Project management

It’s Not the Same: Lawyers Need Legal Project Management | RightVision

No matter who you entrust with legal project management (LPM) in your firm, one fact remains: you work with lawyers. There’s really no need to trot the herd cat metaphor here. You already understand what you are facing. Lawyers are not going to do manual project management. On the one hand, it is far too complex a process for most lawyers to consider. The eyes will freeze, the jaws will fixate, there may even be some gnashing of teeth. “We don’t need that project management stuff,” they will proclaim.

And you know what? They’re right.

Lawyers, however, need a better way to do their job. But it is not project management in the strict sense. It’s not just a question of semantics. If you want to succeed legal project management effort, differences are essential to understanding how the effort will be best positioned and sustained.

Here’s where they differ:

LPM applies project management techniques to handling legal matters. It provides structure to the extent that structure can be provided. An IT, engineering, or manufacturing project is fundamentally different. Engineering, for example, whether you are designing a mousetrap or a transit system, is a relatively linear process that involves collaborative efforts. The goal of project management is to reduce variation. This works quite well in many industries where the process is linear and fixed, as are most costs.

The law is different. This does not mean that each case is tailor-made. It’s not. But there may be an opposing lawyer who is paid to destroy whatever your team seeks to prove, and paid by the hour to do so. Even for transactional work, you can’t ignore that there are people across the table looking for an edge. In IT, there isn’t a great team on the other side trying to undo what the IT team is trying to do.

Lawyers are different. We have discussed the personalities of lawyers endlessly. But many lawyers are not naturally collaborative, and they are skeptical by training and nature. So getting them to do the things that make traditional project management work smoothly is a big effort. In most law firms, the compensation structure emphasizes these traits of Lone Ranger. Project management of garden varieties does not work, at least not as you might imagine.

In addition, law firms are hierarchical structures headed by partners. Nothing works in law firms unless the partners sign up. If the partners feel threatened or challenged, or even just not interested, the LPM falls flat. It is much easier to make a change within the company if the change is aligned with the values ​​and beliefs inherent in the associates. Conversely, the ownership structure of most companies is different. Project managers are accountable to the highly sanctioned project management office for following the prescribed methodology. Project managers in other fields tell people what to do in a way that would be obnoxious in law firms, especially with partners.

However, legal project managers have responsibilities but generally do not have sufficient authority. They must navigate within a structure markedly different from traditional project managers. They can develop the plan, communicate the plan and hold everyone accountable.

Legal project management for law firms

This does not mean, however, that LPM based on the principles of project management is not viable in a law firm. Law firms, however, need to be realistic and take the necessary steps to ensure that PML is welcome. The LPM must be designed for law firms – and the individual cultures of law firms – and placed in the context of legal work. This is the only way for lawyers to adopt it. In addition, there are several ways to ensure the success of an LPM initiative:

  • Start with the corporate framework. Inform everyone involved in LPM of the underlying business model of the company. The math is easy for most lawyers. But they need to understand how the business makes and loses money and the importance of predictability to customers.
  • Support for legal project managers. When legal project managers are not strong partners, they do not have the legitimate authority necessary to effectively move the project forward. This means that the firm may need to implement systems to ensure that legal project managers build more trust, influence, and referral power. This could include, for example, advocacy for business leaders and additional training.
  • Provide just-in-time, just enough training. Lawyers don’t need a week of intensive training, thousands of hours of project management experience, and extra weeks of study to complete a PMP certification course. Training should be easily accessible, perhaps even online, and require minimal time. The documents must be relevant to the practice of law.
  • Emphasize that uncomfortable budget discussions can be a thing of the past. Framing the topic is of critical importance and should bring immediate relief to partners, allowing them to budget with greater precision and providing a tool to manage the job with fewer surprises.
  • Prove the business case with solid savings. Legal project management does not require software, an extensive support structure, or, as mentioned, a lot of training. You can immediately start a pilot project and start realizing savings that will increase the demand for LPM across the business.

Legal project management is different. Although it has its challenges, it has distinct advantages over traditional project management. If you involve your lawyers, the profitability benefits are substantial. It just takes a little effort and a pilot group to get started. LPM is your best opportunity to make sure lawyers do the job they love, delivering even more value to the client and increasing overall profits.


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