Turning the Page: How LP Rewrote the Closing Book
June 30, 2014
This LP Case Study highlights the anxiety that a major change or disruption can cause and also the value gained when the task is taken head on.
“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.” — Niccolo Machiavelli
Practicing law is often a matter of looking backward. When faced with a legal question, attorneys rely on judicial opinions going back years, decades, even centuries. For the legal profession, looking to the past is our comfort zone.
But comfort zones can be dangerous places. The best lawyers—like those at LP—don’t just look back; they see trends, anticipate where the law is headed, and help move it forward. The same is even truer for the business of law firms. The best firms—like LP—aren’t content to conduct operations in a certain way simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” We aren’t committed to comfort or history; we are committed to doing things the LP Way. That means:
- Examining all of our processes at the firm;
- Improving those processes to eliminate waste and unnecessary steps; and
- Executing the improved process consistently.
Taking those steps can require us to change patterns with which we, and our clients, have become comfortable. Change can produce anxiety—anxiety that is real, and that we shouldn’t dismiss lightly. But when we overcome the anxiety in order to improve our work, the rewards can be enormous.
This case study highlights a recent example of this effect, which involved great teamwork within LP. It involves our closing books. You know them—the black binders you’ve seen weighing down shelves around the office. Everyone considered those closing books a nuisance, but given that they hold vital information, they were also considered necessary. Until LP members rethought closing books from the ground up.
The project started with Eliot Levy, our Manager of Process Improvement. His job is to help LP with the three bullets above, and LP is one of the few firms of our size with a full‐time staff member dedicated to that task. Eliot turned his attention to closing books after hearing about the widespread dissatisfaction with them. They clog up space, and the process of assembling them was arduous. It looked like this:
This process took about 4‐8 hours (or more for larger books) along with a 1‐2 day turnaround with our outside vendor and cost ranged from $500‐$1,000. Eliot began by asking whether we could make the process paperless. For years, we had printed all of the documents in a closing book, only to have the vendor scan them back into electronic form—a big waste of resources. Digging deeper, Eliot saw even more opportunities to increase efficiency, and to eliminate the vendor entirely.
The improved process involved change for both attorneys and staff. Attorneys worried that clients might resist paperless closing books—a definite step outside of their comfort zones. Paralegals and LCs, meanwhile, would have responsibility for creating the closing books, which involves “OCR”‐ing (making the text searchable) and generating bookmarks for easy navigation. But Eliot, staff members, and leaders from our Real Estate, Corporate, and Banking & Finance practices, all came together to design a new process that worked for everyone.
The end result is a hugely streamlined process that makes use of software (Adobe Pro and ShareFile) already in place at the firm. Instead of a CD‐ROM, clients receive a ShareFile link, through which they can access and save the electronic closing book. The entire process looks like this:
The new process is not just more efficient. It offers benefits to our clients, our personnel, and the firm as a whole on many fronts.
Old ProcessNew Process
Benefits to clientCost$750-1,000None
ReplacementCostly, time consumingVia single email
Benefits to LPSkill DevelopmentNoneStaff gains ownership of process, software skills
Use of existing firm resourcesNoneAdobe Pro and ShareFile
Benefits to bothCompatible with fixed fees?No, unpredictableYes, predictable
Document securityPoor. Original documents leave firm.Excellent. Documents remain at LP.
Time to createOne – three daysLess than 30 minutes.
Consistency of deliveryNoneAll Electronic Closing Books to clients within 30 days
Environmental impactSignificant unnecessary printingNegligible
As for any anxieties—those are gone. Clients have raved (“This is super bad a@@,” said one of many emails), and the many advantages should be obvious from the chart above. Paralegals and LCs have learned new skills and gained responsibility. And the time savings of the new process has freed personnel from the drudgery of managing paper copies, allowing them to focus on more rewarding tasks. Most importantly, the improved process results in a superior, consistent deliverable to clients.
Many tasks that involve assembling documents or collaborating with clients can benefit from the groundwork that has been laid with our work on closing books. Indeed, any task that is performed repeatedly can and should be re‐examined for potential improvement. At Levenfeld Pearlstein, we don’t want to rely on the status quo. We invite you to challenge assumptions about the best way to get things done, even when it’s a little scary to do so.