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Legal Project Management, Pricing and Alternative Fee Arrangements: A Book Review

This book, as titled above, is written by Jim Hassett, founder of the LegalBizDev consultancy.  Jim has provided consultancy services to the U.S legal profession for many years and has a well established blog covering legal project management (LPM).  Diligent readers of Jim’s blog will already be familiar with much of the material presented in this book, but the book is no less valuable for that.  Apart from the convenience of having material about LPM and pricing collected together in one place, there is much to commend this book.

The book is peppered throughout with reference U.S legal market survey results from various sources.  Thus the proposed direction of travel – increased usage of LPM techniques to support innovative pricing arrangements  – is clearly backed-up by market data and insight.  Jim notes that there are no simple answers to many of the issues raised by lawyers when considering pricing strategies and LPM, hence the book is intended to be ‘a snapshot in time of what lawyers at other firms are doing to adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.’

The book is made up of 13 chapters which are broadly structured into four parts: a discussion about the changing nature of the legal profession (with the focus firmly on the U.S legal services market, thus setting the tone for the rest of the book); more specific discussion about LPM, including case studies; pricing of legal services (pricing theory and current practice in U.S law firms) and two closing chapters concerning implementation advice.  Jim suggests that readers need not try to read the book in sequential order, from start to finish as ‘lawyers find themselves in very different places with regard to this changing marketplace, and different chapters in this book will be most valuable to different lawyers.’

It follows the book is aimed squarely at lawyers and it contains plenty of quotes from U.S. lawyers explaining how, in general terms, they are implementing LPM.  As Jim notes, there are lots of aspects to LPM and different law firms are emphasizing those aspects which they feel have particular relevance to their practice.  This makes sense, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ LPM methodology.  There are obviously core concepts, which are set out in the book, but how firms go about applying those concepts differ, reflecting each firm’s market position and project management capability.

Most of the book is devoted to pricing.  Chapter six begins the pricing section by setting out basic models of pricing theory while subsequent chapters deal with topics such as ‘how law firms are changing their pricing’ and ‘using AFA’s to develop new businesses’.  As with the section of the book devoted to LPM, newcomers to the topic will find much of interest and all should welcome the synthesis and overview describing what is going on in the U.S legal industry regards pricing generally, and alternative fee arrangements (AFA’s) in particular.

Chapter 13 ends the book by listing ten recommendations, based on ‘what successful law firms have learned to date’ about implementing LPM and AFA’s.  The first recommendation is ‘don’t over analyse; just do it’.  This is the key call to action in the book.  With respect to LPM and pricing strategies Jim notes that ‘in a volatile market place, the firms that act quickly, take risks and learn from experience will win’.

There are no separate chapters devoted to ‘change management’ and ‘application of software tools’ but these twin themes run throughout the book.  To paraphrase Jim’s recipe for successful (LPM and pricing) change management, lawyers should: be realistic about objectives, nurture changes incrementally throughout the firm and be open to ‘just in time’ training, which should focus on what individual lawyers need given their particular circumstances.  Most of the law firms referred to in the book seem to make great use of various kinds of software support tools.  However as Jim points out investing in software tools is not a necessarily pre-requisite for starting LPM implementation, nor is it a guarantee of success. It seems inevitable however that as law firms develop their LPM and pricing capability they will want to enhance this with the help of analytic and workflow software.

As is often the case with books written by management consultants of various kinds, some readers may feel that sections of the book read like an advertisement for the services of the consultant author; others may feel that further detail about LPM and pricing implementation could be provided whilst still accommodating commercial sensitivities of all those quoted and yet others may consider the focus on the U.S market to be rather limiting.

It is not too fanciful to suggest that U.S. lawyers could learn much about effective legal service delivery by observing trends in other parts of the world.  I am thinking particularly of the U.K of course, where the legal services market is evolving at an astonishing pace in light of new market entrants (the ownership of which need not be confined to lawyers) and seemingly endless changes affecting legal practice, procedure and the business of law.

In the preface Jim notes that:

This book is certainly not the final word on these topics [of LPM and AFM’s].  No book ever could be, since the field is constantly evolving and new ideas are constantly being tested.

True enough, but if you have any interest at all in LPM, law firm pricing strategies or trends in the U.S. legal services market, then buy this book.  It serves as an excellent introduction to these areas and contains much food for thought. The book can be purchased directly from the LegalBizDev website or Amazon.


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