This post is the second part of a two part interview with Melissa Prince which appeared in the Legal Business Development and Project Management Blog. The interview was conducted by Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett.
Q: In the first part of this post, we talked about the big picture of your approach, and the success it’s produced. Now let’s go into the nuts and bolts, and discuss how the matter management side of your team operates.
A: The matter management team is a small but mighty part of our group. In many ways, it is the glue that holds the group together. Once we agree with clients about pricing, the matter management team takes over and is involved for the rest of the matter. It makes sure we properly track and manage what we’ve agreed to and communicates with the client about what is happening. It also helps drive all of the client technology we are building. It talks to our internal and external clients about what they need and develops the requirements that help our technologists build solutions.
When I came to Ballard Spahr four years ago, many of our interactions with clients centered on the pricing function. That’s why it’s so great that the matter management team now plays a prominent role. Pricing is incredibly important, and once matters are underway, our clients want to know how we deliver on what we agreed to. If we don’t engage in matter management, costs quickly escalate. This can jeopardize client relationships and affect the firm’s bottom line.
Q: That’s very interesting. As you may remember, several years ago we interviewed 15 LPM Directors, including you, about how their job was defined. At that time, most spent more time on setting prices for new matters than on managing the work to help assure that lawyers stayed within these budgets. We concluded that (p. 298 in the fourth edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide), “in our opinion, improving the management of existing matters would lead to a faster financial return [than improved pricing].”
A: I completed your Certified Legal Project Manager® program and received tremendous benefit from it. I agree that matter management is absolutely essential.
Ballard Spahr has a requirement that attorneys must submit budgets for the majority of their matters when we open them. This requirement encourages us to take a disciplined approach to managing our matters from day one. The budgets go into our matter management application, which gives our attorneys real-time access to the matter to see budget-to-actual information. One of the challenges we face, however, is that budgets are iterative and often change over time. This is where the matter management team comes in. It takes an active role in working with our attorneys on updating budgets, setting up phase and task codes that track budgets, monitoring, reporting on, and actively managing ongoing matters. The team helps attorneys proactively address with clients out-of-scope issues that may arise.
Q: The function of the value-based pricing team seems obvious from the title. Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: The pricing team plays a crucial role in our department and is often involved with matters before they come in. The team works with our attorneys to identify the diverse team members who will be responsible for working on the matter or matters and to model several pricing options from which clients can choose. During the RFP process, team members are often also involved in communicating the benefits of our program to clients and demoing our Ballard360 client technology.
Q: What about the data management part of the team?
A: Our data management team is busy right now working on an enterprise data warehouse that combines all of the firm’s data and stores them in one place. One of the challenges clients and law firms have is that we collect a lot of data that go unused or are difficult to use. The data warehouse combines and normalizes data from all firm applications and many of our vendor applications. Having the data warehouse helps us build dashboards with more sophisticated reporting and data analysis capabilities. Our goal is to move away from simply providing our clients with data and having the conversation end there. We want to be seen as a strategic partner to our clients. That means using data analytics and information we’ve gained on client and industry trends to make recommendations regarding how clients should approach business issues and manage client matters. In 2020, we also will focus more heavily on how we can incorporate more artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into this process.
Q: And what about the practice technology team?
A: Our practice technology team is an interesting group because it includes IT Developers and Legal Solutions Architects, who are trained lawyer technologists. The Developers help us start conversations with our clients about what they want in terms of technology, and then build and implement that technology. We follow an iterative process that we constantly modify and improve based on feedback obtained from clients. Current projects include client extranets, document automation, case management, and financial and knowledge management dashboards.
Q: Do the four teams work together?
A: Absolutely! It’s essential. The key is having constant conversations and interactions with one another so that we are all rowing the same direction and share the same vision for how to get there. Having team members who are focused on different aspects of pricing, matter management, data, and client technology is extremely valuable. Suppose there’s a complex commercial litigation matter that requires an annual fixed fee with a collar. It’s unlikely that the IT developers or data people are going to understand the way the matter needs to be priced, set up, or managed, but other members of the team do. Once the matter is in the door, and is up and running, then the data and technology teams step in to help us implement Ballard360 technology for the client that delivers cost-effectiveness, value, and efficiency. Having a diverse team that works together so closely is how we move the needle to quickly and proactively support our clients and address issues that arise.
Q: Can you give me another example of this collaboration?
A: We’re now using client portals to manage our real estate transactional work. We build an extranet site for each new matter, upload the tasks that will be required, and use a color-coding system to manage the tasks related to the matter. This allows the Ballard team, the client, the borrower, and third parties to communicate and exchange documents and information relating to the matter. It’s an extremely efficient, cost-effective, and interactive way to manage deals.
Q: Has your view of LPM changed as you’ve worked with this group over the last few years?
A: My view of LPM has definitely evolved over the years. When I first started doing LPM, my primary focus was scoping, budgeting, and budget-to-actual reporting. I then started to focus on process improvement efforts. Now, we do both, but we’ve incorporated a focus on using technology and data analytics to manage our matters. I view LPM as a tool kit you use to manage matters. Some matters need all the tools we have to offer, while others need only one or two.
Q: You referred to the matter management subgroup as “the brains behind the entire client-value innovation function.” Would you say they are the most important piece of the puzzle?
A: LPM is definitely important, but it’s just one of the ways our team provides value to clients. Each person’s role on the team is important, and the team is doing amazing things. I am excited to see where we go in the next year or two.
Q: Where do you predict you will be focusing most of your energy and resources in the next year or two?
A: The team’s importance is growing because what we are doing is so vital to clients. We may need to continue to grow or borrow resources at the firm to support this demand in a strategic way. We’re also doing great stuff with technology, and the team’s work is paying off. What we are doing next year at this time will probably look completely different. More to come!