As noted in my last post, many practising lawyers are wary of ceding operational control of matters to legal project managers.
I also noted in a previous blog post that often rather a lot – and sometimes too much – is expected of legal project managers.
Arguably a common cause of these ills is that senior lawyers and managers do not have a clear vision of how legal project management can work in their firm. This means that objectives for legal project management implementation are likely to be defined poorly (if at all), which in turn often leads to poor deployment of resources.
This post sets-out four steps which should help senior staff develop their vision and understanding of legal project management.
Looking beyond very large and niche firms
Quite naturally, most respondents to a recent survey devised and promoted by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) work in organisations – mostly law firms – which are at various stages of implementing legal project management. These firms tend to be either very large firms or small niche practices which have a national reputation.
In terms of numbers, these firms are clearly in the minority. Experience tells me that most other law firms are still either at the stage of ‘thinking about’ legal project management or have not given any thought to it at all.
Senior lawyers in these other firms also need to develop their vision of legal project management. Why? Because their clients are reporting the same pain points as clients of the larger law firms and many of these pain points can be eased by applying the principles of legal project management.
Promoting and managing change
It is important to remember that developing or initiating legal project management practices requires a degree of change.
Changes are needed from those who practice law and those who support them in doing so.
How can senior lawyers and managers develop their vision of legal project management and thereafter promote and manage change (including change in the way they themselves practice law)?
Feeling, hearing and seeing change in action
For most of us, its pretty hard to visualise accurately what any kind of proposed change means for us and others around us.
I think what is needed therefore is for senior lawyers and managers to quite literally get a feel for how legal project management could work in practice. This should then help them visualise legal project management used more widely by their teams.
It should also help them understand how to best support legal project management initiatives and how to communicate progress to colleagues and clients.
Developing senior lawyer vision
When I get invited to run an event to help raise initial awareness of legal project management by senior lawyers and managers I immediately consider the four following steps.
1. Place legal project management in context
I begin by providing an overview of legal project management in context, by presenting conceptual business models of a typical law firm and explaining where and how legal project management fits into law firm operations. I will then introduce the IILPM’s 4-Phase LPM Framework.
This approach provides a degree of re-assurance as attendees can immediately place legal project management in context.
2. Facilitate short practical workshops
The key point here is that the workshops are practical, designed to allow attendees to get a feel for legal project management in operation.
For the workshop elements I usually include an exercise about matter scoping, using a fictitious but realistic legal scenario. I facilitate participants through the matter scoping process and get them to have a go at completing an IILPM approved template designed to help with matter definition.
I will also facilitate a risk management exercise. Rather than use templates for this exercise, I get attendees to use post-its and flip charts.
Then, time permitting, we consider communications planning, with the emphasis on planning and designing effective client communications.
The purpose of these exercises goes beyond understanding the purpose of scoping, risk management and project communications during matter management.
I also use the exercises to show how legal project managers work. Legal project managers follow processes, use a variety of tools and facilitate effective team collaboration.
3. Discuss implementation
After the workshops I encourage discussion about implementation or further development of legal project management.
What usually happens is that some people in attendance are very enthusiastic and want to give legal project management a try almost immediately, some are rather unenthusiastic and content to do business as usual for as long as they can, while most are willing to give legal project management a try but are unwilling to lead the charge towards something marked ‘change’.
4. Capture enthusiasm
The way forward of course is to capture the enthusiasm of the first group above and convert this into action which can be sustained over a period of time. How to go about this? Quite a bit to cover here, so I will provide some suggestions in my next post.
Developing senior management vision of legal project management is important for lots of reasons. Clarity of vision brings organisational objectives into sharper focus. This should help inform approaches to effective implementation.
Note, approaches is plural not singular. Although this has become a cliche, its not any less true: there is no ‘one size fits all’ for legal project management. Different practice areas will require slightly different approaches.
The important thing is to start with a structure – such as the IILPM’s 4-Phase LPM Framework – and then apply and adapt the common structure to fit local requirements.
I believe clarity of vision and understanding is best achieved when senior management get a little experience of legal project management in practice, which can be done by getting them to feel, see and hear what legal project management is like in operation.