Many lawyers tell me that although they have done some project management activity as part of their work, they have not been trained in project management methods. This leaves them feeling ill at ease. They wonder if what they are doing is correct and wonder too about the context of their attempts at project management: what should be done, when should it be done and how should it be done?
In short, many lawyers (and legal project managers) would like a Legal Project Management (LPM) Framework to help guide them.
Guidance is now at hand. The International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) has revised and updated its 4-Phase Legal Project Management Framework.
Working with LPM trainers and consultants from other jurisdictions, I helped develop the Framework and in this post I will introduce you to it.
I will do this by quickly walking you through the Framework from top to bottom.
The Framework is reproduced in full below. This is what I, and other IILPM accredited trainers, use as the basis for creating and delivering our LPM training courses.
In sequential order, lets look at the Framework’s headings.
Application of Project Management to Legal Services
The Framework is a visual representation of project management applied to the legal sector. What this means in practice is that some aspects of standard project methods and techniques are adapted to cater for the needs of legal service delivery.
It will be noted that while the 4-phases encapsulate standard project management concepts and techniques, the Framework taken as a whole goes beyond this. We believe that applying Technology, Agile, Legal Design and Process Mapping all form part of a holistic approach towards operational excellence in legal services.
Knowing about particular techniques is just a starting point. To be able to apply these techniques effectively and help change the way lawyers work also requires excellent soft skills, especially those concerning communications and leadership.
Legal Market, Regulatory and Commercial Factors
Legal Project Management does not exist in a vacuum, having grown over the last few years in direct response to client demand.
Legal Project Management has grown as law firms and in-house legal departments apply project management techniques to try and close the gap between what clients want and lawyers provide in terms of operational legal service delivery.
Many commercial organisations, especially those in finance and banking, now insist their law firms appoint legal project managers to handle their complex matters. In other areas of commercial law, both contentious and non-contentious, legal project management is now an established component of the legal eco-system.
While the initial commercial focus was primarily on cost containment (and cost management does remain important), it has become apparent that good legal project management can deliver a lot of positive value to clients especially the ability to collaborate and communicate more effectively with their lawyers.
These commercial drivers are supported, in England and Wales at least, by a relatively liberal approach to the regulation of legal services. This has helped the legal sector adopt a more overtly commercial approach to legal service delivery.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has also recognised and encouraged the growth of project management skills by specifically referring to these skills and activities as part of its Competence Statement for Solicitors.
The Four Phases: Define, Plan, Deliver and Close
Breaking things down
The four-phase model immediately promotes the idea of breaking things down into smaller parts. This goes to the heart of what project managers do. Breaking projects down into smaller components helps us scope, estimate, plan and manage them better.
You will see that each phase has itself been broken down into several factors which need to be considered and actioned. Each of these can in turn be broken down still further, into specific tasks and activities.
When building the framework, we wanted to place renewed emphasis on the Definition phase. The purpose of matter definition is not just for the lawyer to understand what the client needs. The definition phase should also help the client understand the true nature of their problem.
Legal Project Management is great for providing a structure and supporting tools, but it does not absolve lawyers from fundamental aspects of lawyering. For example, bearing in mind the matter definition phase, lawyers still need to develop their client interviewing skills with a view to properly understanding the client’s narrative. Then lawyers need to re-frame this narrative bearing in mind the legal, commercial and operational constraints affecting the matter. Soft skills remain as important as ever if matters are to be defined properly.
Realistic approach to project documentation
I am not going to go into each of the Phases in any detail, save to say that we have tried to be realistic about what constitutes satisfactory supporting tools and processes given that lawyers and legal project managers are generally time-constrained.
With this in mind we have, for example, promoted the idea of creating a summary project plan. A summary plan (the IILPM has a template for this) can be completed relatively quickly. Each of the elements summarised can of course be supported by more comprehensive project documentation if need be. However, if done properly, a summary plan should allow for the effective project management of many different matter types.
Another, perhaps more cynical way of viewing this is to say that creating a summary plan is better than having no plan at all!
Productivity Tools and Enabling Approaches
Having access to something as simple as a set of MS Office templates saves legal project managers time and, providing the templates are from a trusted source, provides comfort and reassurance that best practice is being followed (the IILPM has developed a set of templates supporting the Framework).
Technology too has much to offer time-poor legal operations personnel and their clients. There are probably more software applications directed at legal services now then there has ever been. What features should you be looking for when seeking technology support for your legal project management activity? There are some pretty obvious core features but, as ever, the devil lies in the detail.
Agile techniques can be applied to improve productivity further, even without having to go ‘fully Agile’. There is nothing to stop you, say, introducing a series of stand-up meetings to inject a sense of urgency into matter progress.
I contend that some matter types do lend themselves particularly well to a ‘full Agile’ approach and I think this is something legal service delivery teams should make much greater use of.
Having streamlined supporting processes are essential for doing high quality legal work consistently and cost effectively. Applying each component of the 4-Phase Framework in sequence acts as a generic matter management plan.
In practice, more detailed supporting processes are often created and legal project managers have a dual role to play here. The first is to ensure that streamlined processes are in fact completed and delivered. The second is to ensure they are applied and followed by legal service delivery teams.
Arguably part of the growth behind Legal Design over the last few years has been fuelled by the realisation that creating new processes to do existing work quicker, while helpful, will not necessarily result in a step-change.
Focusing on the user (the client in this instance) and designing legal work from ‘outside-in’ (ie from the client’s perspective) promotes a different understanding leading to tangible results such as making legal documents clearer and easier to understand.
Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, Legal Service Culture and Organisational Capability
Legal project managers must be effective communicators. It is estimated that over the course of a project, project managers spend about 80% of their time engaged in communications of one form or another. Effective communication skills can be learned, and these skills, like any others, improve with practice.
You will often see that job advertisements for legal project managers require ‘client facing skills’ or words to that effect. Whilst this is true, I think it downplays the fact that legal project managers need to be good relationship builders across the spectrum – while managing down, up and across.
Legal service culture and organisational capability
There is no doubt that the prevailing culture in the legal services industry still hinders, rather than promotes, new ways of working. As we all know, the billable hour is the sheet anchor upon which the prevailing legal service culture has grown and still rests. This is changing, albeit not a quickly as many would like, with client demand for capped fees (of varying precision) driving through changes in the industry (but to emphasise – there is still a long way to go here).
One such change of course, is greater project management of legal work although the level of project management maturity is somewhat lower in the legal sector compared to others. Here too, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The concept of Legal Project Management is now well established, and I think that legal project managers need to be prepared to take more of a leadership role, as opposed to merely managing.
I accept this is hard to do – not least because of the prevailing culture – but done it must be if we are to develop as a professional cadre worthy of respect.
I’d like to think that the IILPM’s 4-Phase LPM Framework will help develop legal project leaders, as does its accredited legal project management training courses and other support activity it provides.