An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 2

This is the second article in a series of articles on Legal Project Management. In the first article, we looked at the what and why: Legal Project management allows to increase productivity and profitability, and is especially beneficial in law firms who use alternative fee arrangements like fixed or flat fees, cost limits, budget restraints / capped fees and contingency fees. “Such cases require management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than firms have practiced in the past” (Wikipedia). Because Legal Project Management is not typically part of the legal curriculum (yet), we will pay attention to some of its key principles and concepts in this article.

Legal Project Management requires a different approach to the mechanics and business of providing legal services. A useful analogy is to approach a legal project the way an architect or engineer would. Together with the client or clients, you determine what the goals and deliverables are, and how success will be measured. You work with a schedule that often has milestones. Communication with the client is ongoing, as are the evaluations of the progress that has been made. LPM typically also works with a predetermined budget that parties agree on.

In the previous article, we referred to the LPM methodology used by the American Law Firm Baker Donnely. They distinguish three different phases, and each of them has its own concepts and tools.

  • In phase 1, the tools are scope, stakeholder input, statement of work (SOW), budget, communication plan;
  • In phase 2, the tools are control scope, control budget, monitor schedule, regular team meetings, monitor tasks;
  • In phase 3,the tools are client evaluation, lessons learned, update resources, team closure meeting.

Let us have a closer look at these tools and concepts. Please note that the list below is far from exhaustive and is meant as a simplified introduction only.

One of the first things that parties have to agree upon is a project definition statement. “This is the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your project: a short statement summarizing the purpose, goals, and final deliverable(s).” (Elizabeth Harrin, quoted by Wrike).

A more extensive version of the project definition statement is often referred to as a Statement of Work (SoW). The Wikipedia defines a statement of work as “a document routinely employed in the field of project management. It defines project-specific activities, deliverables and timelines for a vendor providing services to the client. The SOW typically also includes detailed requirements and pricing, with standard regulatory and governance terms and conditions.”

Related to this, and sometimes part of it, is the Scope of the project that parties have to agree upon. The scope of a project explicitly determines what is and what is not included in the project. It typically consists of a breakdown of all the tasks to be done in order to deliver the objectives of the project, as well as a list of measurable success criteria.

Once we have an inventory of the tasks to be done, the Schedule determines when each task has to be accomlished, and who is responsible for it. Often the work is broken down in phases, and the successful completion of such a phase is a called a Milestone.

Once we know what all has to be done, we can calculate the costs involved. Planning, managing, and monitoring the Budget also is a key element of project management.

Throughout the whole process Stakeholder input is essential. If many stakeholders are involved, it can be useful to create an organizational chart that explains who is who and what their role is. In each phase of the project communication with the client, as well as ongoing evaluations of the progress made are essential. Often this is organized in a Communication plan.

Project Management typically also involves Risk Management. Parties anticipate where things could go wrong, what the possible outcomes and the possible alternatives are.

At the end of the project, parties sit down for a Client evaluation, i.e. an evaluation by the client of how the project was completed. Parties focus on what went right or wrong, and on where there is room for improvement.

Based on the client evaluation, the law firm then compiles a report of the Lessons learned and updates its resources accordingly.

As mentioned before, this is not a way of working law firms typically are used to. Using the LPM methodologies can contribute to increase efficiency, profitability and client satisfaction, but is only part of the solution. A survey in the context of the Legal Project Management Competency Framework (LPMCF) revealed that “legal project management encompassed not only project principles and practices, it extended to technology enablement, process improvement and people leadership (team dynamics). The integration of all four of these elements represents the core foundation of legal project management in practice.”



An Introduction to Legal Project Management, part 1

As a result of a push towards innovation and increased efficiency and profitability, more and more law firms are turning to Legal Project Management (LPM). So, what is it? Why is it important and what are the benefits? How does one start implementing LPM? These and other questions will be addressed in this series of articles on Legal Project Management.

Let us start by looking at two definitions of Legal Project Management, which are complementary, and have a slightly different focus. The Wikipedia defines Legal Project Management as “the application of the concepts of project management to the control and management of legal cases or matters.” The International Institute of Legal Project Management, on the other hand, does not limit LPM to the work lawyers do and offers a more general definition as “the application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services.” This latter definition rightfully also applies to alternative legal service providers, who typically have a proven track record of using LPM.

Both definitions are a bit circular in that they only explain Legal Project Management as Project Management for legal projects, and leave the “Project Management” part of it open. So what is Project Management? This is what the Wikipedia has to say:

“Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or staffing) undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives (…). The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints.”

The basic idea behind project management is simple: if you have a complex task to perform, which typically involves coordinating work to be done by several people, then you break everything down as much as possible. You create an inventory of all tasks that have to be accomplished, and then determine who has to do what, and by when. (So, if your law firm management software has contact management, task management and an agenda, you can already cover the basics).

That, in essence, is the core of project management, but, by now, there is more to it than that. There are specific concepts, principles and ‘best practices’ to streamline the process. Attention is paid to the management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than law firms have practiced in the past. (We’ll explain those more in detail in a follow-up article). The ongoing communication with the customer or client as well as other stakeholders, too, is an essential part of it; as is the ongoing evaluation of how the project is doing.

Legal Project Management has reached a point of maturity that there are now internationally accepted standards, as well as a Legal Project Management Competency Framework (LPMCF).

Let us have a look at an example of how LPM is implemented. In the US, the American Bar Association has referred to the LPM approach of the Baker Donelson law firm as a model of how to implement LPM. “Baker Manage”, as their LPM system is called, works in three phases:

  1. Development Phase: here the objectives are to identify the client’s needs and to create a project plan. The tools to achieve these objectives include the scope, stakeholder input, the statement of work (SOW), budget, and a communication plan.
  2. Execution Phase: here the objective is to implement the client goals and to engage in ongoing communication with the client. The tools to achieve this objective include: control scope, control budget, monitor schedule, regular team meetings, monitor tasks.
  3. Closure Phase: here the objective is to offer the client the solution and evaluate the client’s satisfaction with the solution. The tools at hand are: client evaluation, lessons learned, update resources, team closure meeting.

So, what are the main reasons for law firms to start turning to Legal Project Management? For many law firms using LPM was a response to a demand by their clients. Clients prefer alternative fee arrangements where they know how much something is going to cost them. LPM allows you to break down the tasks and costs, and give a clearer view of what the client will end up paying. Predictable costs are a first benefit.

The main reasons to use LPM are increased efficiency and profits. Legal project planning offers noteworthy opportunities for profit maximization and for substantial revenue growth. Law firms, as well as Alternative Legal Service Providers often specialize in certain types of cases and/or services. The combination of repetition and LPM allows to improve efficiency and increase profits.

Because constant evaluations and feedback are part of the process, LPM also improves team cooperation and proficiency. And it also strengthens the relationship between your law firm and your clients.

All of these are good reasons to consider using LPM in your law firm, wouldn’t you agree?

In part 2 of this series, we’ll pay attention to some of the key principles and concepts of Legal Project Management