clients. This is fully aligned to our lawyers’ mentality, for example, a relationship partner is focused on what clients value and how we can maximise that; ambitious associates want to spend their time on the most value-adding client work; collectively firms want to enhance service in a competitive market, because a better service supports repeat business and increased market share. Positioned in this way a process mindset is naturally aligned to our individual and collective ambitions – our task as a team is to draw that out in a tangible way, further creating the conditions for change.
We then have the positive challenge of identifying the right processes and areas to focus our process activities on. Figure 4 highlights examples of the types of processes ripe for improvement. These are often identified through dialogue with our lawyers and supported by data analysis using proprietary and legal tech tools. This approach provides a good balance of quantitative and qualitative inputs to assess the size of the opportunity.
Through our process improvement activities we’ve identified several critical factors for success – the presence of ‘champions' and active sponsors, and employing collaborative and creative ways of working as a multi-disciplinary team is always the starting point. Fully embracing the spirit of ‘continuous improvement’ through a culture of positive challenge and feedback is also important to ensure success.
In further embedding LPM there are opportunities to learn from other industries. We can draw parallels with how pharmaceuticals companies incentivise R&D, how large corporates make use of balanced scorecards, and how others ‘gamify’ the approach to create personal motivations appropriate to a professional services environment.
Whilst the LPM team is still young, and could be considered a start-up within the context of a 145-year-old organisation, we see an increasing maturity of the team's offerings to a sophisticated client base. The team is becoming involved in a wider number of adjacent strategic initiatives and continues to enhance its core offering, including the development of online self-service toolkits, the launch of a You-Tube style learning series and increased integration with the firm's legal tech efforts. The growth of LPM in the last 18 months has been significant and the next stage of the change programme points towards further expansion globally – going deeper into existing practice groups and further enhancing the provision in those currently supported to continue to embed LPM for the next generation.
About the Authors
Anthony Widdop, Global Head of Legal Project Management.
Anthony is the Global Head of Legal Project Management at Shearman & Sterling. He leads the programme, which is a global team committed to embedding project management, technology and process solutions to benefit our people and clients. He is an experienced management consultant who has delivered global change projects across the legal, banking, insurance, oil and gas and mining sectors.
Kara Redmond, Process Innovation Lead.
Kara is the Process Innovation Lead at Shearman & Sterling. Her role is focused on developing and deploying a programme of legal and business process improvement initiatives in alignment with our LPM and legal tech activities. Kara has led many Lean, Lean Agile and Lean Six Sigma projects and programmes across a number of industries globally.
Donald Wiezik, Legal Project Manager.
Donald is a Legal Project Manager in the team's New York hub. His role focuses on embedding a disciplined approach to pricing, budgeting and matter management with the goal of reducing financial risk and surprises throughout the project lifecycle. He previously led the global pricing and client service function at a leading litigation and disputes firm.
Neil Pollio, Legal Project Manager.
Neil is a Legal Project Manager in the team's New York hub. His role focuses on providing LPM support at all stages of the project lifecycle. He uses his varied experience from working in client side legal operations teams to present a balanced view of what clients are looking to achieve through legal project management – supporting achievement of the right result at the right cost.