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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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