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Maximising Client Value With Legal Project Management

Maximising client value with legal project management

In my last post I argued that well-known principles of supply chain management can be applied to legal service delivery.

I suggested that this requires a shift in conceptual thinking.  We need to think a little less in terms of traditional legal service delivery and more about the creation and delivery of ‘legal products’.

In this this post I want to continue the discussion about supply chain management and legal services, still anchored to the definition of supply chain management quoted to in my previous post.

The second part of that definition is that supply chain management

involves the active streamlining of a business’s supply-side activities to maximize customer (client) value and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I want to start with the idea of maximising customer / client value.

Maximising Client Value

Prospective clients expect their legal advisors to know the law.

While this expectation is often repeated, it should not be glossed over too quickly.  Let’s not forget that receiving solid legal advice is of itself valuable.  Receiving creative legal advice is obviously even more valuable.

Nevertheless, attention continues to shift to ‘value adding activities’ which legal teams can provide their clients.  These activities are believed to add yet more value and help differentiate legal service teams from their competitors and so help provide a competitive advantage.

Legal project managers have a prominent role to play when considering value added activities.

My own experience and that of others shows beyond doubt that clients do value – and are willing to pay for – the things that good legal project management practices provide, such as:

  • Scoping the work to be done
  • Providing reasonably accurate estimates about how long the work will take and how much it will cost
  • Creating a plan and schedule for the delivery of the work
  • Tracking the delivery of the work against the plan
  • Regular reporting on delivery, including, most importantly, where there are variances compared to the plan
  • And generally ensuring open, transparent, and regular communications between the client and the legal service team.

Arguably, ‘maximising client / customer value’ is the raison d’etre of legal project management.

Commercial benefits of legal project management

It is now common for legal project managers in private practice law firms to help with marketing activity and bids for new legal work.

Legal project managers help with proposals and appear alongside their legal practice colleagues when making presentations and pitches for commercial work.

The closer the collaboration between legal project managers and their legal practitioner and business development colleagues, the better.

Clearly, law firms which have yet to develop their legal project management capability are at a competitive disadvantage.

I think this is especially true in practice areas such as dispute resolution, regulatory investigation and compliance, property development and banking and finance work.

Legal project management goes beyond assisting with the delivery of legal work (important though this is).

Applying legal project management has commercial benefits and provides a means of reaching new clients and markets.


Active streamlining of supply-side activities

Supply chain managers must understand the processes required to deliver products to buyers and look to streamline those processes.

I take the reference to streamlining in the definition above as being synonymous with process improvement.

The relationship between legal project management and legal process improvement is well known.

In short, legal service teams should be using good processes to help them deliver their legal products efficiently and cost effectively.

Hence legal project managers must be aware of these processes and ensure they are being followed.

Unfortunately, the reality for many lawyers is that their supporting processes are flawed, inefficient or simply non-existent.

In the absence of good supporting processes lawyers, like anyone else, will create and rely on ad-hoc approaches to get work done.

For example, it can feel easier creating yet another ad hoc tracking spreadsheet rather than taking time to create a well-designed process for tracking and reporting on matter progress.

Legal project managers should recognise ad-hoc activity as opportunities for introducing improved processes.

Legal project managers, like supply chain managers, must have the skills and knowledge to be able to contribute to, if not lead, (legal) process improvement projects.  What are these skills and knowledge areas?

Legal Process Improvement: baseline knowledge and skills

Legal process improvement, according to the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) is

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.

The 5 foundational principles of Lean / Six Sigma are:

  1. Specifying value in the eyes of the client
  2. Reducing ‘waste’ and variation in processes
  3. Making value ‘pull’ to the flow of the client (think of this as delivering value items as and when clients need them, in the form they need them)
  4. Aligning and empowering employees working in the value delivery chain (most obviously, people working in and with legal teams)
  5. Continuously improving in the pursuit of perfection.

The continued reference to specifying and delivering value is unmissable.

Legal project managers who can apply Lean / Six Sigma principles successfully will therefore be helping to maximise value to the legal service organisations clients.

Converting principles into action

Of course, it is necessary to convert these principles into action, within the context of the legal services industry.

Essential steps towards successful conversion are:

  1. Understanding client requirements (in this context, more by market segment as opposed to individual clients)
  2. Being able to work with legal service delivery teams so that everyone properly understands
    1. what happens now (the ‘current state’) and
    2. what should happen with improved processes running (the ‘future state’) designed to meet client requirements more effectively and efficiently and
  3. Making sure the new and improved processes are being used in the organisation to help support matter management.

Turning process improvement initiatives into projects

Perhaps the most important reason why legal project managers are very well-placed to drive legal process improvement initiatives forward is this: process improvement initiatives stand a much better chance of being successful if they are turned into process improvement projects.

In my experience, two of the most frequent causes of failure of legal process improvement initiatives are that:

  1. they are not run properly as projects and
  2. no-one is made responsible for the success of the project from start to finish.

Having a legal project manager run, and take responsibility for, a legal process improvement initiative will greatly increase the chance of success (i.e. delivering greater value to clients).

What would a supply chain manager say?

It seems to me there are quite clear parallels between supply chain management and legal project management.

But what, I wonder, would a supply chain manager say in response?

I have had the opportunity to find out.

Each month, my course alumni are invited to an informal meet-up via Zoom.

For the alumni meet-up of 17th May 2023, I invited Dr Susanna Whawell as a guest.

Susanna is a very experienced supply chain manager.  It so happens is also married to one of my LPM alumni, Will Whawell, and she works with Will as part of Excello legal consulting.

Susanna can indeed see the parallels between supply chain management and legal project management.

Some points I took away from the alumni meeting discussion with Susanna are:

  1. There is a distinction between logistics and supply chain management. Logistics is focused on moving raw materials and products around.  Supply chain management is something broader.  Supply chain managers try to make sure that the right products reach the right market segments, meet the needs of each segment and therefore provide value to each market segment.  Susanna noted that supply chain managers start with customer requirements and work backwards.  What this means is that there is rarely just one ‘fixed’ supply chain, even for the same product.  In practice supply chains become customised, reflecting the need of different market segments (for more about this, Susanna referred us to a book, ‘Living Supply Chains’, John Gattorna, 2006 – I have since bought a copy and can confirm it is well worth reading).

This should resonate with legal project managers.  Although it is possible to develop a legal project management process, inevitably that process will need to be adapted from practice area to practice area and, sometimes, from matter to matter.

Another takeaway is that legal project managers should not be focused solely on the logistics of legal product delivery.  They should always be mindful of their contribution to the overall value proposition offered to clients.

  1. One of the key principles when looking to streamline supply chains is keeping touch points to a minimum, i.e. the fewer times people need to intervene or hand-over from one process to another the better.

This is a great point, and it should be one of the most important things to look at when engaged in legal process improvement projects.

  1. There has, and continues to be, much greater use of data and data analysis by supply chain managers compared to its use in the legal sector.

This is a fair point although, to be equally fair, I think it is easier to collect and analyse data about SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units – i.e physical goods) than, say, time recording codes and understanding what matter specific tasks were actually being conducted under the code as recorded.  Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a lot more the legal service industry can and should be doing re data analytics.

  1. Even though a lot of attention is given to data analytics and process efficiency, fundamentally supply chain management is about people. It is about making sure the right people are in the right place at the right time to make sure that customers receive products and services which they value and are willing to pay for.

The same is undoubtedly true for legal project management which is why inter-personal skills and scheduling are so important to becoming a good legal project manager.

Maximising client value: your next steps

If you would like to find out more about how you can help maximise your legal team’s value delivery to client’s, why not consider signing-up for either my legal project management or legal process improvement training course?

Most people sign-up for my courses because I have been recommended by their friends and colleagues, which I think shows I do deliver value 😉

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