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Understanding the Legal Project Management Trend

September 15, 2017

 

The need for more standardised and streamlined processes, with an ability to calculate fixed prices is seeing a surge of interest in law firms taking a more ‘legal project management’ approach, particularly with the integration of project management methods in legal software. 

Across the world, the interest in legal project management is becoming evident.  The Law Council of Australia established a Future of the Law Committee late in 2016[1] who acknowledged that heading into 2017, “…some key disruptive technologies will likely include…project management and workflow systems”. 

Legal project management (LPM) is defined as the application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services. The reality is that legal matters have always met the criteria of being a project, and those leading legal matters are arguably.

 

The change that is driving more project rigor is the client demand for fixed prices, and the associated need to deliver legal matters within those boundaries to achieve profit margins, as well as the impacts that new technology is having on how legal work is done. 

 

The impact of not being able to offer or deliver fixed priced legal services may make the legal practice less competitive, but worse case, may result in a loss of profit.  Delays are costly, and overruns in client fixed price legal matters can be downright risky to the sustainability of the legal practice. Enabling fixed fee legal services requires getting clear on the scope of the work, identifying the resources required, developing a budget with execution risks in mind, and then having the processes to execute, monitor and control the work. This calls for using the wider project toolbox, including risk management, issues management and change management.  

It is not only for legal practices, as in-house counsel may arguably need the skills even more themselves. In addition to leading legal matters, they are often called upon for more general advice on the business’ strategy, operations and projects, as well as managing the engagement of external lawyers, and being involved in project managing improvements to their own business unit within the organisation. 

 

Based on a survey of LPM practitioners across 9 countries, the International Institute of Legal Project Management found that ‘legal project management’ as a phrase is being used as an umbrella term. It extends from not just focused on project methods, but includes technology enablement, process improvement techniques and an emphasized focus on people leadership and stakeholder engagement. It strives for more efficient systems and processes, team accountability and greater communications.

 

This combination makes sense when you compare the pressures on legal practices. The Australian College of Law (2016)[2] noted, “The introduction of fixed fees, outsourcing of legal work, intelligent systems and the internationalisation of Australian legal practice are beginning to impact on the legal market and how lawyers practice, and the skills lawyers will need in the future”.  This is becoming more of a worldwide trend.

 

Similar to how traditional project management practices are applied, the rigour used in legal projects must be comparative to the size and complexity of the legal matter. The scale operates from where common sense suggests a ‘just do it’ approach, through to minor legal matters that may need a limited level of rigor, and through to major (complex) legal matters that require more stringent and detailed processes to manage the level of risk involved. The complexity may also be contributable to the size of the legal team involved, calling for the ability to know who is working on what, when and how much it is costing the firm. 

Approaching even potential litigation matters can benefit from a staged approach to planning. At the end of each phase, the level of clarity would better enable future planning and accuracy in the budget, leading to a more accurate quotation at each step. This is evident when you break up the stages of mediation, arbitration and litigation. The litigation process often has identifiable triggers that can be used to change the scope, which when communicated upfront with the client, can better manage their expectations. 

 

The International Institute of Legal Project Management has accredited independent legal training providers in the regions of the USA, UK, Spain and Australia. Research is being gathered through these entities as to the overall world trend in law practices taking up legal project management. The UK are seemingly leading the implementation of LPM where project skills for lawyers are now being included as mandatory skill requirements by the Solicitors Regulation Authority[3]. The Law Society of England and Wales (2016)[4] in envisaging the future for lawyers noted, “There is a need for all types of lawyer to expand their skills base beyond technical legal knowledge, to encompass business and project management skills and a better understanding of complex risk…”.

 

Universities are now starting to train students in LPM. An example is the Vanderbilt Law School in the United States, who are offering both a Legal Project Management unit[5] for second and third year Juris Doctorate students, as well as a 2-day intensive industry-based Executive Education program[6] in a joint venture with the Owen Graduate School of Management.Private providers in the USA are also now offering legal project management specific diploma level courses[7], with the International Institute of Legal Project Man-agement providing Government backed internationally-recognised diploma qualifications[8].  

The Boston Consulting Group and the Bucerious Law School joined forces recently (Veith et al., 2016)[9] and even suggested, “To more sharply differentiate their service offerings, big law practices will have to offer more than just advice on litigation and transactional cases. They may also have to offer legal project management”. 

Across the world legal project management training is starting to be embedded in law schools, including the prestigious IE Law School in Madrid[10]. Veith et al., (2016)[11] noted, “In the future, the business of law will require fewer general support staff members, junior lawyers, and generalists – and more legal technicians and project managers”.

 

US Law Professor Mark Cohen (2015)[12] in his reflection of the trending project management in law concluded, “law schools should mandate that all students take at least an entry-level course in project management.” 

More generally, the application of traditional project management and agile methodologies is still new to the law profession at large, and the transition to an LPM approach has been relatively slow. LexisNexis (2017)[13] notes, “There is an acknowledgement that law firms are trying to implement better project management systems and practices, but the overall perception is that they remain far behind where they need to be.”. The likely challenge is a lack of project management know-how, technology and process to make it happen.

 

Back in 2014, legal management consulting firm, Altman Weil, reported that law firms were in transition, “41.3% of the [USA-based] law firms surveyed (including 42% of the 350 largest US law firms) reported that training in Project Management (“PM”) is key to increased efficiency in legal service delivery”.[14]

Whether the law firm is delivering legal services, installing technology or running process improvement projects, legal project management principles apply to progressing all new initiatives. 

 

It goes beyond an application in legal service delivery, it offers the means to improve the law firm through their own internal project planning and execution.

Technology and the introduction of artificial intelligence is a growing area of interest for revolutionising law practice[15] and is being implemented using a project approach. This focus on technology, work flow and intelligent systems is also driving new innovation in legal software design, with many providers already specifically embedding legal project management processes directly into or based around their products, such as Exterro[16], LegalTrek[17], CAEL[18] and Dash[19] that promote legal project management functionality.

Even the role of ‘Legal Project Manager’ is becoming an increasingly popular position found predominantly in England, America and Australian law firms, evident by both the jobs being advertised and the titles appearing on individual profiles in professional social media platforms like LinkedIn. 

One solution towards lowering operating costs for complex matters involving a legal team  is a shift from relying on the lead solicitor to attracting professional project managers moving into the law sector. In this way, the legal project manager takes on the coordination of the more mundane tasks, leaving the lawyers to concentrate on the legal issues. The driver is to reduce the internal spend of guiding the legal matter process by using a non-lawyer legal project manager who can deal with the process, technology, communications and ensuring key stakeholders are adequately engaged.

 

What is clear is that traditional project management is providing a new paradigm of thinking, and gives insight to the way legal matters are planned and managed. It also provides the benefit to better lead any required transformation changes within the legal practice or in-house counsel portfolio, now being driven by client demands, the need to improve internal culture, and as a means to embrace technology advances.  Legal project management is being embedded in teaching, technology, and practice management approaches, and lawyers are encouraged to consider how LPM can enable them to become more agile and adaptive to the progressive legal profession changes that lay ahead.

Notes

 

1. Law Council of Australia 

2. ACL (2016) What is the College of Law?, Brief, November 2016, The Law Society of WA.

3. SRA (2015) Statement of Solicitor Competency, Solicitors Regulation Authority, URL: http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/competence-statement.page

4. TLS (2016) The Future of Legal Services, The Law Society of England and Wales, URL file:///C:/Users/todd/Downloads/future-of-legal-services.pdf

5. VLS (2017) Course Information Legal Project Management, Vanderbilt Law School, URL: https://law.vanderbilt.edu/courses/324, Date Sighted 29 April 2017.

6. VLS (2017)  Legal Project Management, Vanderbilt Law School and Executive Education Owen Graduate School of Management, URL http://www.owen.edu/programs/executive-education/open-enrollment-programs-for-individuals/program-catalog/upload/2017-Project-Mgmt-for-Lawyers_1pgr-ISSU.pdf

7. NYU (2017) Advanced Diploma in Legal Project Management, NYU School of Professional Studies, URL: https://www.sps.nyu.edu/professional-pathways/diplomas/advanced-diploma/legal-project-management.html, Date Signed 29 April 2017.

8. IILPM (2017) Legal Project Management Qualification-based Programs, International Institute of Legal Project Management, URL: http://www.iilpm.com/#qualifications.

9. Veith, C. Bandlow, M. Harnisch, M. Wenzler, H. Hartung, M, and Harthun, D. (2016) How Legal Technology Will Change the Business of Law, The Boston Consulting Group, Bucerius Law School. http://www.bcg.de/documents/file204646.pdf.

10. Refer http://www.ie.edu/law-school/executive-education/degrees/legal-project-management-gateway-program-in-english/.

11. Veith, C. Bandlow, M. Harnisch, M. Wenzler, H. Hartung, M, and Harthun, D. (2016) How Legal Technology Will Change the Business of Law, The Boston Consulting Group, and  Bucerius Law School. URL http://www.bcg.de/documents/file204646.pdf.

12. Cohen, M (2015) The Reluctant Risk of Project Management in Law, LegalMosaic, URL: http://legalmosaic.com/2015/03/24/reluctant-rise-project-management-law/

13. Amplifying the voice of the client in law firms (2017), LexisNexis.

14. Reported in:  Cohen, M (2015) The Reluctant Risk of Project Management in Law, LegalMosaic, URL: http://legalmosaic.com/2015/03/24/reluctant-rise-project-management-law/

15. Mangan D (2017) Lawyers Could be the Next Profession to be Replaced by Computers, Future of Work, CNBC, 17 Feb 2017, URL: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/17/lawyers-could-be-replaced-by-artificial-intelligence.html. 

16. Exterro (2017) Exterro Project Management,  URL: http://www.exterro.com/e-discovery-software/exterro-project-management/, Date Sighted 29 April 2017.

17. LegalTrek (2017) Turn Your Legal Team into a Profit Machine, LegalTrek, URL: https://legaltrek.com/, Date Sighted 29 April 2017.

18. Elevate (2017) CAEL LPM – Legal Project Management Simplified, URL:  http://elevateservices.com/cael-apps/, Date Sighted 29 April 2017.

19. LA (2017) DASH: The Legal Alignment Platform, Legal Alignment, URL: http://www.legalalignment.com/#dash, Date Sighted 29 April 2017.

About the Author:  

Adjunct Associate Professor Todd Hutchison LPP, known as the Corporate Mechanic, Todd Hutchison is an international bestselling business author, certified speaking professional, awarded business leader and global consultant. He is the Global CEO of the Peopleistic Group (www.peopleistic.com), head of Peopleistic Legal PM (www.peopleisticlegalpm.com), and resides as the Chairman of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (www.iilpm.com). 

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