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Legal Project Management For Beginners: 10 questions and answers

Legal Project Management has grown immensely since I started this blog site in 2012.

Most people in the legal services industry (in the U.K at least) have now heard about legal project management.

But many are still unsure about what legal project management is, what its common tools and techniques are and what is required of legal project managers.

I thought it would help if I put together some basic questions and answers for those curious to learn more about the discipline which has done much to improve legal service delivery over the last 10 years or so.


What is project management?

Project management is applying a body of knowledge, skills, and techniques applied to deliver outcomes which people value.

The delivery of this value is most often done according to a set timetable, with every effort made to deliver as efficiently and effectively as possible.


What are projects?

The classic definition is that projects are

temporary group activities designed to produce a unique product, service, or result.

Bearing this in mind, all legal matters can be considered projects.

As they are projects, legal matters should be capable of being managed by applying the knowledge, skills and techniques of project management.

Within legal service organisations everything which is done to support legal service delivery, and the operation of the organization itself, can be conceived and managed as projects.


What is legal project management (LPM)?

The International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) defines legal project management as

The application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services

Doing this helps legal service teams improve the management of matter cost, pricing, risk, resources, client communications and much else besides.


What are the core techniques and principles of project management?

Essentially there are two broad approaches to project management.

The first is known as the predictive approach.  This is where a lot of time is spent at the project’s outset to plan the project in as much detail as possible.  Project managers gather as much information as they can about the project and then predict what is going to happen to deliver successful project outcomes.  This approach requires a lot of advanced planning.

The second approach is known as adaptive project management.  Here the idea is that it is often not possible to plan events in detail at the outset.  So adaptive approaches, most often referred to as Agile approaches, place greater emphasis on flexibility where planning is done incrementally, covering shorter phases of work which are time boxed.

In practice, legal project managers often apply a hybrid approach, whereby they will create a high-level overall plan (predictive) and then look to break the project down into smaller phases and plan and monitor each phase in greater detail closer to phase commencement (adaptive).


Is there a difference between legal project management and project management applied in other sectors?

The core principles of project management are common to all sectors and industries.

However different industry sectors will have different project management needs.

For project management to be applied most effectively, its principles and techniques need to be adapted to cater for the specific needs of each sector.

Hence, when applying project management to help with legal matter management there is, I would suggest, compared to other sectors:

  1. Lighter touch project documentation
  2. Increased emphasis on project communications (including the mode, frequency and type of communications used)
  3. A recognition that matter scoping it tied closely to client requirements and that scoping is as much ‘art’ as ‘science’ requiring a good deal of emotional intelligence to get right
  4. Greater awareness of team member roles, responsibilities, and team dynamics – practicing lawyers are always responsible for providing legal advice to clients, but legal project managers must be ready to assume responsibility for all operational aspects of legal service delivery.

Legal project managers must also become familiar with some legal terminology and have an appreciation of the processes and procedures their lawyer colleagues are navigating on behalf of their clients.  I am not suggesting legal project managers need to know legal and procedural detail, but they must have a good understanding of what their lawyer colleagues are trying to achieve for their clients and how they go about achieving it.

Legal project managers must also be comfortable working within the legal services cultural environment.  In short, legal project managers must quickly develop the ability to get things done within this environment – and this is not always easy!

What are the most common tools and documents used in legal project management?

Legal project managers must create a project definition document (sometimes also referred to as a project initiation document or project charter) for each matter.  This document seeks to capture things such as high-level client objectives, matter scope, legal project team roles and responsibilities, matter risks (from an operational point of view) and matter cost.

A project schedule, is usually also required.  Project schedules set out all the work and tasks to be done during the project and who will be doing them.  Personally, I remain a big fan of Gantt charts, which are a graphical representation of project tasks set against a calendar timeline.  Gantt charts help with project planning and with tracking project progress over time.

Matter status update reports are also very common.  The reports should capture all the essential information all key stakeholders need to know.  Matter status reports should be sent out consistently and regularly in accordance with a communications plan (yes, legal project managers should plan their communications).

Perhaps most importantly, legal project managers use end of matter (or even better, end of phase) close reports.   I am pleased to say that the practice of post-matter reviews has gained increasing traction over the last five years or so.  This is where legal project managers conduct short project reviews at the end of each phase or matter and assess what worked well and what did not work so well.  Learning from previous phases and projects is the easiest and most effective way of helping project teams get better at what they do.


What are the practice areas where legal project management is most often applied?

While legal project management can be applied to any practice area, the areas which I see it being applied most often are:

  1. Dispute Resolution (including all forms of commercial litigation, arbitration and Class or Group Actions)
  2. Regulatory Investigations
  3. Property Development (I am adopting a wide definition here, including everything from early funding through to completion and sale of new builds of all kinds)
  4. Banking
  5. M&A
  6. Pensions
  7. Employment and
  8. Any other practice area (or sometimes a single matter) which has an international dimension, a lot of interested parties and a lot of data and documentation to be managed.


What is the relationship between legal project management and legal process improvement?

While it is possible to deliver legal service work in the absence of good supporting processes, their absence makes life much harder for all concerned.

Legal project managers are well-placed to spot where poor supporting processes are, quite literally, letting the team down.  Naturally, therefore they want to improve these processes.

The IILPM defines legal process improvement as

A structured methodology for optimizing legal and business processes, so that legal professionals can deliver high quality, cost-effective services in less time and with less effort.

To increase the likelihood of successful outcomes, process improvement initiatives should be run as projects, and this is why we often see legal project managers running legal process improvement projects.


What are the skills required to become a legal project manager?

I have already covered this in another post which you can read here.

Nevertheless, a quick re-cap of my list of the ten most important skills required to become a legal project manager:

  1. Knowledge of project management methods, tools and techniques
  2. Communication skills
  3. Assertiveness
  4. Data Analysis / Budgeting and Numeracy
  5. Collaboration skills
  6. Facilitation skills
  7. Team building skills
  8. Presentation skills
  9. I.T Skills
  10. Change Management skills.


How can I start to acquire legal project management knowledge, skills, and techniques?

You can make an excellent start by attending one of my legal project management certification courses or a course provided by one of my IILPM colleagues based outside the UK.

Most people who attend my courses do so because they have been recommended by one of their colleagues who has been on one of my courses previously.  I am proud of this rate of recommendation and am very grateful to everyone who has recommended me.

My training course content is based on the foundation laid down by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) in its 4-Phase Legal Project Management Framework.  I am a founder member of the IILPM and helped create its LPM Framework.


Any further questions?

If you have any further questions about legal project management or legal project management training and certification, please contact me.

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