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How to Improve the Process of Defining Legal Scope: The Case of Levenfeld Pearlstein (Part 1 of 2)

January 14, 2016

By Gary Richards and Jim Hassett         

From the time we started working with lawyers on LPM, scope definitions and negotiations have always been important elements of our training and coaching. But after we completed this research, LegalBizDev principal Gary Richards decided to develop a new course entitled "How to Define Legal Scope and Negotiate Changes," which focuses exclusively on these most critical areas. The final product was a highly interactive half-day workshop built around brief overviews of key concepts and seven hands-on exercises.

For example, in the first exercise each participant is very simply asked to: "Write the client’s objectives for a matter you are now working on." An answer sheet handed out for the following discussion lists 21 questions lawyers could ask to better refine their understanding, including:

  • How does the client define success?
  • Are several outcomes acceptable?
  • Are there other stakeholders in your organization who will be affected by the outcome of this matter?
  • Do you have any particular fears or concerns about special risks in this matter?
  • Can you envision anything that you or others in your organization could do to help ensure success for this matter?
  • If, unexpectedly, your objectives for this matter become unattainable, what would you do?

The second to sixth exercises build on this foundation, and culminate in a seventh and final exercise which requires each lawyer to develop a personal action plan to apply improved scoping concepts immediately in their practice.

When Angela Hickey , the Executive Director of Levenfeld Pearlstein heard about this course, she quickly decided that it could help the firm provide greater value to its clients. She scheduled two sessions on successive days last October, each for the maximum class size of 20 lawyers, so that it would be available to all 40 of the partners in the firm.

While some LegalBizDev clients see this course as the first step in implementing LPM, Levenfeld Pearlstein had already been working on LPM for several years, including a SharePoint/Handshake dashboard reporting system that was implemented in 2011 to help streamline processes, and hiring Eliot Levy in 2013 as the firm’s first Manager of Process Improvement.

The goals of our scope course were completely consistent with the "LP Way" - the firm's "model for creating an unparalleled client experience at an exceptional value." As Hickey explained in an interview: "One hallmark of excellent client experience in any setting is to appropriately manage expectations: No surprises, no surprises, no surprises!"

The results could be seen within days of the workshops, and have continued to mount in the months since. For example Marc Fineman, chair of the firm’s Intellectual Property Group, commented that:

When looking at the client’s objective of a matter, it’s important to focus on the work that the client expects rather than just the work that the attorney expects to perform. At the start of a matter, there can be a very big disconnect between these two things. There needs to be a meeting of the minds where both the client and the attorney understand the client’s objectives and the work that is necessary to achieve those objectives. To achieve that meeting of the minds, lawyers need to do a better job probing clients and asking numerous questions to identify and understand the client’s objectives. One way to accomplish that is to reference the list of 21 questions used during the first exercise in the workshop. I now have that list on the bulletin board in my office for easy access when talking with clients.

This leads to a next obvious step of:

…being more specific in engagement letters. If, based on the answers to the questions you asked, you can lay out a fairly specific scope of work for the matter team, write it down and put it in the engagement letter, too. Doing that at the start sets expectations properly. If it is laid out in detail and the client agrees and signs the engagement letter indicating their agreement, it shows that everybody is on board with the scope, the work and the cost..

The entire process, Fineman continued, has led to a new emphasis on the fact that:

Good communication is needed throughout the course of a matter. After attending the workshop, one thing I have done for certain clients is to send along with their invoices a cover memo that essentially presents a bullet point summary of matters covered by the invoice, the progress of each matter and the expected remaining fees for each matter. This allows me to explain not only that the bill was X dollars this month but this is why, and and this is what you should expect. Communications around invoices provide a great opportunity to provide regular updates to clients and to invite clients to talk about any issues.

 

To view part 2, please click here

To view the full article, please click here

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