Legal project management is about improving your bottom line. Many firms have an enviable client list, solid track record, and deep practice expertise. But competition today isn’t so much about stellar reputation and world-class rankings. It’s about breaking some inefficient habits and replacing them with systems that work.
Like it or not, there are a growing number of people who would like to have just a part of your practice. In an increasingly competitive legal environment, some of the things that matter most are the ones we don’t notice. Yet it is precisely the little things that can add up to big improvements over time.
Recall that in Part I of this series, Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman. He did this by following a 1% better every day system, one that was described by James Clear, the author of the bestselling Atomic Habits: An Easy, Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.
Clear says there are four stages of habit formation. They are: to notice, to want, to do and to love. Recognizing, which is the first step, may seem quite simple. But that’s not really the case.
Noticing the clear way
According to Deepak Chopra, “You cannot change what you are not aware of.” The alternative medicine expert goes on to say that noticing, as random as it sounds, is anything but. “We notice the things we look for,” he says. This explains a lot when it comes to legal project management.
In order to do things better, we need to look for the things that aren’t working. Once we look for them, we will probably see them. But why is it so hard to realize that things have gone wrong only after the fact? You can probably attribute this to a concept often associated with the financial world called lagging indicators.
There are all kinds of lagging indicators in our lives. A poor diet can raise your cholesterol levels. Smoking can damage your lungs. The inability to get rid of things can lead to a cluttered garage. There are also lagging indicators around the world, like the unemployment rate, which is a lagging indicator of economic decline. When profit margins drop at a law firm, it’s often a lagging indicator of a struggling practice.
What does it take to notice things not working before a lag indicator hitting you in the back of the head? One way to notice it is to follow. Put these goal-aligned metrics in place and make sure you hit the numbers. You need a system to not only determine what you’re tracking, but also how it’s measured. Nikic, for example, followed his Ironman training with a large whiteboard. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
However, monitoring alone is not enough.
This may be where you think motivation comes in. But motivation has to come from somewhere. It doesn’t just magically appear. Nor is it a feat of sheer willpower or something inspired by a big bonus. According to Clear, you need intention. The intention is to come up with a plan that gets you to when, where, and how. This essentially takes away the decision making. Once it is easier to achieve the good behaviors and harder to continue with the bad ones, the plan becomes easier to execute. You have to strive to make bad decisions in a good environment.
LPM East this good environment. This frees you and your team to practice law. Lawyers can look over the horizon, develop contingency plans and ensure they are managing risk properly. They can focus their valuable time on getting the most and best use out of it, not reinventing the wheel or rigging inefficient processes.
There is little rote decision making when you have a system like LPM. When lawyers follow the process, they get better results. What about goals? Of course you still need it. Remember though that your competitors may have identical goals. Yes, goals set a direction and clarify what you want to achieve. But systems move your practice forward.
Clear says it best: “You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall at the level of your systems. This is true whether or not you consider operational excellence within your wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to invest in the culture that makes your business unique. But, you still need systems. This is the way of the world today.
LPM companies notice fewer write-offs
Here’s what we’ve seen in many companies that have implemented LPM: They’re noticing that their profits have gone up and the number of write-offs has gone down. They may also notice that customers are satisfied and eager to continue working with them and provide referrals.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that there are four stages in the Clear method of atomic habit formation: notice, want, do, and like. If you missed part 1 of the series, you can read it here. In the next article, we will continue to discuss atomic habits.