The Baker Donelson law firm June 25 on its new buiding in the District at Eastwood, not far from where the firm is presently located in northeast Jackson.
“We have a great space now in two buildings that are connected by a walkway,” said Bill Painter, managing shareholder of the Jackson office of Baker Donelson.
“But we wanted all the attorneys in one building together. Additionally, working with Holder Properties, the developer of our new building, One Eastover Center, we were able to participate in the design of the building to be as efficient as possible and to accommodate a floor plan that will provide the flexibility and cost effectiveness required for the law firm of tomorrow.”
Ground breaking is anticipated in July for the five-story building in Eastover that will have the top three floors devoted to Baker Donelson.
“Our goal here is to build the law offices of the 21st century using a contemporary law office design,” Painter said. “There will be a lot more technology, more focus on the individual environment, more interior light and less emphasis on traditional law firm features such as wood walls, long corridors and multiple office sizes.”
Those concepts mirror the company’s mission and image since it has begun operation in Jackson and the way the company has operated in Jackson and in 20 other Baker Donelson offices across the country. The way it has pioneered the management of legal projects has also been adopted at law firms throughout the country.
“We are on the cutting edge in the legal profession in a number of areas, including legal project management,” said Painter. “We are one of the leaders in the profession in this area. The head of our office of legal project management, David Rueff, has co-authored the definitive book on this issue for the American Bar Association. We have a patent pending system for legal project management we call BakerManage.
The whole idea is to be more efficient and cost effective in the delivery of legal services using traditional project management principles applied to what lawyers do.”
Painter said BakerManage is a much more disciplined way of undertaking a legal engagement that involves being more efficient delivering legal services through highly effective communication with a client, tracking the budget and managing the process in a much more proactive way.
“For a lot of lawyers, this is new stuff, but more and more law firms are getting interested in it,” Painter said. “We started to look at this issue four years ago. Now we are basically training other law firms in these techniques. David teaches this at the Mississippi School of Law, and speaks about it around the country.”
Rueff, a shareholder and the firm’s project manager for the Jackson office of Baker Donelson, co-authored with Susan Raridon Lambreth the book, The Power of Legal Project Management, A Practical Guide, published by the ABA in 2014.
“In 2008 to 2010, there was a big shift in the marketplace,” Rueff said. “Corporate clients were feeling budgeting pressures, and those pressures trickled downhill to counsel. Corporations were looking for ways to get better predictability such as alternative fees. Our firm identified legal practice management as a way for us to better estimate the cost of legal services by doing a much more thorough analysis, developing relative budgets for alternative fees and then managing to that budget.”
At the time, there were no tools or guidelines for implementing legal practice management in law firm environments. So, in 2010, they did an analysis of traditional project management in construction to see how it would work in the legal world.
“We realized we had to come up with something unique for legal practice management, so we came up with a process called BakerManage,” Rueff said. “In 2011 Baker Donelson was the first firm in the U.S. to create and implement legal practice management principles. As we went through that process, we realized that it should be used not just in fixed fee arrangement where the firm’s dollar was at risk, but that it also needed to be implemented in hourly billed rates to be more efficient.”
Rueff said BakerManage helps the firm create resources that allow their attorneys to do a better job practicing law.
“It involves a much more thorough plan of the case that is verified with the client and legal team,” he said. “That evolves into a budget for the case and then that budget gives clients an expectation of what their spend is going to be. Attorneys have been doing budgets for years, but have not had the tools to manage those budgets.
Rueff worked with the firm’s technology management office to develop the technology used to implement BakerManage. Microsoft Sharepoint is the platform they built it on.
In 2012, the International Legal Technology Association gave Baker Donelson a Project of the Year award for the implementation of a legal project management office and development of BakerManage.
Rueff said it is highly significant that Baker Donelson is able to provide this service without any cost to the client.
“Additionally, the costs for Microsoft Sharepoint are also not charged to the client,” Rueff said.
“I think that is very innovative and a huge credit to the firm’s management to provide tools to improve communication and management of the case without charging clients for it.”
Lawyers for the past 40 years have billed principally by the hour.
“But we are finding many of our clients want alternative pricing strategies, such as fixed fee engagements, or blended fee engagements or other types of pricing structures,” Painter said. “We have an entire pricing team working on alternative pricing to be more efficient and cost effective for our clients. It also requires that we be more efficient. I compare alternative pricing for legal services to building a house. You go to a contractor and tell him you want to build a house. Do you cost plus? A fixed fee? A not to exceed price? Or some other kind of approach? It doesn’t matter to us. We will build this house to your plans.”
Baker Donelson is the 110th largest law firm in the country, and the largest firm in Mississippi regarding the total number of attorneys in the firm, 700, and the second largest in the state based on number of lawyers in the state, 80. There are 160 support staff in Jackson, as well. Fortune magazine has named the firm one of the Top 100 Places to Work in the country. Only three law firms are on that list and Baker Donelson is the top law firm.
Tricia Stevens Smith, Jackson office administrator, said there are many factors that go into the firm wide award as one of the Top 100 Places To Work. Smith said one factor is that employees focus on supporting each other and working together to reach the goal of giving the best service they can to their clients.
The Jackson office of Baker Donelson does public policy work including representing state and local governmental authorities and agencies. It is involved in a lot of bond financing activity. It also does extensive work in tax law, health care, transportation, environment, white-collar crime, construction and anti-trust work.
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