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The project of firms implementing Legal Project Management

Updated: May 3, 2023

By Eliana Fonseca.


Legal Project Management (LPM) is in vogue nowadays. However, the interpretation of what LPM is varies. While there is general agreement that LPM uses project management principles in a legal context, its scope and implementation mechanisms can differ based on factors such as the underlined project management methodology, the type of project to handle, the size of the organization, and even the mindset of the LPM implementers.


A key question surrounding LPM is whether lawyers handle projects. While many seasoned project managers of large-scale and high-value projects may be uncertain as to whether a legal matter can be described as a project or whether projects can occur in a legal context, it can be argued that legal matters, such as a company acquisition, a litigation case, or an IP license agreement, are in fact, projects. Further examples of projects that lawyers may engage in could include team restructuring, technology improvement, or a data privacy program.


If it ticks all the boxes:

  • a once-only effort

  • non-routine work

  • temporary

  • unique

  • creating something new

Then, it is a project.


Therefore, the real question would be whether it’s worth it to “project manage” a legal matter. A positive answer is widespread by those already using LPM in their organizations.


Essentially, LPM helps with managing legal matters efficiently and successfully. You may ask: aren’t we already doing so? Managing matters, yes. Lawyers are already informally (the level of sophistication may vary) Legal Project Managers in the day-to-day execution of their business. But, what about success? If success depends on technical legal skills and outcomes, you may be one of the successful lawyers in the market. But if success is defined by the number of hours you work (are you really working more than 40 hours a week?), your level of stress (stop squeezing that jelly ball!), or your client satisfaction (the angry face is always chosen in your client survey) you may need to take a call on where you stand now.


Paradoxically, implementing Legal Project Management is a “project” in itself, so that a project management approach in introducing LPM will help as a vehicle for a successful implementation.


If you are wondering where to start, the following six steps may guide you on your LPM journey.


1. Identify the change drivers Change for the sake of change does not sound like a good strategy. There is no such LPM implementation based on how fashionable and good for marketing using LPM is. Undertaking a change without understanding the reasons or drivers can create confusion and chaos and sometimes defeat the purpose of such change. LPM implementation involves a change in your practice, and so there should be a business case to support the project and secure management buy-in.


As a first approach, LPM could be seen as a tactical change in which practices, processes, and approaches are redefined and improved. However, as the benefits of LPM emerge, change can be triggered at a strategic level and may lead to redefining mission, vision, and overall organization’s culture as a long-term proposition over isolated processes. Many law firms have created their own LPM programs and software or have built a project management culture by, for example, scaling Agile frameworks.


Environmental scanning using a SWOT analysis [1] may help you to get started with identifying the drivers and agents of changes.


Whether your business case is construed upon a low client retention rate, lengthy and costly internal processes, low profitability, or significant billing write-offs, the dedicated LPM resource will vary.


2. Pick from the box LPM tools and resources look at many aspects of the legal profession, including but not limited to budgeting and pricing management (including profitability and value-for-money mechanisms), client communication, stakeholder management, process improvement, risk assessment, people skills, and technology implementation.


LPM can be thought of as “a toolbox” since there are many resources that can be used to address the specific needs of your business. Therefore, you may first assess the needs, gaps, and blockers within your organization to better understand which elements from the LPM toolbox can be helpful and add value to your business. This is where professional Legal Project Managers play a vital role in that they use their skills and judgment to determine the best tools to be picked and used.


A RACI chart [2], for example, could be a good resource to manage stakeholders and keep them involved and informed at the right time (think, for example, the many stakeholders and the flow of information involved in a cross-border merger of companies). With a different purpose, a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) [3] could help manage a complex matter scope by dividing it into smaller, more manageable components and by doing so, keeping each team member accountable and time-bound on their individual tasks.

Addressing the dilemma of a “must-have” versus a “nice-to-have” tool saves time and prevents effort and money from being wasted on things that are not a priority for your specific practice.


3. Assess your LPM maturity level After the change drivers have been identified, assessing your current practice levels, existing procedures, technology, and resources at stake is a must. This process will help you visualize the gap between “where you are now” and “where you want to be”. While LPM and its associated principles are relatively new, you may be surprised how many of the approaches and tools you are already using, are part of the LPM toolbox and framework.

Assessing your level of maturity in terms of project management by comparing your current practice against market best practices will help you determine the extent of LPM implementation required. A great resource to assess the maturity level of your organization is the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Maturity Model 2.0 for the Operations of a Legal Department [4] and the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3™) developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). [5]


4. Be (or hire) the best Legal project Manager

In a fast-evolving and sophisticated business-minded legal landscape, the right move starts from leaving the comfort zone and embracing business, technology, and innovation.


Lawyers may indeed be far from being replaced by robots or technology, but the lawyers who embrace tech and innovation will replace the lawyers who do not.


If you want to lead the project management function within your organization, you should consider taking on the role of a Legal Project Manager. You may be wondering if that is a “role”. Yes, Legal Project Manager is one of the newest and most wanted positions in the legal industry, with such professionals having a very competitive edge in the market. If you are interested in being a certified Legal Project Manager, you can pursue international certification, get the LPM designation embedded in your title, and boost your CV. Even if you are not interested in moving your career path as a Legal Project Manager, basic knowledge and awareness of LPM will help you decide and supervise the best LPM approach and implementation for your organization.


5. Launch your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

LPM is not a one-size-fits-all solution. LPM is a journey that begins with awareness, follows a deep study of the subject matter, and ends with a tailored approach that suits your professional needs. Although buying existing LPM software may seem like a quick option, some customization will still be required. Having the ability to move fluidly within a vast LPM framework and toolbox is one of the vital skills of a Legal Project Manager.


Starting with a small pilot to be rolled out within a small team of your organization (or just for a small project or a single client) is a good strategy for smooth change management. In this instance, a Minimum Viable Product is the first workable version of your LPM program that can be tested and improved iteratively based on testing outcomes and retrospective feedback. Get started by building your LPM prototype and choosing your guinea pig. Allowing your colleagues to start getting their “hands dirty” with LPM can help reduce resistance to the entire implementation process.


6. Be brave enough

LPM is not for everyone. LPM implementation needs initiative and openness to start with, passion and confidence to continue, and trust and determination to reach the desired outcome. Management or colleagues’ resistance is one of the main obstacles to organizational change. Change involves building awareness, testing and training, investment, and a shift in mindset to shake the status quo. Having confidence in your plan is a key to overcoming such challenges and keeping people motivated through the process.


Furthermore, if you are used to a culture of billable hours targets, it isn’t always easy to put a case forward for a project that is, per se, non-billable. It is challenging for some organizations to get started with LPM as they consider hiring a Legal Project Manager or buying LPM software as a cost with no clear sight of the benefits. A Legal Project Manager is not a fee earner or direct source of revenue. However, your LPM program will indirectly improve overall profitability by refining/speeding processes, increasing efficiency and productivity, and providing a better service that will act as a lead magnet for better client reach and engagement.


LPM has been around for more than a decade and is being used by many organizations globally with great proven results. However, many legal professionals are still reluctant to use LPM due to lack of information (LPM is outside the realm of the business’ knowledge base); misinformation (several LPM variations make it appear to be more complicated than it is); procrastination (waiting for the perfect time where “perfect is the enemy of the good”); or just a kind of paralysis by analysis very common in an industry traditionally resistant to changes and trained to take the risk-free path.


Understanding the essence of LPM, following the six steps above, studying the subject, and having an innovative mindset is essential to embrace and achieve a meaningful and successful LPM implementation.

 

Notes

[1] SWOT analysis or matrix is a framework or technique for identifying and analyzing an organization's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats which is what makes up the SWOT acronym.

[2] A RACI chart is a responsibility assignment matrix used in project management. A RACI chart defines whether the people involved in a project activity will be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed for the corresponding task, milestone, or decision.

[3] A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a tool used in project management consisting of a hierarchical decomposition of the scope of work into small manageable components.

[5] Project Management Institute (2003). Organizational project management maturity model (OPM3™). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. www.pmi.org

 

About the Author

Eliana Fonseca is an Argentinian qualified lawyer currently based in Dubai and working as a legal counsel associate for one of the leading retailers of luxury watches and jewelry in the United Arab Emirates.


Eliana is a certified Legal Project Practitioner (LPP) and the exclusive Accredited Training Provider in the United Arab Emirates of LPM courses accredited by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM).


Eliana delivers LPM training to Dubai registered lawyers through the Continuing Legal Professional Development (CLPD) Programme administered by the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department and actively conducts private and public LPM coaching sessions and training programs for legal professionals.


#ElianaFonseca #legalprojectmanagement

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