The benefits of applying legal project management (LPM) successfully are well known and include things such as:
- improved scoping, which in turn results in better estimates of cost and effort required to deliver legal work;
- better management of legal matters once they are underway and
- improved communications with clients and third parties.
Little wonder there has been something of a mini-boom in the recruitment of legal project managers during the last year or so. Moreover this recruitment is not confined to law firms. It is becoming more common to see a range of operations staff, including legal project managers, engaged by in-house legal departments.
Despite the benefits appearing so obvious, many law firms and in-house legal departments have some difficulty identifying where best to make a practical start with legal project management.
Perhaps this is because, despite the benefits being well known, not everyone is yet convinced. This means that proponents of legal project management are likely to meet some resistance along the way.
Hence change agents (implementing legal project management will invariably lead to some change in legal practice) should choose their ground carefully.
Where to implement legal project management?
How to determine where to focus the LPM implementation effort? Several approaches spring to mind.
Do some research and shine a light on some ‘dark spots’.
For example, in law firms one could identify and analyse practice areas which seem to have the greatest amount of write-offs (expressed as a percentage of time recorded). The economic case for implementing LPM in such a practice area should become obvious and difficult to argue against: consistently applying well-known legal project management techniques should result in fewer fees written off over time.
Arguably this is going for ‘low hanging fruit’ on the credible assumption that there must be something inherently inefficient in practice areas which routinely write-off significant amounts of time and money.
However, a note of caution. The ‘dark spots’ are so named for a reason: no-one has yet shone a light or probed too deeply into them, almost certainly because it suits some people to keep them hidden from view.
Shining a light and changing the way things work in dark spots could be very difficult to do. As such it may be difficult to generate momentum for a wider roll-out of LPM if early initiatives become bogged down in the dark spots.
Alternatively, look for the ‘bright spots’.
This is where, in the present context, people have already implemented some aspects of legal project management with success.
They may not have implemented it fully or comprehensively, but the fact they have tried indicates they are comfortable with change and would almost certainly welcome some assistance to help their ‘bright spots’ become incandescent.
Enthusiastic bright-spot people are also more likely to become vocal champions of change and so they can become very valuable allies. This could also mean that change agents need not sup at their personal wells of resilience and tenacity quite so often. The value of this should not be underestimated. Effecting change in legal service environments is not easy, and working with enthusiastic and perhaps influential allies can really help.
(If you would like to find out more about ‘bright spots’ and change, have a read of ‘Switch: how to change things when change is hard’ by Chip and Dan Heath. They do not refer to ‘dark spots’ so I guess I could claim that idea is mine!).
Speak to some colleagues in Business Development and find out which clients (or client types) have expressed a real interest in legal project management.
Most existing, and potential, clients have at some time enquired about how the firm or law department ‘manages its matters’. Too often though this is no more than paying lip-service to legal project management rather than demonstrating real intent to see it implemented.
If you can find clients and potential clients clustered in certain practice areas which demonstrate real intent and appetite for legal service improvement, then this too is likely to be a fertile ground for spreading the seeds of legal project management. Any internal resistance is likely to be overcome by simply reminding colleagues this is indeed what clients want.
In my next post I will discuss how best to make a start with legal project management implementation and /or its further roll-out.
If you are interested in this kind of thing you might want to attend one of my legal project management courses where successful implementation of legal project management is one of the many topics I cover.