When Law Firm Management Seems Complex & Uncertain, Start Listening To Your Clients

Because the law, itself, takes so long to change, it’s not surprising that attorneys often resist change in their practice of law.

Take, for example, the complex attorney-client relationship.

The relationship depends, in part, on the attorney’s expert knowledge of the convoluted court system through which the client, flush with problems and cash, needs to navigate.

The system whereby an attorney uses legalese and unnecessary legal jargon to explain litigation matters relating to a client’s business (one where the client nods along in feigned understanding) is age-old.

Why change?

With this in mind, the following story by Otto Sorts about attorney-client interaction seemed laughably familiar:

“Early in my law career, I had a conversation with a client that convinced me of its merits. He was quite a bit older than me, and had originally trained as an engineer. After we discussed his complaint and shifted to focus on the arrangements, he asked for a schedule. I began my usual uncomfortable explanation about the vagaries of the process and the complex nature of litigation, how it depended on the judge, opposing counsel and other uncertainties in the case.”

How many times does an attorney have to explain the process of a docket, court schedule, and fickle whims of its judges to a concerned client? A schedule just isn’t an easy work product to create.

Or is it?

“After a long silence, he shook his head, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Son, that’s just plain bullshit. Life itself is complex and uncertain, but we live it every day, anyway.’ Then he took me to school on how to think about the work to create a rough schedule—and manage the damn project.”

Otto Sorts then goes on to explain the basic flow-chart necessary to manage any project. You can read more in his article here.

Proper project management is essential for a law firm to retain clients, win cases, and earn a profit.

However, more than that, clarity and understanding between an attorney and his client is key to success.

During a time when more and more clients are asking for transparency in law firm billing and suing firms for fraudulent charges, law firms now, more than ever, must open up communication channels between the practice and the people represented by it.

The recession has eliminated any professional and personal trust that once existed between counsel and client.

Instead, garner confidence by giving clients exactly what they asked for: more productive hours, transparent invoicing, a checklist of work product accomplished, and—oh yeah—a schedule that details what tasks have been completed and ones still pending, and why.

The above seems obvious.

But, so does (1) Define the project, (2) Identify the steps, and (3) Find the interconnections and chronology for each step, which are the first three points for Otto Sorts’ project management flow chart. Still, so many firms miss deadlines or misappropriate work by not following these simple procedures.

Sometimes “make a change” can mean “return to the fundamentals” of running a law firm—people and project management.

So after your accountants crunch the numbers, administrators train the staff, and managers assign the case-matters, if your law firm still comes up short, go back to the basics. And listen to your clients.

-WB

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