Week of Agile LPM - Day 2, Improving matter profitability with Agile techniques

By Sam Hobbs posted 12-17-2013 12:22


Guest Post by David A. Rueff, Jr., J.D., PMP
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC

Through the course of their careers, every lawyer, whether in-house or firm, and paralegal has experienced unexpected time on their matters.  This may result in write offs (time that cannot be billed - similar to aged fruit that cannot be sold by a grocery store) or write downs (time adjustments downward - similar to reducing the price of a product as a result of reduced value).  Though write offs and write downs are used to ensure client satisfaction, they ultimately impact the overall profitability of the matter.  They also affect the performance of the entire firm team, even those time keepers who met the expectations of the client.  But how does this happen?  Is it simply lack of controls which can be cured with project management techniques or is it something more? 

While this list is not exhaustive, write offs and write downs can result from time keepers who: (i) gold plate or over work an issue due to a lack of clear instructions; (ii) spend more time on an issue due to the availability of time (i.e. Parkinson's Law - work expands to fill the time available for its completion); (iii) perform work which does not add value to the matter (work that is out of scope), again due to lack of clear instructions; (iv) assume responsibilities for tasks which should be performed by a lower rate resource; (v) duplicate work due to lack of communication among team members; or (vi) fail to regularly attend to a matter which can result in re-education and re-work.

Although the up-front planning techniques of project management can help to address some of these elements, it may not be enough.  Effective control can only be guaranteed by a legal team (whether it is 2 or 10 people) which is continuously and regularly communicating.  This is where Agile techniques, integrated with good planning, can protect against waste and improve the profitability of matters by reducing the probability of the above occurrences.  Avoiding these issues will also improve client satisfaction. 

Agile encourages work to be performed in iterations with scheduled meetings of the team to recap the work performed, identify potential scope changes, and confirm the work for the next iteration.  In application, these iterations can be a day or a week. Some may immediately equate more meetings with increased billable time, however, more regular meetings will help to ensure that every team member is working efficiently and avoiding waste.  Consider the benefits of daily or weekly reconciliations of the work performed and to be performed, versus unscheduled reviews which may not occur until the lawyer receives the pre-bill, every thirty days.

Baker Donelson's BakerManageTM process incorporates several of these agile-esque components which can be implemented in the discretion of the responsible attorney.

First, the BakerManage Statement of Work captures the client's expectations at the outset of the matter and clarifies the scope of the work to be performed.  The BakerManage Change Control Log is intended to be used to continuously capture and record necessary changes in scope.  The Change Control Log is designed to be reviewed regularly by the team to ensure notification of changes to the scope or specific tasks. 

Second, the BakerManage Schedule was designed to encourage improved communication between the team members and with the client regarding the work to be performed.  Team members are assigned specific tasks consistent with the scope and are encouraged to provide regular updates on the status of their tasks.  The Schedule also identifies the budgeted amount of time anticipated for the task, and was designed to identify the amount of time the team member has spent on the task so far.    

Third, BakerManage incorporates a notation tool called Case Notes.  Team members are encouraged to provide a short summary each week of the work performed on the matter to create a chronological journal of progress.    

Schedule and Case Notes updates, along with the Change Control Log, are designed to be reviewed in regularly scheduled team meetings as provided in the BakerManage Communication Plan.

Any one or all of these techniques can be implemented to ensure that the matter is being managed efficiently, to help the legal team avoid the common problems identified above, to reduce the possibility of write offs and write downs, to improve matter profitability and, most importantly, to improve client satisfaction.

Associated Blogs:
A Week of Agile LPM - Introduction

Day 1 - Reed Smith’s Commitment to Providing Agile Training and Certification