There should be no doubt that lawyers can become (and in some cases already are) able legal project managers. A quick glance at the essential skills needed for lawyers and project managers shows a considerable overlap between the two. Successful lawyers and project managers have a propensity for:
- Logical reasoning
- Highly developed communication and presentation skills
- Aptitude to note, sift and work with detail
- Strong desire to “complete” and “close” tasks
Some lawyers demonstrate refined awareness of project management skills and are keen to apply them explicitly as part of their legal practice. I was interested to read a comment recently on the Attorney at Work blog by a practicing lawyer who said that, as a matter of course, she prepares Gantt charts for clients which set out key events and activities of the case at hand. Reading this I was reminded that years ago, when working with Richard Susskind at Masons (now Pinsent Masons) we created Gantt charts for solicitors acting on construction law matters. If I recall correctly, two forms of Gantt charts were produced: one to illustrate the construction development from a legal point of view, highlighting, for example, when a breach of contract may have occurred; and another which illustrated the expected timeline of the litigation process. I have since spoken to solicitors in other large law firms noted for expertise in complex commercial litigation, and they tell me they have also used Gantt charts and have found them particularly useful for helping to estimate likely costs and explain them to clients.
It seems accepted that some aspects of legal project management are invariably found in most law firms today, implemented with varying degrees of thoroughness and brought into being for a multitude of reasons. It is a common requirement for firms working in the insurance sector for example to have detailed client communication protocols, which set out communication trigger points, communication content and even report format (although in this context, I have not seen Gantt charts being required or produced – the format here is for spreadsheets and word-processing). This kind of requirement is imposed by the client, and it is not unusual for firms to have several detailed communication protocols in place, each one being required by different clients. These are examples of what may be called tactical or ad-hoc implementation of processes designed to meet specific short-term requirements. In contrast to the ad-hoc approach, firms operating in legal project management mode should be seeking to implement client communication processes consistently across the firm, applicable to all clients and matters.
Following on from the examples above, we know that lawyers can cope with specific project management techniques and that law firms have experience of implementing some processes within their organisation which bear more than a passing resemblance legal project management processes. Arguably, over time greater benefit will accrue to firms, and their clients, when well-formed project management techniques are applied systematically throughout the practice rather than ad-hoc and perhaps disconnected processes created to meet short-term needs. Why don’t more law firms have a strategic, as opposed to ad-hoc, approach to process implementation, especially those which, taken together, make up the emerging discipline of legal project management?
It seems to me that there are lots of potential answers to this question, and I will try to provide some in my next post.