There is an increasingly urgent need for Legal Project Management training (LPM) in the U.K., as more law firms seek to implement LPM techniques to improve their legal service delivery. For the purpose of this post I am talking about short-term training needs. I will consider longer term legal LPM training in the context of continued professional development in another post.
Broadly, in larger U.K. law firms, implementing LPM seems to be taking the form of having a small core of dedicated project managers (size of the core dependent on firm size) who then have the task of designing and implementing LPM practices. It is not a pre-requisite to have dedicated project managers for LPM to be successful, although clearly having a resource pool of staff with knowledge and experience of the law, legal practice and project management will improve the chances of success. It seems that in the U.S.A a wide range of law firms have implemented aspects of LPM successfully. For example, some firms of just a few fee earners devoted to one practice area (e.g. family law) use LPM techniques to ensure their value pricing schemes work and return a profit. The focus is not on LPM as such as the LPM practices are simply absorbed as part of standard procedure. This process of absorption, leading to what might be termed silent application of LPM, should be the goal of all law firms regardless of size.
So which aspects of project management could most profitably be explained to lawyers and business support staff, given limited time available? (Time is bound to be limited because of the constant pressure on lawyers to record and bill time). The short-term training aim should be that aspiring legal project managers, lawyers and business support staff complete an LPM introductory course with an understanding of:
- The benefits of applying LPM and where LPM should fit in law firm strategy.
- Principles guiding the creation and execution of project business cases, feasibility studies and pilot projects (with particular relevance to, and illustrated by, common legal practice issues such as how LPM may be used to better manage fixed fees and transition to value pricing or improve fee earner realisation rates).
- High level project structure and key processes applied by project managers to projects of all kinds (the basic building blocks of project design and execution).
- Relevance of particular LPM techniques to particular aspects of practising law (such as cost estimating techniques, particularly in light of the proposed implementation of the new cost management process or perhaps even considering the creation of Gantt charts to support legal service delivery).
- The importance of creating suitable metrics (ie, client focused ones at project, department and firm level), review of which can be used for continued LPM and general business improvement.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting for a moment that such an introductory course will equip lawyers and business support staff to be able to function at the level of professional project managers. It should however be a worthwhile starting point, an introduction to project management techniques applied in a legal context. The overriding aim should be for delegates to be able to consider, and appreciate, how and why LPM techniques could be implemented in their particular environment. The expectation should be that deeper understanding is developed during subsequent LPM training and coaching sessions and, of course, real-world implementation.
I have created an initial training course as outlined above. If you would like to find out more about the course or continue the discussion about LPM training, please contact me.