Itkowitz PLLC Legal Project Management

Philadelphia Skyline

Legal Project Management -- Introduction and Definition

Project Management is classically the stuff of manufacturing, construction, technology development, and other fields.  When project management principles are imposed upon the practice of law, you get Legal Project Management.
The definition that we have developed at Itkowitz PLLC for Legal Project Management is: 

Why don't more lawyers utilize Legal Project Management?  Your guess is as good as mine, at this point.  The below graphic takes a stab at figuring it out.


Why LPM is a Better Way for Lawyers and Clients to Work Together

Legal Project Management (“LPM”) is a better way for lawyers and clients to work together, as compared with the vast dynamic that exists between attorneys and their clients as I write this in late 2013. 

In what I call “the old school model of delivery of legal services” (see below graphic), because initial assessment is expensive, lawyers tend to do less of it.  Less in-depth initial assessment necessarily leads to a lawyer and a client with a lesser understanding of the issues in the case, and a lesser understanding of the meaningful choices that exist.  Less in-depth initial assessment also means that more of the assessment is done simultaneously with the execution, and, thus:

• things take longer
• there are more surprises
• it is harder to meet deadlines, and
• it is harder to stay within a budget. 

Further, because the client was offered less choice, he has a smaller role in deciding on a course of action.  Therefore, the client accepts less responsibility for the ultimate outcome of such action.  If the outcome is not one expected by and/or welcomed by the client, then tension develops between lawyer and client.  Under the old-school approach, the client becomes a necessary evil, gets updates grudgingly, and is not viewed as a partner in the legal project. 

In Itkowitz PLLC’s Legal Project Management system, the case is comprehended as a series of manageable stages (or “Scopes of Work”)  For each Scope of Work there is a cycle of:

• Assessment
• Client Choice
• Execution, and
• Outcome. 

After an Outcome is reached, the information gathered during the Scope of Work feeds right back into the next stage of the case, and Assessment begins all over again for the next Scope of Work.

With Legal Project Management (see below graphic), the Assessment phase is in-depth.  By focusing the client and the firm on information gathering, risk assessment, and critical thinking from the inception of each stage, the client is better able to make choices.  Thereafter, in the execution phase there is more room for allocating resources, budgeting, cost control, and deadline management.  The client is, thereafter, not surprised by the outcome of the Scope of Work and owns the results, because the client is making educated, informed choices.  Again, after an Outcome is reached, the information gathered during the Scope of Work feeds right back into the next stage of the case, and Assessment begins all over again for the next Scope of Work. With the Legal Project Management approach, there is communication at every phase, and lots of client involvement.


Principals of Legal Project Management

How does LPM work specifically?  For Itkowitz PLLC, Legal Project Management is a unique, systematic, and stimulating approach to practicing law that stresses heightened attention to the following: 

We seek to attain a deep understanding of your business model and your legal matter.

We constantly seek to clarify your goals for the engagement, even as they evolve.  We document and circulate those goals in a project charter.

Every significant project needs a Project Charter.  And your litigation is a significant project.  Your case is of vital importance to you, you are spending a lot of money on it, it is complex, and there are many people involved both on the client side and on the firm side.  Therefore, your case deserves a Project Charter to keep the lawyer-client project team focused on success.  At Itkowitz PLLC the Project Charter is expressed through a series of “Legal Project Management Letters”.

We communicate with you frequently and preemptively, in a variety of ways, and with absolute clarity. 

Scheduling and management of deadlines is one of the most difficult things we do as lawyers.

We provide you with realistic cost estimates and discounted and capped fees, if appropriate.
Around here – we think.  That is the core of what we do. 

We help you to identify, assess, and prioritize risks in your case, and then coordinate resources to minimize and monitor the probability and/or impact of bad events.

The eight concepts listed above are covered by the next eight chapters of this book.  In the next sub-chapter, we describe the widening acceptance of LPM in the legal profession.


The Legal Profession is Recognizing the Indispensable Role of Legal Project Management

The New York City Bar Association has recognized the indispensable role that Legal Project Management plays in the modern practice of law.  That's why they included a session on the topic in their July 24, 2013 16-Hour CLE entitled "Bridge-the-Gap: Practical Skills, Ethics & More".  The session was called "Effective Project Management Techniques for New Attorneys", and had a seat at the table with the other classes offered that day, including "Introduction to Franchising Law", "Making the Most of Trail Graphics", and "Basic Legal Writing".

I was honored to be on the panel presenting this exciting session with a Senior Manager of Project Management & Pricing for Goodwin Proctor LLP, the president of a top consulting firm that works with large law firms, and the Project Director for Hospital Corporation of America – all thought leaders in the area of LPM.  I believe we put together a truly unique presentation that illuminated Legal Project Management for new lawyers.  Our program was designed to give the attendees practical skills that they could walk out of the session with that day and begin implementing in their practices -- whether they were associates at large firms, had just opened a solo practice, or were somewhere in between.

I taught another CLE on LPM at Lawline in December 2013; highlights in the next blog post. 

Legal Project Management is a way of life at Itkowitz PLLC.  We are constantly studying material on project management, our application of project management to the law evolves with each engagement, and we discuss and write about project management. 
Our Legal Project Management material can be viewed in 3 ways:

• As a free hard copy book.
• On our Legal Project Management Blog as an ever-evolving series of posts at
• As a free PDF E-Book downloadable from our website

In the next sub-chapter, we begin to examine information Gathering.


Michelle Maratto Teaches Lawline CLE on Legal Project Management

On December 8, 2013, Michelle Maratto taught a CLE to 75 people for entitled:  Legal Project Management: A Better Way for Lawyers and Clients to Work Together.  Email Michelle for a complementary link to the program and for free cle credit.

Here are some action shots:



At Itkowitz PLLC we spend a great deal of time at the outset of a matter, typically at little or no charge to the client, gathering all types of information and trying to understand what is really going on.  It is not always so obvious, even when dealing with a very professional and focused client.  Of course, we elicit the hard facts - the names and the dates and the documents.  But there is often so much more that a lawyer needs to understand in order to represent a client well.

Here is a roofer analogy.  If a building owner hired a roofer, certainly one would acknowledge that the roofer needs information before starting to install a new roof on the building.  When was the last time the roof was replaced?  Was the upper structure damaged in some way the roofer should know about?  Is the owner planning to put heavy loads on this new roof, or only normal stressors?  Does the owner want a “Green Roof”?  What is the budget?  Can the building occupants be relocated during the installation, or must they be worked around? 

Too many lawyers jump in and start doing the legal equivalent of replacing the roof before understanding the big picture.  In order to obtain good results for clients in an economical way, lawyers need more than a few hard facts and marching orders from their clients.  Lawyers and clients need a deeper understanding of the overall situation that gives rise to the engagement.  The sooner this understanding is obtained, the better.
Below is part of the materials I prepared for the New York City Bar Association CLE on LPM that I mentioned in the last chapter, and it provides an example of LPM in action in a busy, small law firm.

In order to demonstrate some of the concepts that we are covering today, we are going to dissect two routine, introductory conversations between an attorney and a potential new client in a busy, small firm – one that does not employ LPM concepts, and one that seeks to incorporate LPM methods. 


Client:  I am a book store in Manhattan and my landlord is evicting me.
Attorney: Why?
Client:  My lease expired.
Attorney: Don’t worry.  Come in and give me $10k and I will fight the landlord and keep you in as long as possible.

With LPM

Client:  I am a book store in Manhattan and my landlord is evicting me.
Attorney: Why?
Client:  My lease expired.
A: What type of bookstore are you?
C: We are a wholesale book company, we sell textbooks.
A: Wholesale?  You mean the inventory is there in the store?
C: Yes.
A: No retail, no off-the-street business?
C: No.
A: What is a wholesale business doing paying Manhattan rents?!  If you are essentially a warehouse couldn’t you be located anywhere?  Long Island, for example?
C: Well, not exactly, because what we do is sell more than just books, we sell books as sets, as entire curriculums.  So we have school principals and teachers come in a sit at our tables and wander our shelves for full days, crafting curriculums.  We consult with them as these packages are assembled. 
A: So you feel you need to be in Manhattan?
C: Yes, it’s essential.
A: Business is good?
C: Booming, we are thinking of expanding into adult learning textbooks.
A: Are there parts of your business that you could locate outside of Manhattan to keep the costs down?  Does the entire inventory have to be right there with you?
C: Maybe not, interesting suggestion…
A: Have you begun looking for a new space?  How close are you?  Do you have a broker?
C: Yes, but we haven’t been looking very hard.  I really love this space, and it will be so disruptive to move.  We have been here for years…my dad started this company…
A: How serious is your landlord about displacing you?  Why doesn’t he renew your lease?  Does the Landlord want more money?  Does it make sense for you to pay more money?  Your rent in a new space will be comparable; rents are going up all over Manhattan.
C: Well, the Landlord wants my space for her son’s business.  She seems pretty serious about wanting us out.  I guess I have to get more pro-active about our next move.
A: I can keep you in for a while via litigation, but that costs legal fees.  Of course, I need to see your lease and the correspondence from your Landlord.  I also want to speak to your broker and architect and figure out how long this move will take, then we need to see if we can get the time from the Landlord, in exchange for legal assurances that you will vacate.  If not, you need to plan for the legal fees, which we can estimate. 
A: Are you the only decision maker in your business?
C: I handle most day-to-day stuff, but my brother and his wife are part owners, they may want to be in on this.  I also have my regular business lawyer who doesn’t do the real estate stuff, he is interested in this litigation.
A: Well, I am going to prepare what we call a LPM Letter, where I apprise you of your options, their costs, and their likelihood of each course of action helping to achieve your goals.  Then you can review it with your team and we can go from there.

The Author’s Morning Glories.

What’s the Difference in the LPM Firm?

In the firm that doesn’t approach its work with LPM:
• The Attorney was responding robotically.
• The Attorney was making assumptions about the client’s goals and needs.
• The Attorney provided assurances he probably should not have, without having more facts.
• The Attorney was grabbing a retainer quickly, seeking to protect his chance at a fee.
In the firm that practices using an LPM framework:
• The Attorney was trying to figure out how the client makes money.  Who is this company?
• The Attorney was trying to ascertain the client’s goals and needs.  And trying to get the client to articulate them.
• The Attorney wanted to know who the players are, who her audience is, who the decision makers are. 
• The Attorney was trying to be part of a solution for this client.
• The Attorney was being curious – an important attribute in out profession!

The Case for (and Against) LPM

Why would this dichotomy exist in our profession?  The above example was obviously set up to present the LPM way as more appealing.  Why wouldn’t everyone practice in this way?
In the real and busy world that we all live and work in, why would the experienced lawyer in our first example criticize the way the lawyer in the second example handled the phone call?
He would probably have the following criticisms:
• LPM is more time consuming.
• LPM results in a higher cost of doing business.
• Clients don’t want to think, they want you to solve their problem.
• With LPM, there is a higher chance that litigation will be avoided altogether, lowering the potential legal fee.

Reason LPM Carries the Day

In response to the above criticisms, the follow response is offered:
• Spending more time at the beginning on an engagement on information gathering, understanding who the players are, understanding the client’s business model, goal identification, and having the client’s buy in to the legal approach taken, will cause the matter to proceed more smoothly in the long run.
• Being a better lawyer and business problem solver will inure to the benefit of your career and your pocket book far more over the course of your time at the bar than the quick and easy approach we started by looking at today.
• The LPM way produces a more satisfying way of engaging with clients.  You will enjoy your life more when you engage in this way.


Questions to Ask a New (or Existing) Client That Will Enable You to Better Meet the Client’s Needs

After reading the client’s website, studying what you can find about the client (both good and bad) online, and perhaps calling anyone in your personal network connected with the client’s industry, here are some suggested questions to deepen your understanding of what the client is all about.
Let your curiosity guide you.  If you are wondering about something, it is probably a good question.

Questions to Ask a New (or Existing) Client That Will Enable You to Better Meet the Client’s Needs
(1) What is your business model?  How do you make money?  I see online that you do X.  Is that the bulk of your business?
(2) I see you are in X Industry.  Do you do domestic or international? Retail or wholesale?  What stage of the X process do you focus on – the beginning or the end?
(3) How long have you been in business?
(4) How big is the company? [THIS CAN BE ANSWERED AND FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS REFINED IN MANY WAYS] How many customers, gross sales, in comparison to their competitors, etc.
(5) What is your workforce like?  How many employees do you have?  Do you outsource?
(6) Who are your main competitors and what distinguishes you?
(7) What, in general, are your company’s current problems?  What do you worry about?  What keeps you up at night?  Do you face threats from the economy, from legislation and regulation, from public relations issues?
(8) What are your general plans for the company’s future?
(9) Who are the decision makers in your company?
(10) Are the decision makers at odds with one another?  In other words, does your company have any competing agendas or directions that it would be helpful for me to understand?

Next, are examples of some even deeper questions that we at Itkowitz PLLC will likely seek answers to when representing a new client.

Fundamental Internal Questions A Law Firm Should Ask Itself at the Beginning of an Engagement
(1) What battlefields will the engagement be fought on - in the courts, in an arbitration, in the press?
(2) What is really at stake for this client?  Is this a routine matter, or an existential litigation?
(3) Are there personal as well as business related motivations involved in the case?
(4) What is the back-story between the parties, the history?
(5) What is the client not telling me yet?
(6) What is really going on here?
(7) Why is the firm taking this case?  Are we going to make money?
At many firms (not Itkowitz PLLC), associates’ roles are narrow, and their contact with senior lawyers and clients is so limited that the big picture of the engagement they are working on is obscured from them.  If you are an associate at such a firm and are far removed from the client, because of the structure of your firm -- That’s ok.  In that case, the same spirit of inquiry can still be of value.  Below we suggest ten slightly modified questions about the client and about the partner or associate for whom you work, which can be addressed to the partner or associate at an appropriate time.
Perhaps these questions could be introduced by saying, “In order to do a good job on the assignments you have given me, might I just ask you a few questions about the client and their industry, so that I can get a glimpse of the big picture?”

Ten Questions to Ask the Partner or Senior Associate You are Working with That Will Enable You to Better Meet the Client’s Needs
(1) What is our client’s business model?  How does the client make money?  I see online that they do X. Is that the bulk of the client’s business?
(2) I see the client is in X Industry.  Does it do domestic or international?  Retail or wholesale?  What stage of the X process does the client focus on – the beginning or the end?
(3) How long have you been representing this client?  Do you enjoy it?
(4) How big is the company?  [THIS CAN BE ANSWERED AND FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS REFINED IN MANY WAYS]  How many customers, gross sales, in comparison to their competitors, etc.
(5) What does the client outsource?
(6) Who are the client’s main competitors and what distinguishes the client from them?
(7) What, in general, are the client’s current problems?  Does the client face threats from the economy, from legislation and regulation, from public relations issues?
(8) Where would you suggest that I look to find more information about this industry or this client?
(9) What would you, as a senior lawyer serving this client, want me, a junior lawyer, to know?

(10) What are the client’s goals?


Who are the Players?

Once the backstory is established, it is important to understand all of the players that are involved in the matter, whether those players are immediately apparent or not.
Scenario:  Bob at Law Firm A interfaces with Raj at Client B.  Bob and Raj have a very friendly relationship.  Bob handles Raj’s requests, and Raj is happy with Bob's work.  Bob updates Raj periodically about the matters that Firm A is handling for Client B via brief phone calls or informal emails.  But note that Bob is just one mid-level lawyer at Firm A, and there are many other people at Firm A involved in the actual work to service Client B.  Similarly, while Raj is a mid-level manager at Client B, there are many other decision makers behind Raj at Client B.  In fact, Raj only makes routine decisions.
The Problem:  Bob and Raj are two tips of two icebergs.  To Raj, Bob FEELS like the lawyer.  What is worse is that to Bob, Raj FEELS like the client.  But this is not really the case.  There are many people -- who we like to call "hidden players" -- on each side.  And those people matter.
A New Wrinkle:  Now let us add in that Client B is a large property management firm, representing a building owned by a limited partnership.  Client B brings the partnership to Firm A for an important engagement.
Analysis of What is Wrong with this Picture:  First of all, Client B is not really the client - the partnership is.  What follows is a list of people that the law firm, in this example, should seek to identify and learn as much about as possible:
(1) The property manager, who is Firm B’s contact at "the client".
(2) More senior property managers, who are the contact's superiors.
(3) The real client, namely the partners in the limited partnership.
(4) The people who work for the limited partnership.
(5) The partners’ spouses, siblings or other close advisers.
(6) Future partners, i.e. the next generation of the partnership, if they are imminently on their way in.
(7) General Counsel for the partnership.

Why are we thinking about this?
Too many lawyer-client relationships, even between larger firms and bigger companies, are based on discrete personal relationships between one lawyer at a firm and one contact at the client-company.  From a business development point of view, this might be fine.  But when considering how to best represent a client, a law firm has to consider who all the players, hidden and revealed, are. 
I recently represented a client, a sophisticated business person, in a real estate related litigation.  The matter was well underway when the phone rang.  Who was it?  The client's son, an attorney, someone I had never met, barely heard about, and wasn't even sure that I had authorization from the real client to be speaking to.  Once I confirmed that I was authorized by the client to speak to his son, I gladly did so.  Fortunately, I had sent the client a series of Legal Project Management Letters, a type of communication that we will talk about in a subsequent chapter, and the client’s son knew exactly what was going on.  It was a good starting point for our conversation, and a good reminder that I was being closely watched by more people than just the client.  I like to refer to all the people on our side of a litigation caption who are concerned with our work as our "client audience".
Law often feels like a very personal business, and a lawyer handling the day-to-day aspects of a matter can come to feel like the client audience is one person, i.e. his contact on the end of the phone.  With even the simplest matters, however, that is often not the case.  A lawyer has to first understand that the client audience is filled with people who are giving the matter different degrees of their attention, many of whom may be sitting in the shadows.  The second thing the lawyer has to do is to try to understand as much about the client audience as possible.

A good way to look at your client is as an audience.  When you are on stage, you can only see the people in the first row.  The auditorium is often filled, however, with people many rows back, who you can’t see.  You need to be documenting your work for those hidden players as well as for your main client contact.

We start by simply Googling a new client and everyone attached to them.  Another thing that a lawyer can and should do at the outset of a new relationship when gathering information and trying to figure out who is out there in his client audience, is simply ask the main contact.  A lawyer should not be afraid to ask his client about client’s inner workings.  Who will be making the decisions here?  Will those people be interfacing directly with the firm?  What are they like?  Do I have your permission to communicate directly with corporate counsel?

The big picture matters a great deal, and it is shocking how many attorneys ignore it.  In the next sub-chapter we will explore utilizing all of the Information Gathering we have done to Define the Client's Goals.


Understanding and Defining The Client’s Goals

“I want to sue the board!”  “I want Mr. X deposed!”  “I want to expose her fraud!”  These, and the other statements in the above list of client statements shown in the graphic -- these are NOT goals.  This is ranting.  And most clients do it when they first call their lawyer up, even the pros.  The problem is that all too often, zealous lawyers, especially those who are delighted at the billing opportunity, shoot first and ask the really important questions later.
At Itkowitz PLLC, as part of our Legal Project Management protocols, we work very hard to identify realistic client goals at the outset of a matter, and to make sure that we and the client are in absolute agreement thereon.  Inasmuch as goals sometimes change as a matter unfolds, we seek to make sure that we all remain on the same page.
Sometimes, the goals of an engagement are obvious.  But so often in today's complex world there are so many possible outcomes for a matter, that a lawyer is crazy to make any assumptions about a client's goals and priorities.
I recently got a real estate partnership as a new client.  The principal at the partnership is a very, very smart person, who owns many buildings, and understands real estate litigation.  She gave me a series of cases to work on - commercial tenants, behind in their rent.
My first question -- What is your goal here? Do you want these tenants to get into compliance and pay on time from now on?  Or do you want these spaces back to do something else with?  Or some combination thereof?
Her answer, "Keep the pressure on!"
OK, I said, I am happy to keep the pressure on, but pressure for what?  What are we going after here?
Again, she told me in no uncertain terms, "Keep the pressure on!"
Again I asked what the goals were.  At that point, she seemed annoyed with me. Why couldn't I understand that she wanted me to "keep the pressure on"?
A day later she called back and, as if the first conversation had never happened, and calmly told me that with three of the tenants she wanted them to catch up on payment, and stay caught up, and she had payment plans worked out with them already.  For two others, she wanted the spaces back.  But only one of the two was urgent, because she had something else lined up for the space that was quite imminent.  She and the other tenant had a long relationship, and she wanted to allow them to relocate successfully.
This client is a pro, and gets that a lawyer needs to understand the client's goals.  It just took her a day to focus on, and answer, my question.
The scary thought is how many lawyers fail to ask these questions, and instead just grab the "Keep the Pressure on!" banner and run with it.  When this happens, six months, and six very high legal bills into a representation, the client calls up and asks why the bills are so high.  The lawyer then answers, "Well, you said to keep the pressure on."  This is not a good answer.
But it isn't always a thirst for a billing frenzy that keeps a lawyer from asking questions to discern the client’s goals.  Some lawyers just never really learned how, or somehow do not feel that they have the right to challenge their clients. 
Lawyers need to learn how to talk to clients about client goals.  It is amazing how many clients want to run into the wind and fight an adversary “because of the principal”.  That is, until they get a realistic time and cost estimate for the epic battle they ate planning.

At Itkowitz PLLC we use the Information Gathering steps mentioned in earlier chapters --“Backstory”, “Questions to Ask a Client”, and “Who are the Players?” to help us understand who to have frank conversations with about the client's goals for the engagement, and what factors should be brought into that discussion.  Thereafter, we repeatedly re-confirm client goals in Legal Project Management Letters, which are key tools in our LPM system, which we will discuss in the sub-next chapter.


“Legal Project Management Letters”

Every significant project needs a Project Charter.  And your litigation is a significant project.  Your case is of vital importance to you, you are spending a lot of money on it, it is complex, and there are many people involved both on the client side and on the firm side.  Therefore, your case deserves a Project Charter to keep the lawyer-client project team focused on success.  At Itkowitz PLLC the Project Charter is expressed through a series of “Legal Project Management Letters”.
The best way to describe our Legal Project Management Letters (“LPM Letters”) is as extremely comprehensive case analysis memos (on steroids), directed to the client team.
LPM Letters are prepared at the beginning of an engagement, indeed often before the engagement officially begins, and they are also prepared at every juncture in the case.  Taken together, the series of Legal Project Management Letters form the Project Charter.
A Legal Project Management Letter will Typically Contain the Following Sections:
(1) Facts.  A review of the facts and a synthesis of the "hard" data (such as dates and names, contract provisions, summaries of substantive emails, etc.) with the "soft" information that was elicited in the Information Gathering phase.
(2) Law.  A survey of the law relevant to the case, with particular attention to the elements of each cause of action, so that the client understands exactly what needs to be proven or dis-proven, and who has the burden of proof for each element.
(3) Status.  An update on the exact status of the matter, taking into account the relevant developments since the case came to the firm, and/or the accumulated procedural history.  The Client needs to really understand the procedural posture of the case, even if it is complicated.  We find that clients often like to see a road map - a diagram, showing them where the case has been, where it is now, and what is coming next.  Clients need to know where the detours might be, and where they might lead.  A simple graphic can take the place of, or at least illuminate, pages of text. See the sample graphic at the top of this chapter.
(4) Goals.  A clear restatement of the client’s goals, so that we can be sure that the client and the firm have an identical understanding of what success looks like for the client.  See our earlier chapter on Defining Client's Goals.
(5) Options.  A presentation of available options.  For each option, we provide:
(a) Pros.
(b) Cons.
(c) Time.
(d) Cost.
(e) Risks.
(f) Percentage chance of the option advancing the goals
(6) Out-of-Scope Statement. We define and clarifying the scope of the engagement and explicitly stating what is not being done and why. 
(7) Money.  A frank discussion about the case’s budgetary constraints and of legal fees, and suggestions for fee arrangements that are alternatives to hourly billing.
(8) Communications Plan.  We establish a communications plan.  Especially if there are many people involved in the case at the firm, at corporate counsel, at the client company, etc. 
(9) Recommendation.  A recommendation for a course of action.
Once a client experiences the Legal Project Management way, they are never again satisfied with counsel who merely shoot an email or update them via a phone conference, especially if they are relying upon the advice of other decision makers in their company or family, or if the matter is complex.


A Collaborative Process between Lawyer and Client

The last chapter was about how every significant project needs a Project Charter to keep the lawyer-client project team focused on success.  At Itkowitz PLLC the Project Charter is expressed through a series of “Legal Project Management Letters” (“LPM Letters”), extremely comprehensive case analysis memos directed to the lawyer-client team, which address for the case at that point: the facts, the law, the status, the client goals, current options -- and for each option – the pros, cons, time., cost, risks, and likelihood of the option advancing the goals, what’s out-of-scope, legal fees, a communications plan, legal fees, and a recommendation.
But the firm sending the client an LPM Letter is not the end of the process.  LPM Letters are not static, and drafting them is not one-sided, with the information flowing from only the lawyer to the client.  LPM Letters are designed to involve the client --  To get the client to really think about their options, their chances for success, the resources that need to be brought to the project, etc.
About six months into our launch of the Legal Project Management system at Itkowitz PLLC, a colleague and I spent about a week writing a thirty page LPM letter for a client in the midst of a big litigation.  It was a great letter.  But we got one section very wrong – our restatement of the client’s goals.  The client loved the letter, was happy about the analysis, but was upset by our articulation of his goals.  He thought we were reaching too high, substituting our own hopes for the outcome of the case for his, which were more modest.  What the client’s goals had been at the initiation of the matter were not what the client’s goals have evolved into.  It did not matter if we, as his lawyers, agreed with his scaled back goals, all that mattered was that we understood and honored them.  The client asked me to re-write the letter with his true goals in mind, which I did. 
This back and forth on an LPM Letter is a fascinating process.  Upon completion, there is little doubt that both the lawyers and the clients are all on the same page, and ready for the next step in the litigation.  This is lawyer and client communication and partnership on a completely new level.


Sharing Information with the Client

Other than the detailed and comprehensive Legal Project Management Letter that we discussed in detail in an earlier chapter, there are many natural opportunities for a lawyer to update a client.  For clients for whom we handle multiple matters, we provide a free, weekly or monthly status report on all cases.  But below I share some less intuitive examples of opportunities for client communication.
Recently, I was asked to compete with another law firm for a client account.  One of the tasks that I had to do, in order to render the client an opinion as to the merits of its case, was to do Freedom of Information Law Requests at various New York City administrative agencies.  Each request unearthed a ton of paper -- four reams of paper from one agency alone.  On top of that, the client also sent me the hard copy of a closing binder that was another four reams of paper.  My office, of course, scanned and coded all of the documents.  And I went to work on it.  I completed an analysis for the client, which annexed several key documents as exhibits; needles in the haystack of paper.  I wanted the client to have access to ALL of the documents, which, after all, he had paid for.  Therefore, I had my tech staff upload all of the documents onto a password-protected online platform that allows us to host large documents and share them with our clients. 
For a moment, I thought wistfully - now the client will give access to all of this paper I amassed and organized to the competitor firm, and they will get the benefit of me having put all this information conveniently together in one spot.  But there is never a downside to sharing information freely and conveniently.  We live in an era where you do not get ahead by restricting access to important information.  Rather, you get ahead by being a steward of information, and helping your client and all their advisors have easy access to it.  Honestly, I have no idea if the client ever gave the other firm access, because he hired us. 
Here is another story.  I am often responsible for commencing new lawsuits, and I train and supervise a team of in-house New York State licensed process servers.  These servers are equipped with (Global Positioning Satellite) GPS technology that records where they are when they serve papers.  The process servers are also trained to take photographs of where they are when they serve process.  With each attempt at process service, even if the attempt is unsuccessful, I send my clients a report on the attempt, a screen shot of the GPS confirmation that the server was where she said she would be, and pictures.  Recently, I sent a client who was eagerly waiting for a litigation target to be served, a picture of the service target -- with the papers in his hand…the guy was not smiling!  But the client undoubtedly enjoyed being a part of the process and understanding what and how we were advancing his goals.


A "Fighting Chance" -- More Lessons in Client Communication

In May 20, 2013, I attended an excellent online seminar where the instructor asked a virtual classroom full of attorneys to ascribe a percentage likelihood of success to the words "fighting chance".  In other words, if a lawyer told you that you had a "fighting chance of winning" what percentage of winning would you think you had? The fascinating online results poll revealed (and remember these are attorneys answering these questions) that a quarter of the audience thought that a "fighting chance of winning" meant a 75% chance or better of winning.  Half of the audience thought that "a fighting chance of winning" meant between a 25% and a 75% chance of winning.  And the final quarter of the audience thought that a "fighting chance of winning" meant only a 25% chance or less of winning.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "a fighting chance" is, "a chance that may be realized by a struggle."  Which is not very much help.  Because depending on the context that the phrase is used in, the tone of voice of the lawyer saying it, and the hopes and needs of the client-listener -- "a fighting chance" can mean almost anything to anybody.

This is why I speak to clients in terms of numerical percentages.

Colleagues have criticized me, asking, "Michelle, how can you know that the client has a 35% likelihood of winning the motion?"  The answer is that after 20 years of experience, consulting with the other lawyers in my firm, considering the history of the case, and researching the judge's general disposition to similar issues -- 35% is my best guess.

In any event, "a 35% likelihood of winning the motion" is simply CLEARER than "a fighting chance of winning the motion."  "A fighting chance" can mean lots of things to lots of people.  But "35%" means about one time out of 3 times, to EVERYBODY!

However...what a client does with the information that they have a one in three chance, is up to the client.  Which is where the decision making belongs - with the client. 

Let's look at the problem from the after-the-fact angle.  The lawyer tells the client that he has a 35% chance of winning the motion, if the client decides to make the motion.  The lawyer also tells the client about the cost of making the motion, the time frame, other pros and cons, and, of course, his alternatives to making the motion.  The client takes all the information, consults with his team, thinks about it, and decides to make the motion.  Then the motion gets made...and lost. 

Let's consider the conversation between lawyer and client after the loss.  If the lawyer had told the client, "You have a fighting chance of winning the motion...", the client may very well end up saying to the lawyer (indignantly), "But you told me we had a fighting chance!"  On the other hand if the lawyer told the client, "You have a 35% chance of winning the motion...", what can the client say then?  "But you told me I had a one in three chance of winning!"  Yeah...and you lost, which you had a two out of three chance of doing!

This is not about a lawyer covering himself with the client.  This is about communication.  This is about clear and precise communication.  This is also about analysis.  Frankly, when a lawyer and his firm colleagues force themselves to think in terms of percentages, rather than in terms of emotionally charged language, they too often end up seeing the case in a clearer light.


Meetings the Legal Project Management Way

People hate meetings.  So in the last few years, a lot has been written about how companies can have fewer meetings.  But the have-less-meetings movement is going the way of the do-my-job-from-home movement, it doesn't really work.  Sorry.
You need to have meetings in your law firm for the same reason you need to, perish the thought, actually be at work.  And that reason is because people need  To lay aside other business, to come together at a specific time, face to face, and interact with one another for the purpose of dealing with a certain issue.  That's how things get done.

Client meetings, especially, are a lost art.  You might have written voluminous sets of winning papers for your client and conducted many brilliant oral arguments.  But maybe your client doesn’t really read the papers and never comes to court.  The main way that many clients experience their lawyers is in meetings with them.  Such meetings should leave the client feeling like he is getting what he’s paying for.
Moreover, don’t you ever get tired of just getting through the day?  Don’t just tolerate another meeting.  Embrace it, and get something out of it.  A meeting is an opportunity, not a chore.
Instead of having fewer meetings, let's have much better meetings.  There is a Legal Project Management way to have a meeting, which I describe below.
(1) Agenda.
Make an agenda and send it around ahead of time with a meeting confirmation.

"Karen, confirming that we are meeting on Monday, June 10 at my office at 305 Broadway, 7th floor, at 2:00 pm.  Here is my cell number in case something changes.  I took the liberty of creating an agenda for the meeting.  Let me know if you would like to add something."

Include in the agenda that you want to re-confirm the client’s goals.
(2) Be Prepared.
Be prepared.  Making the agenda helps me to prepare for the meeting.  I go to the electronic file and re-read recent things -- emails, court documents, and foundational things - like the lease or the contract.
Readiness is all.  Treat the meeting like you would a court appearance, or something you consider really important.
Have the things that you need – such as copies for everyone of a key document.
(3) Be on Time.
Be on time.  Being late says to the world, "The hell with you, my time is more valuable than yours, so I think I will waste yours and you can sit here and wait on me."  It’s terrible.
(4) Alert your Receptionist.
If someone is coming to your office to meet with you, tell the receptionist who you are expecting. That way he can say, “Hello Ms. Nyberg, Michelle has been expecting you."
(5) Tea.
Hospitality is important even in the smallest of meetings.  At the very least, always have bottled water there.
(6) Absolutely No Personal Tech in Meetings.
Don't take calls or look at your device or have beeps going off.
(7) Set the Tone.
Open the meeting boldly and set the tone.  With clients I always go with some version of, "OK we are here to work let’s dig in."
This is one way in which the “opportunity” mentioned above comes in.  This is your opportunity to be a leader.  And it’s your opportunity to get something done.  Seize it.
(8) Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room.
Acknowledge the elephant in the room.  There usually is one.  Usually it has to do with money.  But it could have to do with anything – a weakness in the case, a conflict between decision makers, etc.
Do NOT dance around the tough stuff.  You are a lawyer, a grown up.  Deal with whatever it is – head on.
(9) Stick to the Agenda.
Stick to the agenda.  You made it for a reason.  Try not to get too far off track.  And save the small talk for the end.
(10) Use Visuals.
Make handouts, a PowerPoint, or bring in a mark and wipe board with dry erase colors (don’t forget the eraser).  Looking at things together, or better yet creating things together (I love the mark-n-wipe), is a good way to work effectively.
(11) Take Notes.
Take notes even if it isn’t required.  It keeps you focused.  And it keeps you from forgetting things.
(12) Listen and Be Gracious.
There are libraries written on the art of actually listening to another human being.  For purposes of this short article, I would simply suggest practicing the following skill.  When someone says something complicated or important, say, “I am hearing that you are saying [repeat what they said back to them in your own words].  Is that correct?”  Be gracious.  Give the speaker your attention.  Even if you hate them and they bore you.  Treat others in the way that you would want to be treated.
(13) Action Plan Conclusion.
Make an action plan toward the end of the meeting.  What is the main take away, what did we accomplish?  Who is doing what and by when?
(14) Transcribe a Record of the Meeting Immediately After.
As soon as the meeting is over, go sit down and type up your notes into a meeting follow up email memo that gets saved to the file and preferably shared with the client if applicable.  Include in the memo who has been assigned to do what by when.  This is very important step and easy to leave off.
(15) Clean Up After.
After the meeting, straighten the chairs.  Carry out from the meeting room whatever garbage you created and whatever else you can carry.  Even if it is not your job to do so.


Go to older posts

Copyright by Itkowitz PLLC.

Sitemap   |   Disclaimer