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What features should you look for in an LPM support system?

Often when I discuss legal project management (LPM) with lawyers it is usually they who first raise the issue of IT support for LPM with me.  I have a strong legal IT background and have long since been an advocate for applying IT to law (I began my commercial career developing legal expert systems and have since managed the development of legal workflow and practice management solutions).  I do sometimes wonder however whether lawyers asking about IT support for LPM implementation amounts to displacement activity.  Application software will not of itself make law firms more efficient, effective and responsive to client need.  Software can help achieve these aims of course, but it cannot achieve them alone.  At some point human judgement and intervention will be called for.  Hence lawyers still need to apply (and in most cases improve) their estimating, budgeting and management skills if they, and their clients, are to benefit from project based legal service delivery.

There are quite a few systems available now which can be classed, broadly, as LPM support systems.  Some systems are clearly marketed as LPM systems. Others are not, yet they too can be used to help with more explicit scoping, planning and execution of legal services.  So what features should lawyers look for in a LPM support system?

The list below amounts to my high level wish list and I am not aware of any single system which does everything listed here:

1. If I were still practising as a solicitor (England and Wales) conducting civil litigation, then help with completing cost budgets required for multi-track cases would be high on my feature list.

As from April 1st 2013 civil litigators have been required to complete a detailed cost budget form – precedent form H – for the vast majority of multi-track cases where the total sum of damages sought is less than £2 million.  Hence systems which could automatically complete a draft precedent form H, using data from previous similar cases, should be particularly welcomed by litigators.  For this to happen there needs to be integration with, or ability to extract data from, existing practice management systems (PMS) which hold all the data about previous cases.

I’d suggest the ability to use historic PMS data should be a fundamental feature of LPM support systems, and not seen as something required solely to complete precedent form H (see next point below).

2. LPM is not confined to litigators, so LPM support software should also help create budgets for typical matters found in other practice areas.

3. Automatic creation of standard case workflows (containing core processes and documents) alongside draft case budgets would also be very useful.

Firms which already have case management workflow in place may want the budget estimating software to integrate with those workflows or, looked at another way, they may prefer for the workflows to be developed so they (ie the existing workflows) can also help prepare draft case budgets as referred to above.

4. Once the draft data is in place (budgets and workflows), the software should allow for the tailoring of estimates and workflow tasks for each case.  Although many cases may be similar, few are identical.

5. Ideally during the tailoring exercise, the software should also allow for ‘what if’ scenario planning and hence the ability to create several alternate draft budgets for any given matter (so that each draft can be discussed with the client).

6. In larger law firms particularly, a wide range of staff will be involved in planning, supporting and executing legal service delivery.  Therefore, ideally, the software should have a number of ‘views’ presenting data in ways most relevant to different team members.

7. Some kind of dashboard or ‘highlighting’ facility, which can report matter progress and help identify areas of concern, would also be useful, if not essential.

This monitoring and reporting could perhaps be done at several different levels of granularity.  Starting by focusing on individual cases and then showing aggregated views, reporting on groups of cases being run within particular departments or offices etc.

8. Perhaps this item should have been the very first point listed: LPM support software should allow for the production of client friendly reports and / or have the ability to let clients interact directly with matters as they are progressing.  After all, the whole point of LPM is to improve the client experience.

Listing the client experience last illustrates nicely a concern I have with legal IT generally.  Sometimes the sheer effort required to implement and roll-out new systems can result in a lot of inward looking activity.  Worst case, a lot of effort goes into deploying systems which make lawyers’ lives easier, but do little for their clients.  This is not a good state of affairs regards any kind of legal IT system, but it would be especially unwelcome if LPM support systems were to have this effect.

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