Itkowitz PLLC Legal Project Management

Philadelphia Skyline

Backstory

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.
LEGAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN ACTION IN A BUSY BOUTIQUE 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. 

No LPM

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.
[ATTORNEY FIGURING OUT HOW CLIENT MAKES MONEY, WHAT’S CLIENT’S BUSINESS MODEL?]
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. 
[ATTORNEY TRYING TO ASCERTAIN C’S REAL NEEDS AND GOALS.]
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…
[ATTORNEY ACCESSING NEED TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO LITIGATION.]
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. 
[ATTORNEY WANTS TO KNOW WHO THE PLAYERS INVOLVED ARE, A DOESN’T JUST ASSUME IT’S WHO IS ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE.]
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.



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