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New tool to manage, bill legal projects

With the fluctuating economy and more stringent regulations, law firms and company legal departments are facing increasing pressure and challenges. Some are developing programs to make legal services more efficient and cost effective. For example, the multi-state Baker Donelson firm is a pioneer in this field with the development of a Legal Project Management Office, which has been patented and won a prestigious award.

“The concept for Legal Project Management started percolating around 2007,” says David A. Rueff Jr., shareholder and LPM officer at Baker Donelson. “With the dramatic change in the economy, clients are under more oversight and have less ability to pay for outside legal counsel; they want more controls now.”
With the traditional method of billing for legal services by the hour, law firms created budgets but rarely used them as a management tool. “Many times law firms had to go back and ask clients for more money,” Rueff said. “In 2010, we realized the need to have a method to manage legal matters with more efficiency, predicability and transparency, and to promote improved communication with our clients. Part of that is communicating more thoroughly to clients the risks we see and give them more detailed budgets of what we will do and who will do it.”

The firm initially looked for a tool that could be implemented to accomplish these objectives, but could not find anything on the market to fit their needs.

“We were previously involved in large legal projects which involved project managers, and we recognized the value of that skill. We investigated traditional techniques but found that many of them were too cumbersome for lawyers to integrate into their practices,” he said.

As a result, Baker Donelson went to work over a period of three months to develop a project management method that was designed for the practice of law — that is legal project management. “We developed a step-by-step process to help our lawyers perform more thorough planning of legal matters, execute on the plan and close the matter with a client,” Rueff added.

The result was BakerManage. In 2011, after implementing and refining the process, the firm made a patent application for the process and technology which was developed by the firm to facilitate the process.
In 2012, Baker Donelson’s LPM Initiative and system was the recipient of the Distinguished Peer Award, Project of the Year from the International Legal Technology Association.

The firm is finding that the LPM Office delivers many dividends, including better internal communication and imbuing clients with more confidence in the lawyers. “It helps us look for more ways to deliver services,” Rueff said. “With the project plan, we identify risks and potential issues that may develop. It’s a great management tool. We’re trying to be more efficient and won’t ask clients to pay for that.”

Furthermore, Baker Donelson is using technology to make the concept available to clients, including key dates, what the firm has spent and progress updates. “It gives us the ability to communicate that information, and we’ve found it gives in-house counsel trust in the way we’re handling cases,” Rueff says, “We can manage more for clients and we’re getting positive feedback from them.”

The firm’s LPM office has five employees dedicated to implement the system with part of that being training all lawyers to use the system. Twice each year Rueff attends the Legal Project Management Roundtable. He’s seen the group grow from 10 participants to 30. It’s valuable to him because he learns how other firms are handling project management.

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About Lynn Lofton

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