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Scaling and Building Adoption of Legal Project Management | Steven Smith

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

Sustaining, scaling, and, building meaningful adoption for a law firm and in-house Legal Project Management (LPM) efforts has been a constant theme in Susan Lambreth’s previous blog posts through LawVision and the Practising Law Institute program she has chaired for the last nine years - “Project Management for Lawyers.”


With all the industry attention, client pressure, and investment in LPM, why do so many firms and clients still struggle to see a return of those investments? According to a recent survey, even the law firms who are the US leaders of LPM have only been able to implement it on a small percentage of total firm matters (a small number have reached 40%, while many others struggle to get 10% of matters or partners on board).


At WilmerHale, we faced a similar challenge when we launched our formal LPM program over five years ago.

  • How might we generate lawyer buy-in across all practice areas, offices and impact matters both large and small?

  • How can we generate enthusiasm for matter discipline while avoiding the typical skepticism associated with a “cookie-cutter” approach?

  • Where do you start?

We knew that introducing the right mix of training, tools, and resources, consistent with our culture, was imperative. As with any major change initiative, avoiding early missteps was critical.


Ironically, one of the most significant catalysts for lawyer adoption of LPM services at WilmerHale was also the most deceptively simple tool we introduced – a metric report. The idea was born after a chance meeting with a frustrated partner. He called our attention to a pile of financial reports and spreadsheets he had cribbed together on his desk to manage one of his matters, indicating that none were particularly useful or current. He challenged us in a way that clearly dictated our way forward. He said, “I don’t think you can offer me any help with managing the scope, schedule, and cost of my matters until you can tell me where my matter stands today... TODAY!” We realized that until we eliminated the painful, daily “homework” our lawyers were enduring to gain fresh insight into the activity on their matters, everything else we might provide would fall short. That realization prompted the introduction of a simple metric report, emailed weekly to partners and other lead attorneys to provide a current snapshot of matter activity. Affectionately known as the “Flash Report,” each weekly email provided an uncomplicated view of matter essentials:

  • Who put time on the matter last week and how much?

  • What time has accrued this week so far?

  • What is the value that time, expressed in terms of the client discount or fee arrangement?

  • For each active timekeeper, how many days had they skipped time entry during the past week?

  • Given the current state of time entry, how does the weekly matter “run rate” or “burn” compare with previous weeks?

  • What is the current matter cost since inception, given this week’s activity?

This simple information, arranged as a chart and easily visible in the lawyer’s email queue or on a mobile device, provided timely insight into matter management fundamentals (or the absence thereof) without ever explicitly mentioning concepts like scope, schedule, or budget. At a glance, lawyers could detect surprises or clues into the health of matter activity well before a proforma or pre-bill arrived, including:

  • Is the matter team sized correctly and working the matter at the rate expected?

  • Who is working too hard or not enough?

  • How does this impact matter leverage?

  • How have recent matter events affected the projected cost for the period or phase?

  • Has the matter exceeded established estimates?

  • What is the health of time entry?

  • How might late time entries impact cost projections?

The report was available for any matter through a simple subscription process. Lawyers could also request a daily version of the report to see this week’s activity, day by day. Often shared with a broader audience within the matter team, the report immediately affirmed the matter was either “in control” or created an instant catalyst for something to change. Unlike our legacy dashboards or financial alerts, the Flash Report struck a nerve in ways many of our previous efforts had failed – it conveyed current, indisputable data in a tangible format that lawyers could personally relate to and readily understand, often generating needed action, discussion, or calls for help. In many ways, this report helped open doors for more detailed reporting requests, formal or more detailed budget estimates, or the assignment of Legal Project Managers to cases that needed additional expertise, attention, and daily monitoring. The growing adoption of these LPM services at our firm can be traced back to the power and impact of this simple report.


The key lesson from our experience is that while the success of any firm’s LPM efforts ultimately hinge on having well thought out methodology and processes, training, qualified experts, and the resources to scale with growing demand, overcoming inertia to create positive change in lawyer behavior begins with helping each control what is on their plate today, tomorrow, and the next day. Providing a window into how their daily decisions, direction, and assumptions have a real-time impact on matter cost is a perfect place to start. The Flash Report provided this window in very simple, concrete terms. Week over week, it created fresh opportunities to engage our lawyers with their most pressing issues. Those interactions allowed our team to introduce new LPM services, coach lawyers on LPM fundamentals, reinforce more effective pricing arrangements, generate interest in training, and create new change champions in every practice. These opportunities would have likely never materialized by relying too heavily on training, technology, or rigid processes that created no simple, actionable connection with each lawyer’s personal reality.


Five years later, our Flash Report has matured beyond its original design to incorporate additional metrics and visual appeal. The changes we have introduced reflect the growing appetite for deeper matter insights - a healthy sign that LPM is part of our firm's “DNA.” We have also introduced additional reports and a self-service platform for lawyers to proactively monitor their matters. Despite the growth and sophistication of these offerings, the Flash Report’s primary mission has remained unchanged – to help our lawyers quickly spot and surface needs in real time, allowing our team of pricing and LPM professionals to respond and scale needed support, flexibly tailoring our services to matters large and small. We call this strategy: “Simple, Flexible, Scalable.” Currently, over 3,000 reports are delivered to partners each week, and 86% of U.S. partners receive one or more reports.


Interested in kick-starting your own LPM adoption efforts with a metrics program? Here are a few important considerations:

  • Ensure you have an indisputable, single source of truth for matter metrics. Adoption effort will fail if you can’t present matter status accurately based on sources and definitions accepted by everyone. Consider “in-sourcing” your metrics team and toolset from resources within your organization.

  • Have agility to adapt to changing demands is essential to sustain momentum. Don’t rely exclusively on a “pull” approach. A “push” approach, such as email, creates the window of attention and convenience that lawyers expect. Emails or message notifications also overcome the challenges of introducing another application or forcing attorneys to uncover insights on a firm’s typically crowded intranet.

  • Focus on this week or period, not the past. A lawyer can’t control what has already occurred and is often annoyed by focused detail on past periods.

  • Pilot new reports with a small audience first – be ready and able to respond quickly to feedback received.

  • Above all, keep it simple. While numerous metrics can provide value to lawyers, they can quickly over complicate a report and reduce its value. Some metrics have little to no value based on the practice. Push out what is critical and make it easy for lawyers to pull more information on demand when needed.

The successful adoption of LPM and realizing its full benefits is a journey fraught with uncertainty and surprises. Firms and in-house teams must take a measured approach consistent with their culture and in view of many contemporary challenges. At WilmerHale, we found providing simple, real-time information relevant to any matter generated a willing audience. The proper balance of matter metrics delivered seamlessly to lawyers every week sparked interest and attention to LPM fundamentals in ways that were out of our sight lines or capacity to anticipate. The journey has been exciting and rewarding ever since.


About the Author:

Steven Smith is the Director of Matter Management Services at WilmerHale, an international law firm of 1,000 attorneys with 12 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. In this role, Mr. Smith guides the development, introduction, and continuous improvement of firmwide legal project management and process improvement services, including a team of 30 certified legal project managers. Focused on delivering rapid business value to both attorneys and clients, Mr. Smith has helped to increase client value and improve firm economics, while remaining consistent with firm culture. His efforts were recently recognized by the Financial Times, who named WilmerHale among the top three law firms in North America for new business and service delivery models in its “2018 Innovative Lawyers” list. In 2013, he was nominated by the International Legal Technology Association as Technology Advocate of the Year for introducing a firm-developed matter staffing solution and practice activity dashboard. Within the legal community, Mr. Smith contributes actively at conferences and networking events, including CLOC, LMA P3, ILTA, SOLID, PLI and LawVision LPM and Pricing Roundtables industry conferences. He is PMP and ALPM certified.

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