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Narrowing the disconnect between law firms and their clients

A much commented upon legal survey report from LexisNexis UK and Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge has highlighted the continuing disconnect between law firms and their clients.

The report, ‘Amplifying the voice of the client in law firms’, focussed on the U.K’s top 50 law firms.  It found there are three main causes of client disconnect:

  1. Service Offering – technical legal advice supplied whereas clients want solutions to business problems.
  2. Service Quality – clients would, more often than not, be happy with (legal and commercial) advice which is ‘good enough’ rather than ‘gold plated’.
  3. Legal Service Delivery – clients frequently reported they have poor visibility into the work undertaken by their law firms, particularly relating to costs and timelines.

I think it a fair assumption the client disconnect, and its causes, is not confined to the top 50 law firms in the U.K.


Narrowing the disconnect by understanding clients better

The report suggests a number of things law firms can do to help narrow the disconnect with their clients.  The broad thrust of the report is that law firms should take specific action to understand their clients better and ensure the client voice is heard and understood throughout the firm.


Narrowing the disconnect with risk management and project management

A more specific suggestion is for firms to improve their risk analysis and risk management, both on individual matters and across client portfolio’s.  The links between risk management, project management and process improvement appear to be acknowledged by both firms and clients alike.

Personally, I found the most arresting point made in the report was this: many clients acknowledge that law firms are investing in project management and process improvement initiatives, but they are still falling short of what is required.


Better understanding of project management needed

It seems to me that improving the legal project management capability of law firms would go an awfully long way to narrowing the client disconnect, and its causes, as identified by the report.

At the outset of a project all good project managers will seek to confirm the project business case and (at least) ensure the core business case is summarised in the project initiation document (PID).  This is important, as this should set-out what it is the client really wants from the project (ie, narrow technical legal advice or something else – such as solutions to business issues).

As for quality of deliverables, this too is a fundamental part of good project management.  Every project management standard method or body of knowledge explains why and how to establish quality of deliverables with clients, sponsors and other key stakeholders.

Risk management is actually a part of good project management.  It is inconceivable that good project or programme managers (the latter being responsible for a portfolio of projects) will not conduct a risk analysis exercise as part of their risk management planning.


Narrowing client disconnect with improved legal project management

It follows from the above that I think law firms can narrow the client disconnect significantly by improving their legal project management capability.   Law firms can do this by:

  1. Ensuring all relevant staff (not just the lawyers, but all law firm staff who play an appreciable part in legal service delivery) are trained sufficiently in legal project management. By ‘sufficiently’ I mean staff acquire enough knowledge and know-how about project management so that they can perform their roles effectively.
  2. After training, firms should take steps to ensure that good legal project management practices are applied in practice and not left in the training room. The most effective way of doing this is to look for evidence of good project management practice as part of an individual’s annual performance review.
  3. Finally, law firms should be looking to make continuous improvements to their legal service delivery, including project management. The way to do this is to establish feedback loops with clients, so clients have an input into service delivery standards both during matter execution and after matter completion (achieved by using end of matter reviews); firms then need to benchmark where they are, take action to improve in areas where client feedback has been relatively poor and then periodically review their benchmarks and new client data to see whether their service offering has actually improved.  This cycle needs to be repeated, continuously.


Legal project management training and certification

The International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) has devised competency based legal project management training courses and certifications.  I am an IILPM authorised training provider of courses leading to the awards of Legal Project Associate (LPA) and Legal Project Practitioner (LPP).

Course content for the LPA and LPP certification are as follows:

  1. An introduction to the LPM terminology and delivery framework:
    1. the Client Engagement Phase
    2. the Matter Planning Phase
    3. the Matter Execution Phase
    4. the Close Out Phase
  1. An Introduction to the 10 core knowledge areas of project management:
    1. Scope Management
    2. Time Management
    3. Cost Management
    4. Quality Management
    5. Human Resource Management
    6. Communications Management
    7. Stakeholder Management
    8. Risk Management
    9. Procurement Management
    10. Integration Management
  1. An Introduction to other processes, tools and techniques used in legal project management, such as:
    1. Process Improvement
    2. Agile Techniques
    3. IT Support for Legal Project Management
    4. Strategic Planning and Successful Implementation of Legal Project Management.

The main difference between each certification is the greater emphasis placed on leadership skills in the LPP compared to the LPA.  Consequently, LPP courses last 3 days and LPA courses last 2 days.


Confirming Course Relevance

The IILPM is pretty confident that, in light of its legal market research and its legal project management competency framework (LPMCF), the LPA and LPP courses are relevant to the needs of progressive law firms and their clients.  The LexisNexis report seems to confirm this.

I have highlighted above three of the 10 core knowledge areas covered by the courses which are particularly relevant in light of the LexisNexis report: scope management (what is to be delivered), quality management and risk management.

I’d also like to point out the session covering strategic planning and successful implementation of legal project management.  As the LexisNexis report makes clear, many clients appreciate that law firms are investing in legal project management and process improvement but they (the clients) are not seeing the benefits of this investment.

Rolling-out legal project management training and ensuring its effectiveness requires good project management itself.  Arguably, relatively poor project management skills in law firms means that investment in legal project management and process improvements is being wasted.  Which in turn means the client disconnect looks set to continue.

Any law firms wanting to change this please do get in touch with me.  For firms based outside the U.K I can put you in touch my international associate network at the IILPM.

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