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Competency Assessments and Skill Development for Legal Project Managers

By Aileen Leventon and Todd Hutchison.


Changing client expectations and competition from alternative legal service providers have altered the legal ecosystem. Results-based pricing structures, technology-enablement and leveraging talent across jurisdictional boundaries which may have once been seen as innovative are now commonplace. Drawing from perspectives of lawyers and allied professionals across four continents, it is evident that today’s legal practitioner needs to be a technology and business- savvy, collaborative, and process-driven leader, who embraces virtual and hybrid team environments.


Such changes have attracted solutions from the application of legal project management (LPM) that offers methods to provide a structured planning and execution process for legal matters and other legal-related projects. LPM is well aligned to meeting client expectations and support the commercial sustainability of law practices. The growth and acceptance of LPM requires guiding standards and the professionalization of its practitioners. As a discipline LPM, requires a common vocabulary that informs hiring, career development, sustainability as a career path and skill, retention and continued growth and evolution to augment an effective lawyer’s core knowledge and skills. A competency model offers a basis on which these goals may be achieved.


A broad-based shift in mindset, implementing new robust practices, and upskilling are required. The development of competency-based models can best provide a vehicle to test the knowledge and skills of an individual against a well-developed set of industry assessment criteria. Application of the model identifies experience and knowledge gaps that can used to create a personalised professional development and career plan. An associated assessment tool needs to be comprehensive enough to cover the breadth of a role, yet simple enough to quickly result in useful insights.


Through the work of global organizations like the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM), LPM has been expanded to encompass both legal matters [1] as well as projects within a legal organization that contribute to improving the overall client service delivery and outcomes.


Starting with a Foundation based on Research

In 2017, the International Institute of Legal Project Management undertook research among those employed in legal project manager roles in nine countries to ascertain what the role comprised of and what functions they were undertaking. [2] The research showed that the phrase “legal project management” extends beyond the use of a customised project management approach to legal matters to also encompasses process improvement initiatives, technology enablement and people dynamics. The study compared the general project management knowledge areas used in other industries with their application and relevance in the legal industry. The research led to the development of the IILPM LPM Framework that guides the workflow of legal projects by law firms, inhouse counsel and alternative legal service providers alike. [3]


Following up on the work in 2017, for six months starting in late 2020, a working group comprising Todd Hutchison (Chair), Aileen Leventon, Antony Smith, Ignaz Fuesgen, and David Rueff Jr, convened to develop a robust competency model for legal project managers. Leveraging the insights and experience from the IILPM’s education entities in 13 countries, combined with a panoramic perspective of law firms, consultants, legal departments, legal operations professionals, and project management experts, the group developed a competency assessment tool for the legal project manager role. Its purpose was to provide a useful assessment method to compare practitioner’s current knowledge and skills against a criterion that represents the breadth of expertise required of a legal project practitioner.


Points of Entry

The career path of a legal project manager is not well-defined. Nor are the attributes, education, or knowledge base of incumbents in the role. Sounds The LPM Competency Framework seeks to identify the many sources of talent in filling the range of LPM roles.


Consider the many points of entry: from the practising lawyer; the lawyer who does not wish to practice law and wants to stay con- nected to the profession; the paralegal; the other allied legal professionals and law firm operational support, such as those involved in pricing, marketing, technology, data analytics, portfolio management, practice support, knowledge management, and process im- provement professionals; the corporate legal operations manager and the certified project management professional coming in from out- side the legal industry.


Legal project management is also applicable tot he many variants of legal service providers, as well as being a relevant skill for the inhouse counsel who handles matters without the assistance of external service providers, whilst often coordinating the engagement of external lawyers.


An assessment of those holding the role or seeking LPM training provided the impetus to determine if there were any commonalities that may be used to establish a baseline for the competency model. This called for a multi-di- mensional assessment tool that accommodated different pathways to the position.


Knowledge Areas

In addition to addressing the issues raised by a broad range of entry points and capabilities for those seeking a career path in LPM, a competency model also needs to establish the do- mains or knowledge areas that are critical to success in the role. The model identified the following five areas:

  1. practice of law: the legislative, procedural rules and ethical responsibilities of the practice of law;

  2. legal industry ecosystem: the industry knowledge of the roles of legal profession- als, buyers and consumers involved in legal services;

  3. legal operations: the policies, processes, information management and the associat- ed supporting technologies of the business of law;

  4. legal project lifecycle: the approach, meth- ods and techniques of defining, planning, delivering and closing legal matters and other projects; and

  5. people dynamics: the soft skills required to engage key stakeholders and lead legal project team.

Although most legal project managers acquire foundational knowledge of the legal project lifecycle, there is great variability in the range of knowledge in the four other areas. This is particularly pronounced when considering the points of entry to the legal project manage ment role includes a certified professional project manager from outside the industry who may have a greater need to master all the other knowledge areas except the project life- cycle. Similarly, a paralegal may have greater challenges in mastering issues relating to the legal ecosystem than other allied legal profes- sionals. Greater appreciation of people dynamics applies to all, regardless of the point of entry or experience.


Gaps in Competency

The context and integration of the five knowl- edge areas are the basis for an assessment of gaps in the capabilities and growth opportunities for an aspiring legal project manager. In order to identify such gaps in knowledge and to develop a custom professional development plan, those assessed would be rated across five levels of practice capability: Uninformed, Aware, Knowledgeable, Competent and Accomplished.


Each level includes a robust profile of the as- sociated knowledge, skills and experience typ- ically required. The inventory and taxonomy may serve as the basis for job descriptions, recruiting, professional development and coaching, as well as offering a method of comparison among practitioners.


Assessment Tool for Diagnostic and Development Opportunities

Such competency-based assessment tools help provide greater insights to one’s strengths and development areas, as well as provide a fact-based foundation for discussing career options and plans. The assessment and gap analysis report highlights where an employee can add value, whilst giving them a sense of clarity to where Continued Professional Development programs support their education and professional growth. The LPM assessment may be supplemented with a behavioral profile based on the Extended DISC® model, which evalu- ates, among other things, an individual’s introvert or extrovert orientation, and whether they are more task or people-focused. Such insights can assist in even defining team composition for those having different styles.


Global Applicability

The IILPM is in the process of testing the competency model with its accredited training providers across 13 countries. It will be further refined through field testing with IILPM graduates who are geographically spread across 47 countries, as well as other firm and inhouse counsel-based beta testers.


There are many factors for the of rise legal project management, ranging from the need for greater efficiency, availability of supporting technology and as an enabler to develop fair pricing models and profitable fee arrange- ments. Ultimately, the role of a lawyer is to achieve successful outcomes for clients through legal representation that captures organizational opportunities or that meet business challenges. Client satisfaction with the quality of representation all includes sound communication and having a sense of a valuable engagement experience. All these goals require greater upfront scope clarity and better methods to manage risk, issues and variations that legal project management approaches provide.

 

Notes

[1] The CLOC model for legal project management for legal matters has been renamed “MLM”: Matter Life Cycle Management” and was announced at the CLOC Global Institute in May 2021. [2] Legal Project Management Competency Framework: A Global Standard for Professional Development in Legal Project Management, Executive Summary, URL https://www.iilpm.com/wpcontent/uploads/2020/01/IILPM_LPM-Competency-Framework_Exec-Summary_1.00.pdf. [3] Legal Project Management Framework, URL https://www.iilpm.com/resources/lpm-framework/.

 

About the Authors

Formerly a practising lawyer at both an AMLAW 50 firm and a multi-national financial services company, Aileen Leventon integrates her legal and business backgrounds to advance the practice and business of law. She is the Co-Chair of the Legal Project Management Committee of CLOC, an Accredited Training Provider with the International Institute of Legal Project Manager and a Principal with Law Strategy Coach.


Adjunct Associate Professor Todd Hutchison is an executive of Australian law firm Balfour Meagher and a forensic scientist with Forensics Australia. He is currently the Chair of the International Institute of Legal Project Management, and is degree qualified in legal project management.


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