All organisations, not just law firms, should invest in building a ‘change machine’. Change machines…
Law firms intent on applying project management principles as part of their service delivery should understand where legal project management fits into their business model and strategic plan. Recognition of the strategic value of legal project management should increase the likelihood of maximizing return on investment spent developing legal project management skills and help cement legal project management as part of the firm’s culture. So what does a law firm business model look like, and where should legal project management fit in?
Professor Stephen Mayson is renowned for his work about law firm strategy. In addition to two books on the subject, he has published papers under the auspices of The Legal Services Institute and in one of these he presents a framework for a Business Model in Legal Services. According to Professor Mayson:
…although a business model is not a strategy, it should nevertheless provide a link between a firm’s strategy, structure and its processes.
A law firm’s business model should provide a framework for how, ultimately, a firm is planning to generate revenue, make profit and stay in business. Professor Mayson sets out key elements of such a framework, elements which firms should then refine further to reflect their particular circumstances and commercial aims. The key elements are:
- Value Creation – how the firm seeks to create value for its clients or customers;
- Resourcing – the nature and extent of resources a firm will require in order to create value;
- Investment – the philosophy and methodology for financing the firm;
- Returns – how the firm proposes to capture revenue from its service delivery.
At one point Professor Mayson also notes that:
As an articulation of the underlying logic of the business, a business model can be expressed in any form that suits the user – for example, as an analysis, a diagram or even a narrative (a story).
While I recommend reading the paper in full, my personal preference was to try and represent the professor’s ideas diagrammatically. This is what I came up with:
At the heart of the model are the four key elements along with other important factors which make up each element and which need to be considered when creating a law firm business model and business strategy. It seems to me quite obvious where legal project management fits into this. Legal project management is primarily about organising resources most effectively for efficient service delivery. I am referring here to all a firm’s resources, not just the fee earners and tools for the job within reach of fee earners. Also, as noted earlier, all the resources should be focused on generating value for the law firms clients. A straightforward highlighting where the processes and procedures which make up legal project management should be found in a law firm strategic model:
I am tempted to note that (to paraphrase a famous phrase) while all elements appear equal, some are more equal than others. Thus, for example, if a firm cannot convince a target market that it has the credibility to deliver services which add value to prospective clients (re the Value Creation element), then it matters not how effective its service delivery is going to be as prospects are simply not going to buy.
Does this then imply that the Resource element and mechanisms required for successful delivery are somehow poor relations, an adjunct to the marketing and sales pitch? Mythical law firms with names such as Grabbit & Runne always raised a wry smile in law exams, and any Grabbit & Runne’s might think they can get away with a sales pitch, and a series of one-off transactions for different clients executed with poor service delivery. But the real world does not work like that. Reputations of law firms soon become known and for this reason matter hugely. The surest way to develop and maintain a good reputation is to consistently deliver work of high quality. To do something consistently means repeating it, and constant repetition of high quality can best by achieved by systematic delivery via known processes. Apologies for sounding so mechanistic, but good, repeatable processes really do ensure delivery of service to a defined qualitative benchmark time after time.
One of the key precepts of legal project management is for lawyers to agree on success criteria with clients for each and every matter, so all will know when a matter has been ‘done’ leading to sign-off with confidence. From a strategic point of view though, the legal project management processes should not end there. There is always a need to improve. Lessons can be learned from projects of all kinds, regardless of their actual “success”. The overall legal project management process should therefore also be about implementing improvements to existing processes, and seeking to systemise as much of the firm’s delivery as possible. I have tried to represent this in the following diagram:
There are a number of well-known descriptions for this process of continual improvement, along with different methods advocated for achieving it. Looking through the lens of the broad discipline Project Management, the descriptor and method which springs to mind is Programme Management, which is defined by the Association for Project Management (APM) as:
A group of related projects, which may include related business-as-usual activities, that together achieve a beneficial change of a strategic nature for an organisation
I would add in the current context that the beneficial change should also experienced by law firm clients.
The point is that, when considered strategically, a lot more can be achieved by the successful application of legal project management than short-term improvements to the next client engagement cycle.