US lawyers work on average 2,3 hours each day on billable work according to the 2017 Legal Trends Report by Clio. This leaves them with around six hours each day of non-billable work. According to the report, half of this time focused on non-billable work is spent on administration and a third on new business generation. This is what law firms struggle with the most.
But with the latest technology tools and improved project management capabilities, legal practitioners can easily overcome these challenges. Today, Legal project management (LPM) is firmly established in the legal market and continues to grow as law firms and in-house counsel see its value in helping them to solve their constant “more for less” dilemma: providing more services and better tailored legal advice for less costs.
The AIJA Seminar “How to effectively manage a legal business (of tomorrow)?” will seek to offer further insights into legal project management and the necessary tools to effectively manage a business from 28-30 June in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ahead of the Seminar, we asked the Chair of the AIJA Organising Committee - Dr. Orsolya GÖRGÉNYI, Partner at Szecskay Attorneys at Law, and the Seminar trainer – Marion Ehmann, ICF-cert. coach (PCC), IILPM-cert. Legal Project Practitioner, about the importance of legal project management tools in a legal business.
Q1: What are the challenges of the legal profession? How can LPM tools help?
Orsolya GÖRGÉNYI: We often tend to focus on LegalTech, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), and lose sight of the bigger picture. Law firms face more basic challenges than that as we all can imagine. As lawyers, we seem to believe that we are special, and the rules of business, marketing, or the rules of gravity for that matter do not apply to us. Ethical standards differentiate lawyers from other businesses, and lawyers have a duty to the overall society and the administration of justice, but after all, law is a business -...and should be run as a business!
In any business, project management is key. Clients want Quick Solutions (possibly upon pushing a button on their smartphones!) - at Predictable Prices, Communicated in a Client-Centred way! They will drive law firms to achieve this. This can be done by adopting new technologies or simply by adopting new processes and skills, becoming better at managing legal projects. Project management and the use of efficiency tools that focus on billing, time management and customer relations have been a reasonable business practice in other industries for decades. However - while we are busy discussing about the potential use of AI in legal services, most law firms have not even solved their most basic software needs.
Q2: What are the main challenges in adopting LPM tools?
Marion EHMANN: Getting lawyers to change the way they work. Way too many lawyers cling to “the way we have always done things”, even the younger ones. But the old ways are no longer working under changed market conditions – what got you here will not get you there. The antidote to this problem is to start with a few small changes that create early wins in efficiency or profitability. Those early wins will make you curious and hungry to add some more tools.
Q3: How can LPM be an effective tool for legal businesses?
Marion EHMANN: LPM helps lawyers to increase client value and establish close client relationships and thereby achieve their business goals. LPM provides a toolbox to successfully scope projects, engage stakeholders, lead successful teams, plan tasks, draft budgets or fixed fee proposals and manage the work within such budget, track progress and manage risks.
If the atmosphere at a firm is change-averse, it is in my experience a good idea to start training some ambassadors or a pilot group and let them then showcase their results to their colleagues. Soon ears will perk up. I remember for example a series of trainings I did at a law firm where the CFO casually remarked “I know which projects are staffed by people who did the LPM training, because there the write-offs are lower”. That certainly got people´s attention.
Orsolya GÖRGÉNYI: Soft skills, "the Human Factor" is essential now, when smart and intelligent software can perform the "commodity work" of - not only junior – but all lawyers. In the future, lexical knowledge will no longer be important, and soft skills will gain importance. Clients will always value a "trusted board room advisor". Therefore, it is very important to develop soft skills for lawyers. The AIJA SCILL (Skills, Career, Innovation, Leadership &Learning) Commission is organising its next law practice management seminar in Sofia at the end of June entirely dedicated to Legal Project Management. It is a toolbox of practical and soft skills for managing legal matters, which helps lawyers to increase client value (“more for less”) and establish close client relationships.
Q4: What does an effective legal business look like in the future?
Marion EHMANN: Legal businesses that want to survive and thrive under today´s and tomorrow`s market conditions need to become more client-centred. We have been operating as experts in an ivory tower for far too long, when in fact being a lawyer means working in a service profession. Our clients come to us with a certain need and they want us to take care of it. The need usually boils down to ‘peace of mind’, whether it is a business transaction, family law issues, tax disputes or a social insurance case or what have you. Giving clients that peace of mind requires certain professional skills on top of legal skills – skills that we sometimes call “soft”, which is a misnomer since they can be hard to muster. Besides, the legal businesses of tomorrow will have to adjust to the fact that AI-based tools will take over part of our work (e.g. research, review of documents), so lawyers need to focus on the client-serving aspects of our profession to stay in business. Tools sets such as Legal Project Management and Legal Design Thinking can help us with that.
To register, please visit the dedicated event web page. See you in Sofia!