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Legal Project Management and Legal Process Improvement Explained

Legal Project Management (LPM) and Legal Process Improvement (LPI).

What are they?

What is the relationship between them?

How do they work in practice?

This article answers these questions.


Legal Project Management Defined

Legal Project Management is the application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services.

This is the short definition favoured by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM).

Experience shows that applying project management principles, tools and practices helps legal service delivery teams improve the management of matter cost, pricing, risk, resources, and communications.

There is a constant drive to recruit and develop more legal project managers by law firms.  They know legal project management works and they want to do more of it.


The IILPMs LPM Framework

The IILPM has developed a framework which captures and explains the essence of legal project management.

At its core the framework has four key phases commonly associated with predictive project management.  Legal matters are defined, planned, delivered, and closed.

Beyond this core, the framework recognises that other delivery methods and techniques, such as Agile, may also be used.

The framework also notes that the effective project delivery of legal matters can be enhanced by things such good supporting processes, I.T systems, inter-personal skills and organisational capability.


The Framework in practice

IILPM surveys of legal project managers have verified that they do indeed apply the core principles referred to in the LPM Framework.  So for example, from the 2020 survey:

  • 59% of respondents felt they were involved early enough in legal projects to help scope them properly.
  • 66% hold project kick-off meetings.
  • Over 80% track cost of work done, while 90% proactively track amount of work being done.
  • 74% compile matter status reports and send them out to key stakeholders.

In summary, legal project managers spend most of their time

  • Planning, organising and scheduling the delivery of legal work-products
  • Monitoring and tracking the delivery of legal work products
  • Communicating the progress of that work to team members and clients.

Whilst doing this they spend a lot of time working with various software applications to help them plan, monitor, and report.

Legal Processes

Lawyers work with processes.  Some of these processes are imposed by upon them by, for example, courts (such as with the litigation process and timetable) and regulatory bodies.

Practically every other aspect of legal work can be represented as a process too.  For example, drafting witness statements can be represented as a process as can drafting an M&A agreement or any other kind of agreement.

In addition to these overtly legal processes there are a myriad of support activities which can also be represented processes, covering things such as new client inception, client billing and even booking rooms when working at the office.


Legal Process Improvement

All processes are capable of being improved, hence the idea of ‘continuous improvement’.

Although most readily associated with manufacturing and distribution processes, the concept, methods and tools used for continuous improvement can also be applied to transactional processes familiar to legal service teams.

Legal Process Improvement Defined

The IILPM’s definition of legal process improvement:

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.

The structured methodology most often chosen as a starting point for legal process improvement is Lean / Six Sigma.

As with project management, when process improvement methodologies meet real world demands of law firms and in-house legal departments, they need to be adapted to fit organisational culture.

The most obvious example being that I would not refer to technical descriptions of formal project management and process improvement methods when working with legal teams on live projects.

After all, the aim is to achieve outcomes appreciated by key stakeholders – most notably clients  – rather than become obsessed by the formalities and technicalities of any particular methodology.

Legal Project Management and Legal Process Improvement Illustrated

I have illustrated in the graphic below my view of the relationship between legal project management and legal process improvement.

Legal Project Management is represented as being on the horizontal axis, flowing left right.

I like to think of all the legal service deliverables being created and then placed on a conveyor belt for delivery in a timely and coherent way to clients and other key stakeholders.

Supporting this conveyor belt are the processes.  The processes are usually hidden from view.  I visualise the processes as vertical struts supporting the conveyor belt.

These struts are not static.  Fixed at set intervals below the conveyor belt the supporting processes are also turning on their axis, helping lawyers produce their work.

Many of the processes are also directly related and connected to each other.  They are not placed at random under the conveyor belt.  They are placed in a very deliberate sequence.  They are ordered to support the particular kind of legal solution required.

Legal solutions may be made up of a legal service, product or both.  For more about this idea, please read a previous article here.

For the avoidance of doubt: the conveyor belt image is a metaphor – I know legal service delivery is rarely as smooth as a conveyor belt in real life!

Legal Project Management and Legal Process Improvement Defined

Working Together: Legal Project Management and Legal Process Improvement

As an illustrative example, consider the need for a long expert report on behalf of a client.

Legal team members will work with the expert (and, perhaps, the expert’s team) to help shape and complete the report.

A legal project manager may be co-ordinating the legal team’s work, arranging meetings and telephone calls between the legal team and the expert’s team, ensuring the expert’s team has all the supporting material required for report production and keeping all stakeholders, including the client, informed of progress.

In addition to making sure the experts report is completed on time, the legal project manager should also be making sure the delivery of the experts report is sequenced properly so it fits into the flow of all of the other deliverables required on the matter.  All the other deliverables should also be sequenced and scheduled properly in advance.

Competent legal project managers should be able to schedule this kind of work and check and report on progress even in the absence of a settled expert report process.

However, it would be much easier for the legal service team if there was a clear internal process to apply for assisting with the creation of an expert report.  Following a clear process would help all the work and communications flow smoothly.  One consequence of this is that the work will almost certainly be done more cost effectively than it would in the absence of any settled process.

Furthermore, if there were settled processes for all other aspects of the law firm’s approach to dispute resolution, this should promote the smooth flow of deliverables along the legal conveyor belt.

Foundational Skills

Managing legal projects and improving legal processes requires time, effort, knowledge, and skills.

Structured frameworks, methods and tools exist to help both legal project managers and legal process improvement professionals.

If explained and illustrated clearly enough these should appear in operation as ‘organised common sense’ and be easy to apply.

Most important of all, they should, taken together, generate outcomes clearly valued by clients.

To find out more why not consider signing up for either my legal project management or my legal process improvement training course?

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