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A Journey to LPM

by Larry Bridgesmith, JD LPP

Old dogs really can learn new tricks.

In 2018, my legal practice longevity reaches 40 years. I remember my first business card of

which I was so proud. I was a “Counselor at Law.” Being called a trusted advisor was a great

honor.

Somewhere along the way, the profession of law became the “calculus of law”. Value as a

professional began to be measured by time spent more than outcomes achieved. Clients

wanted solutions. Law firms wanted larger and larger quantities of hours billed.

The incentive to spend more time in order to bill more money became an implicit bias in every

client engagement. More subconscious than conscious, the “heavy pencil” was an insider’s

reference to the billing practices of attorneys who enjoyed financially successful compensation

histories.

Long before the Great Recession of 2008, clients grew weary of the “45 day surprise”. Billing

statements that reflected monies owed for hours spent which were neither expected nor

necessary in the client’s eyes, caused many billing disputes and not a few broken attorney/client

relationships. The distrust between clients and attorneys grew proportionate to the scrutiny of

legal fee invoices.

In the mid-90’s, clients began requesting fee budgets for legal matters and lawyers began to

project the time to be spent and the fees to be billed in litigation, transactions and most business

law engagements. However, what lawyers viewed as non-binding estimates “depending” on

developments in the engagements over which the lawyer had no control, clients viewed as

commitments. The trust continued to erode.

Globalization taught businesses how to deliver “more for less”. Lawyers continued to equate

more with more. The disconnect between efficiency and productivity grew larger. To lawyers,

productivity meant more time spent. To clients, productivity meant greater efficiency.

The early adopters in applying project management to law were in house attorneys who learned

from their operations colleagues. The Association of Corporate Counsel published articles on

LPM in legal departments in 2005. The same year, Seyfarth Shaw began making headlines

when its partners were trained in Six Sigma statistical process control methods.

As illogical as it seemed, lawyers were being schooled in operations management methods like

Lean, project management and Six Sigma. Not noted for our love of innovation and change,

lawyers are still awakening to the applicability of efficiency measures in the delivery of legal

services.

Probably, the single factor above others that makes LPM increasingly critical today is the rise of

the fixed fee, the “not to exceed” or the capped budget. When the risk of loss on the

performance of legal matters is borne by the lawyer rather than the client, missing budget

“estimates” costs real money and law firm profitability suffers. Until lawyers can manage matters

to the budget, the financial risks of the practice of law place law firms in peril. Protecting a

client’s concern about costs does not mean the law firm must sacrifice profitability.

Enter project management. I remember it well. It was March 2008. We were on the stern of a

sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. A long time friend (in fact my college roommate) had gone

into computer science and production management and I had pursued a legal career. When he

explained to my understanding how managing projects at the task level could provide

predictable pricing, profitable outcomes and satisfied customers through process improvement,

it was a Eureka moment for me.

Ten years later, LPM is clearly the missing link in law firm success, valued client relationships

and financially predictable legal project outcomes for both lawyers and clients.

More lawyers (in house and outside, small law, big law and non-profit law) now realize that

constrained budgets and the global mandate of “better, faster, cheaper” can be addressed with

LPM.

Most importantly, the professional role of counselor at law is furthered by the many practices of

LPM which encourage planning, communication, matter execution and risk management. LPM

reaffirms the partnership of lawyer and client engaged together to understand and promote

client needs and expectations.

A full cycle of professional development is what encourages me most about what I have learned

in bringing legal project management to lawyers and clients alike. It has been a great journey.

Larry Bridgesmith, JD LPP is Co-Founder of LPM Alignment, the training and consulting division of Legal Alignment LLC.

LPM Alignment exists to align legal project management with the way lawyers really work. Alignment is our secret sauce, and it's the difference between LPM success (and profit) and failure. We provide training and the only globally-recognized certification in LPM to individual legal professionals, firms, practice groups, and in-house counsel. Visit LPM Alignment to learn more, or contact us.

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