Why Legal Project Management Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

“More for Less”. How often do you hear that as In House Counsel? Whether it is related to your own in house team or your external lawyers your business wants “More for Less”. If you can meet this expectation you will be doing your job well. If you don’t, you may not have a job. That is the stark reality of business in the current economic climate.

The recent In-House Report: Benchmarks and Leading Practices 2105, produced by the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and Corporate Lawyers Association of New Zealand raises this issue. Speaking about the trend by In House Counsel (IHC) to use Legal Process Outsourcers and to directly brief the Bar, ACLA CEO Trish Hyde said that “This trend will accelerate as the in-house profession continues to mature and becomes more adept at actively managing costs and extracting better value.”

In the US the Association of Corporate Counsel “ACC Chief Legal Officers 2105 Survey” touched upon legal project management. Asked for examples of what CLOs are doing to reduce outside spending one respondent’s reply was to “keep more work in-house and accept slightly more risk”. Legal project management is the idea risk management strategy. Also, the survey found that one of the four most desired non legal skills for IHC was project management. The other three were executive presence, business management, and communication and listening. Being a good lawyer is mandatory.

What is Legal Project Management?

Steve Levy, Lexican, succinctly describes LPM as “Applying the principles of project management to legal matters.” LPM principles include: discipline; planning; scoping; costing; organising; managing; resourcing; managing risk; executing; monitoring; delivery. So, LPM is applying these principles to the management of a legal matter or a problem given to IHC by the business.

Benefits of LPM to the In House Team

Skills already possessed will be honed, and new skills learnt. All these skills will help you provide value to your business clients. Further, LPM skills will allow the in house team to assist with the implementation of LPM in for the external lawyers. If external lawyers utilise LPM techniques legal costs paid by the corporation should decrease. Skills will include: scoping of work; costing; work break down; resourcing; scheduling; risk management; stakeholder engagement; quality.

Where to Start?

Understanding what exactly is LPM and how it will assist you to deliver your internal matter or projects is fundamental. Without a good understand of how LPM will operate in the unique environment of your organisation the implementation project is doomed to fail.

Consider a pilot LPM project run by early adopters. In every in house team there are team members who are inherently good at managing current projects and, importantly, have the interpersonal skills to be good legal project managers. These early adopters are an invaluable resource and should be used strategically in the LPM roll out. Knowledge and skills gained by early adopters in previous projects for the business should be captured then distilled into how LPM might look in your department. As each department is different it is essential to understand how your organisational culture and current work processes will influence the LPM project.

Critical LPM Implementation Success Factors

Training and coaching in LPM are a key to success. Whether it is internal or external resourced training and coaching will assist the implementation. Use should be made of the early adopters to help design the training and resources to be used. All LPM training and resources must be specific to your unique department. Use external consultants strategically for assistance but ultimately the LPM techniques deployed in your department must be designed solely for it which requires significant internal input.

Champions are vital. In the context of a legal department, management imposing any new method of work on the lawyers is a high risk strategy, probably doomed to failure. Therefore for LPM to take hold in a department champions are vital. Champions are those who leaders of a firm or department who want LPM to succeed. Without their backing and imprimatur the LPM project will be more difficult.

Leadership must be shown by the department’s leaders and senior management at the early stages to provide support and backing for the project as without this support, or only lukewarm support, the project will most likely fail.

On the topic of failure. Learn and start afresh. Unfortunately as lawyers are not used to failing any perceived failure of implementation may derail the whole project. Do not allow this to happen. Difficult as it may be, treat failure as a way to improve. A successful implementation may have several subtle changes of direction after learning from challenges.

The Roll Out

After a successful pilot project the time is right to roll out across the whole department. Again, this is a change management process. Key influencers in the department must be convinced of the benefits as without their backing the wider roll out will fail. Once the benefits of LPM are outlined to the key influencers they, hopefully, will begin to use LPM and, importantly, influence others to use it.

Any change process involving lawyers is difficult. With a strategy, the backing of the leadership group, and some sweat equity LPM will be successfully deployed. Celebrate success then turn you mind to assisting your external lawyers with LPM!

Paddy Oliver

Paddy Oliver is the Managing Director of Lexcel, a management consultant, and a lawyer. When not enjoying working with clients, Paddy spends his time recovering from cyclocross races and bicycle crashes. Other Team Members On many client, engagements Lexcel will utilise the skills of other industry experts to ensure that your business needs are met by the right people. Paddy can be contacted here.