As the founder of a software tool that is a radically different approach to project management, I read what I can find on the subject of legal project management.
For those new to the term, “Legal Project Management,” a Google search will generate about 90,000 results. Wikipedia has an entry. The acronym LPM has become common parlance in legal circles. Ongoing debate centers on questions that include:
- What comes first, process management or project management?
- Do law firms need to hire project managers?
- Should lawyers be project managers?
- What are the benefits of legal project management and legal process management?
- Is legal project management a fad, or here to stay?
Unlike most of those who have entered the debate, I would submit that there is little difference between managing legal matters and managing other kinds of business projects. Law firms are missing the boat if they don’t enlarge their understanding of legal project management to include a disciplined and consistent approach to managing ALL projects in their firms. That includes legal matters of all shapes and sizes, including eDiscovery, as well as HR, accounting, marketing, advertising, and strategic planning projects.
In this blog, I discuss the evolution of legal project management and three areas where I believe expanding the definition could reap benefits for the firm.
The Evolution of Legal Project Management
The evolution of legal project management tracks, on a somewhat delayed basis, the evolution of project management in the business world. Microsoft pretty much invented project management, as a discipline in the business world. When it did, it adopted a project tool that was developed by an engineer about a century ago. This tool, the Gantt chart, was developed for a very different world, and a very different type of project.
Think about it. Is your project team pouring concrete, hanging sheetrock, installing wiring, or building cabinetry? OR, is your project team writing legal briefs or training manuals, conducting depositions or market research, developing product prototypes or legal strategy, or testing software or value propositions?
The critical difference between the two groups of activities is apparently not obvious, since so many leading project tools (except for Scrum and Agile approaches) continue to talk about scheduling and resource management in the same old ways.
Simply put, in the legal and business worlds, we are working in a knowledge economy – where smart people, rather than machines, are driving the projects.
Estimating, with any reliability, how long it will take a person to do a completely new task is almost impossible, though we must still have a budget. And estimating progress on these activities is much more difficult than in construction projects.
A well-built project management tool will provide valuable insights on project activities that are useful for determining lawyer and staff compensation. To achieve that objective you need data on everything that people are doing to benefit your firm. For example, if a partner who bills time at $800/hour spends 10 hours on an administrative project that saves your firm a million dollars, over the course of three years, shouldn’t that be factored into the partner’s compensation? And yet, if your project tool is restricted to matter management you might miss that insight.
If your project software is not designed to track project areas that require attention, such as risks, lessons learned, or procurement contract requirements, how will you know when a compensation adjustment should be made to reward or dock someone on the team due to stellar or poor performance?
Evaluating who your most profitable clients are requires that you factor in the entire cost of acquiring, servicing, and retaining your clients. Without a portfolio dashboard that interfaces ALL of your projects together, how will you do that?
Administrative projects are a major drain on firm profitability. But are you tracking metrics on those projects? Are you attempting to improve project efficiencies and team effectiveness? Are you periodically re-evaluating your administrative projects to account for a changing environment to ensure that they continue to deliver business value to your firm?
Matters that are being priced using alternative fee arrangements require a disciplined and consistent approach for budgeting and managing financial performance.
The critical difference between matter management and other projects done in a law firm is the existence of clients. So, how does the existence of a client change the way we manage projects? In short, the differences are:
- Will you use a project charter or an engagement letter?
- How quickly can your firm eliminate conflict issues, determine scope, and move into delivering value to your client?
- What metrics will you track to monitor financial performance?
- How do clients impact the way firms prioritize work, across the spectrum?
The largest benefit to expanding the definition of legal project management is in the area of data metrics. By using the same project software for matter management that we are using for HR, accounting, marketing, or even strategic planning projects, we can create powerful dashboards that provide firm leaders with insights that enable better decision-making.
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