A little while ago I suggested that Legal Project Management seems to be going mainstream in the U.K. If anyone doubted it then, few can doubt it now. During the last week, no less than three speakers at the Law Society’s Law Management Section (LMS) Annual Conference emphasized the need for law firms to become more adept at applying project management techniques as part of their business. Over at the Orange Rag, the leading Legal I.T web site in the U.K, Charles Christian has said the same thing, while musing on ‘how difficult can it be to run a law firm?‘. Meanwhile, at the Annual Conference of The Association of Cost Lawyers, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Nueberger, urged litigation lawyers to abandon costing by the hour and to consider value pricing (Lord Nueberger’s speech can be found at the Judiciary’s web site, here). Lord Nueberger cited Ron Baker in support of this suggestion and regular readers of this blog will know that Ron Baker has said that ‘proper’ project management is absolutely fundamental to successful implementation of value pricing.
Although not generating the same amount of headlines as the cost lawyers conference, due to Lord Nuebergers speech, the LMS conference was a really interesting event and one well worth summarising. The Conference, and LMS Chairman, Chris Hart of Wollen Michelmore set the tone when he noted that in light of the changes in the economy, legal market sector and professional regulation ‘going back to the way things used to be is not an option’. Justin Urquhart-Stewart gave an entertaining and informative keynote address where he reviewed key trends in the global economy and made the point that although the U.K economy (and indeed much of the rest of the developed world) is struggling overall, it is not all gloom and doom in every sector. The economy can fixed as the problems we are faced with are not insurmountable. Later in the day Patricia Kinahan of Hazelwoods, summarising the latest Law Society Financial Benchmarking Survey, noted that, generally, law firm profitability has increased for the second year running and some law firms are now generating profits last seen in 2007/2008. Indeed, it is not all doom and gloom everywhere.
But how should lawyers begin to gear up for an economic upturn and, of more immediate concern, meet legal market challenges with confidence? Neil Kinsella of Russell Jones Walker, now part of the Slater and Gordon Group, delivered a really enlightening presentation where he pointed out that when creating a viable strategy, law firms need not strive to be ‘the best’ – whatever that means. A more productive strategic approach is to for firms to consider delivering legal services to particular markets in ways which which their competitors find difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. In Neil’s view, differentiation is the key to success. While Neil was talking I was reminded of Charles Darwin’s summation of evolutionary theory where he said that it is the species which are ‘most adaptable to change’ which succeed. Arguably environmental adaptability and individual differentiation are key attributes to success in today’s legal services market.
First of the speakers to highlight the need for greater application of project management techniques by lawyers was Professor Richard Susskind. It is surely no co-incidence nor surprise the find that Professor Susskind was cited several times by Lord Nueberger the following day in his speech to the Association of Cost Lawyers. A thought leader in the field of legal services, Richard has long since been critical of the chargeable hour. He warned that pricing services differently will not alone suffice – law firms need to change how the legal work is done and delivered. One way of effecting change is for lawyers to adopt some key project management techniques as part of their service delivery.
Allan Carton of Inpractice Consultancy then explained some principles for becoming a ‘lean and agile’ law firm. In doing so he dealt deftly with a concern many have about ‘lean’ approaches, by explaining that it is not just about internal cost cutting and reducing process inefficiencies. The quest for greater internal efficiency should not be the sole driver, as lawyers should also consider how best to deliver increased client value more effectively. It seems to me that the aims, techniques and methods urged by Allan as part of a ‘lean’ approach are in fact remarkably similar to those advocated by practitioners of Legal Project Management.
Richard Burcher of Validatam outlined the rationale behind the concept of Value Pricing and the steps required for its successful implementation. One of those steps of course is the appropriate use of project management techniques to scope, estimate and manage matters. Of particular relevance here is the management of scope creep and the implementation of suitable change control procedures.
Two comments made by contributors to the end of conference round table discussion, ably hosted by Andrew Otterburn, particularly caught my attention. Penny Brice, of Rudlings Wakelam, said that she has been offering fixed fees for about a year now and has found them to be very successful and profitable. While Andrew Hedley, of Hedley Consulting, suggested that, in his view, the legal services market will expand as a result of all the activity we are now seeing such as new entrants to market, increased marketing and moves towards more prevalent fixed fees.
Clearly the legal services market in the U.K. is an exciting and challenging one to be in at the moment. It also seems to be increasingly accepted that project management techniques can help lawyers meet the objectives of greater process efficiency, improved service delivery and the implementation of fair pricing practices based on a shared understanding of value.