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Legal Project Management Q & A

Legal Project Management Q and A: five of the most common questions I get asked about legal project management (LPM), along with my suggested answers.

Often there is no definitive answer to these questions, but I hope that this short Q and A provides some food for thought.

 

Question 1: Which practice areas is legal project management most often applied?

First let me say that legal project management can be, and is, being applied by legal service organisations working in every practice area.

Some individual lawyers consciously apply LPM principles, along with innovative pricing practices, while doing private client work such as divorce or estate planning.  Others do the same when working as part of large multinational teams working on large and complex corporate development work or responding to regulatory investigations.

Having said that, its right to acknowledge that much of LPM practice has been developed by large law firms with the most common practice areas of LPM application being: Commercial Litigation, Construction (including litigation and arbitration), Property Development, Banking, M&A and Regulatory.

I also see LPM being applied by specialist boutique law firms offering services in practice areas such Employment law or Pensions law.

We are well past the pioneer stage of LPM development now which brings me back to the first paragraph in my answer above.  LPM is now applied by a wide range of lawyers and law firms practicing in different geographical regions and different areas of law.

 

Question 2: How do I become a legal project manager?

Becoming recruited as a legal project manager by one of the large law firms which have LPM teams used to be the only way of becoming a legal project manager.  In terms of numbers of legal project managers in employment, this is still the most popular route.

Over the last few years there has been a boom in legal project manager recruitment.  This is still the case, with competition for talent remaining hot.  (For some LPM candidate interview Q&A’s, please read one of my earlier posts: 5 questions for legal project manager interviews).

Recruiters defaulted to placing established legal project managers with other law firms.  An obvious thing to do but rampant poaching was creating a lot of unnecessary churn, becoming counter-productive for all concerned.

Law firms have since cast their net wider, with candidates who have managed projects elsewhere in professional services being the next most obvious source of legal project manager talent.

More recently law firms have placed greater emphasis on developing their own legal project managers.  Clifford Chance is probably most well-known for doing this since it set up its legal project manager apprentice scheme a few years ago.

Since then, there has been a proliferation of graduate entry-level legal operations schemes (including legal project management) run by large City law firms.

Increasingly at small and medium sized (SME) law firms I am seeing solicitors with an interest in legal project management and / or legal process improvement asking to be re-deployed in a full-time legal operations role.  To their credit, partners in SME law firms often respond positively to this.  They can clearly see the benefits of tapping into the enthusiasm of the lawyers concerned.

Finally, you may act as a legal project manager even though you have a different job title.  I am thinking here of Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) and Knowledge Management (KM) specialists.  People in these roles are tasked with looking out for practice improvements anyway and for many having the ability to manage legal process improvement projects or more direct client engagement work has now become an essential skill.

 

Question 3: Do I need to have a legal background to become a legal project manager?

As you will have gathered by now (see above), you need not be a lawyer to be a legal project manager.

So long as you have the essential skills required for effective legal project management (see below) or you have the capability of being able to acquire and develop those skills, you can become a legal project manager without having a legal background.

Sometimes having a legal background can be an advantage.  In the larger law firms legal project managers often become embedded in a practice group.  Having some experience in the practice area concerned can help, not least by appearing immediately credible to the lawyers working in the practice area concerned.

But there can be disadvantages too of being a former practising lawyer.

Often legal matters are not managed as effectively as they should be because practising lawyers become too fixated on substantive and procedural detail.  One quality legal project managers bring to matter management is their bird’s eye view, which allows them to focus more on the efficient flow of deliverables and communications to and from the legal team and clients.  Former practising lawyers have to keep reminding themselves therefore that they need not become too involved in the detailed provision of legal advice.  They need to zoom out and maintain that bird’s eye view.

 

Question 4: what skills do legal project managers need?

I have written about this previously as legal project management skills and continuing skills development are topics I care deeply about.

In summary I would expect legal project managers to have:

  1. Knowledge of project management methods, tools, and techniques
  2. Excellent communication skills
  3. Facilitation, collaboration, and team-building skills
  4. A reasonable degree of numeracy, which obviously helps with cost budgeting and tracking and
  5. Being comfortable with data analytics and using LPM and / or data analytics software confidently is also a must.

All skills, not just those listed above, need to be continuously developed and nurtured.  Training should at least provide a solid foundation, but skills should also be consciously practiced and feedback sought in the workplace.

Question 5: can a legal project manager work across different departments?

Yes then can – and should.

Even those legal project managers embedded in specific legal practice teams will usually need to work with colleagues from other support departments (such as legal I.T or Business Development etc).

By not becoming too involved in substantive and procedural detail in any one practice area legal project managers should be quick to apply their skills to other practice areas too.

One of the most common problems found in organisations of any size is the ‘silo effect’ where departments and business units operate as if in isolation with little regard to what is going on elsewhere.  This is limiting for lots of reasons, one of which is that best practices may be rarely, if ever, transferred between departments.

Legal project managers working across several departments are well-placed to identify and cross-pollinate best practices from department to department.

 

IILPM Live 2022 – Free Conference about LPM

On 12 & 13 May 2022, the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) is providing a free online conference where leading LPM practitioners will be discussing topics like those discussed above and many more.

The aim of the conference is to assess the state of LPM practice world-wide.

If you fancy grabbing a free virtual seat, you can do so at the conference website here.

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