Practising lawyers do not sit around all day thinking of legal project management. They are usually working hard on behalf of their clients and managing their career.
When I get the chance to have a coffee and an informal chat with busy lawyers the conversation often turns to legal project management. I thought it might be interesting to set-out some of the typical questions I get asked and my answers to them.
I am really busy at the moment, why should I care about legal project management?
Because your clients do.
I can only assume that by asking the question you have not taken part in a tender or pitch for work over the last 5 years or so. Surely you must have noticed how prospective clients ask about how you manage matters effectively?
Legal project management is all the stuff that goes into effective matter management, including supporting tools, processes, I.T and the management capability of you and your colleagues.
I can see how legal project management buzz-words can help us win new work but, frankly, once we get new work we tend to service it as usual – after all, we are very good at what we do.
I am sure you think you are fabulous at what you do, but have you checked with your existing clients lately? I don’t mean the occasional phone-call to one of your mates working in-house. Do you regularly conduct systematic client feedback and act on it so that you keep improving? Survey data and my own experience show the likelihood is that you don’t. You might be in for a shock if you did a systematic survey, conducted over time. And by the way, I believe that legal project management can help with client feedback too.
Also, how many tenders for work have you won recently? Where you have been unsuccessful, did you receive any feedback as to why you were unsuccessful? Being unable to convince prospective clients that you can manage matters effectively as they would like is usually high on the negative feedback list.
If still not convinced, let me ask you this: do you and your colleagues ever write-off time spent on matters? No need to answer because everyone already knows – of course you do. Writing off time has been unexceptional in law firms for as long as most can remember.
You should know though that some firms which have invested in legal project management have data to show they manage matters more effectively – including writing off a smaller percentage of time – when those matters have been run or assisted by legal project managers.
More importantly, given the pricing trends in the legal services industry, if you are confident about managing matters effectively you should be confident about quoting fixed prices either for matters as a whole or by matter phase.
You don’t have to employ legal project managers or invest in new technology to become better at matter management. Applying a few simple legal project management principles consistently will help enormously.
What are these legal project management principles you are referring to?
- Communications – its easy to improve communications both internally and externally by following a simple structured approach to communication planning, scheduling and content management.
- Scoping – it is essential to scope matters properly, or at least properly attempt scoping, early in the matter. Ideally you and your team should scope things out as much as you can before any of the substantive legal work starts.
- Control the scope – put in some simple monitoring and reporting processes so that scope can be controlled, as the last thing you want to do is do lots of work your clients will not pay for. Obviously, things change and some variation of scope is inevitable but if clear record is kept and client agreement obtained about the effects of scope change you should be OK.
- Plan – break matters down into phases, identify the deliverables required from each phase, identify tasks required to create those deliverables and assign the appropriate people at the appropriate time to do those tasks.
All this sounds quite straightforward, I wonder why we are not doing it already?
Like most lawyers and law firms you probably don’t have a project-based culture. You and your colleagues much prefer to ‘just get stuff done’. This has been re-enforced by your professional training and firm / legal industry culture where being seen to be quick and reactive is prized more than being considered and deliberate.
Ironically however many of your clients probably think you are somewhat slow to react and communicate with them. This is because, again like most law firms, you are not that good at prioritising work and resourcing it properly. Applying legal project management principles will make you better at these. Also lets not forget the lawyer-client communication issue here. In this context I am fond of quoting George Bernard Shaw: ‘the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place’.
Looking on the bright side you will probably find that some of your colleagues are doing some elements of what I would recognise as legal project management. They are probably doing it ad-hoc and in isolation though, which means these more effective matter management practices are not being collected together, supported, developed and promoted as much as they should be.
How can we make a start with legal project management?
I am glad you asked!
I deliver a range of legal project management training courses and provide legal project management consultancy services.
To focus on the training for now. I could visit your firm and provide a short overview of legal project management to you and your partners. I have done hour long slots at partners conferences and on-site sessions lasting up to half a day for partners who would like to find out more.
I can also provide further on-site, skills-based, training to you and your team. Depending on what is required, I have delivered training to teams lasting from one half to two full days.
You may like to note that after two full days of training, trainees can become certified by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) as Legal Project Associates (LPA’s).
Last but by no means least I run a series of public legal project management courses lasting 3 full days. Usually, participants are from different parts of the legal services industry and have different experiences to share as they become immersed in legal project management and this adds to the learning experience for everyone.
At the end of three days all participants are eligible to become IILPM certified Legal Project Practitioners (LPPs). Many participants attend the course on the understanding they will drive legal project management implementation when they get back to the office. I continue to support to my course graduates doing this as I offer 3 hours free post-course support and advice to graduates who want it.