Project management has been an essential tool of the corporate industry for a long time. It is also a must-have for any law firm that strives to win the competition. As client expectations grow, in-house counsels are pushed to develop business intelligence and grip to provide legal services more predictably and consistently.
What Is Legal Project Management?
Let’s be frank: the legal profession is not the most flexible or adaptable when it comes to change. For decades, lawyers have billed their clients per hour. Now, they are being pushed out of their comfort zones to be creative, cost-efficient, and proactive players.
Legal project management (LPM) was born over the last decade as a response to market needs. During this time, project management principles have been introduced into the legal field. However, it could take another 10 years to implement these methods adequately.
For decades, lawyers have billed their clients per hour. Now, they are being pushed out of their comfort zones to be creative, cost-efficient, and proactive players.
Throughout its development, legal project management has been left unrevealed. Very few law firms settled this approach and contributed to the LPM discipline in its early days. The effective law firm project management method as we see now is a result of years of testing and experimenting.
So what is legal project management really about? Simply put, LPM implies managing the process and delivery of legal services according to the existing methodology. This methodology combines the how-tos from related fields, such as software development and construction, with adjustment to the legal industry’s specifics.
The specifics of legal projects
Essentially, a legal project is anything a lawyer does. Each case, matter, dispute, deal, and agreement is a separate project. Being a structured work aspect that undergoes managed stages, a legal project leads to measured and anticipated results.
Every project can be broken down into tasks along with defining key deliverables, benchmarks, assumptions, and budget limitations. That’s when legal project management comes into play. LPM uses contract management software to plan a detailed work scope in a specific document while clarifying project goals and expectations.
Contract management’s place in LPM frameworks
Contract management has a native project management basis: the stages of the contract lifecycle correspond with the stages in project management. Each contract represents a separate task, and each partnership embodies a separate project.
Research conducted by The International Institute of Legal Project Management shows how current LPM practices grasp not only PM methods but also technological integration. Contract management software, such as AXDRAFT, has built-in project management features and analytics from which you can measure, evaluate, and learn.
The Importance of Legal Project Management
For sure, many successful law firms have been intuitively using the LPM approach before it was “invented.” Today, client expectations for legal services are skyrocketing: they demand a more proactive, disciplined, and systematic way of managing legal contracts. At this point, LPM starts with understanding the client’s expectations, objectives, and success factors for a specific case.
Legal project management starts with understanding the client’s expectations, objectives, and success factors for a specific case.
Legal project management is beneficial for law firms, as well as for their clients. The key advantages of applying LPM practices include:
- Meeting client’s expectations concerning legal work
- Saving client’s costs
- Managing legal teams more effectively, including evaluating and assigning the workload according to strategic goals
- Supporting communication between all parties involved
- Improving service delivery
- Ensuring transparency on a company level
- Receiving consistent results with minimum investment
- Leveraging communication and revealing problems before they become critical
At its core, legal project management is about better communication inside legal teams and with their clients. Like any project management, LPM defines the project parameters upfront, estimates project time and cost, and evaluates the result from both the law firm’s and client’s perspective.
What Is the Difference Between LPM and Regular PM?
For the most part, the difference between legal project management and regular project management lies in the specifics of a lawyer’s work, including applicable methods and regulations.
These 5 phases make up the approach and represent the typical steps in project management:
1. Conceptualizing and initiating the project
At this starting point, we define the project on a deeper level. By studying business cases, we understand the project’s purpose and requirements and clarify business needs.
2. Project planning
Here, we focus on building a roadmap for team members. Typically, it includes setting goals and creating a detailed plan with baselines and performance measures, as well as distributing roles and responsibilities.
3. Launching the project
This phase encompasses the greatest amount of work and goes along with the project monitoring phase. During this phase, the team completes the following tasks:
- assigns resources
- sets up tracking systems
- assigns project tasks
- evaluates progress
- modifies project plans and schedules
4. Project monitoring
In this phase, we evaluate progress and performance to ensure everything aligns with the project plan. Project managers use some or all of these key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine if the project is on track:
- project objectives
- quality deliverables
- cost and effort
- performance issues
5. Completing the project
Once the project is closed, the PM holds a “post mortem” meeting to evaluate what went well and what didn’t, fixates it in a document, and prepares a final project report.
For legal project management, the project steps are very similar. Some of the legal teams have already integrated Kanban boards into their work processes. However, the legal project’s lifecycle has some internal differences born from specifics of the legal field – for example, different project timeframes. That’s why some PM practices, including sprints, acceptance criteria, or post mortem actions, don’t work for legal firms. Additionally, legal work is often interrelated with external teams and companies, requiring more flexibility in project planning.
The bottom line is LPM and PM share similar ideas but vary in some management methods and tools. Legal project management is focused on anticipating the risks and has a great demand for reliable estimates, greater cost control, and upgraded communication.
Why It’s Hard to Imagine Legal Work without LPM in 2021?
Legal project management is shifting its standard approach to legal subjects with university departments, legal boards, technology providers, and law firms all introducing LPM practices.
As clients expect more, the industry bar is rising. LPM brings many benefits for legal clients, including fewer surprises, reduced time and budget, and greater control and efficiency. LPM lays out a structure that enables better risk management and helps assess problems early on due to regular checkups.
LPM brings many benefits for legal clients, including fewer surprises, reduced time and budget, and greater control and efficiency.
From the point of law firms, project management helps deal with traditional problems, such as working overtime, long hours, exhaustion from excessive workload, failure to meet deadlines, budget constraints, and contractual obligations. This results in greater profitability and enhancement of client-firm relationships.
With financial resources being more scarce since the global crisis in 2020, LPM helps accommodate available resources efficiently while dealing with unpredictable roadblocks. By using legal-centered technology, such as contract lifecycle automation, managers establish a more stable and controllable legal work process.
Skills Required for Legal Project Managers
Since LPM is still somewhat new for the legal industry, companies tend to compete for experienced candidates. Law firms either hire expert legal project managers or consider candidates with a consultancy background. In any case, commercial awareness is one of the highly important skills for this line of work.
Let’s take a look at the other skills needed for an LPM role:
Project management skills
Having expertise in a spectrum of project management methods is the most basic requirement for legal project managers.
Communication skills are crucial for every PM role in any business field. It’s even more essential in law firm project management as LMPs shape the relationship between a firm and a client.
Budget planning expertise
To outline the importance of this skill, we’ll just say that 37% of projects fail due to inaccurate cost estimates. Budgeting expertise is one of the most significant factors that can either make or break a project. Needless to say, the economic crisis turned this skill into a life or death situation for each company in the legal sector.
It’s hard to imagine any PM without strong IT skills. From planning the work scope and task assignment to time tracking and retrospective review, a typical LPM workflow requires using software. LPMs should also be familiar with legal practice management systems and tools like contract management software to make legal work more effective and easy.
Flexibility and adaptability
Considering legal project management is a young sector in the legal industry, the LPM methodology is still evolving. That’s why legal project managers need to be adaptable and open to changing plans as the circumstances require.
When it comes to legal project management as a service, LPMs stand in the avant-garde of developing law firm business culture and quality standards. To be effective, managers should apply strategic thinking, set realistic goals, and work hard to achieve them over time.
Whether an LPM has a legal background or comes from another field, they should carry out every aspect of the legal project and foresee possible issues common with legal work.
Getting Started with Legal Project Management
Resources are quite limited when it comes to learning the basics of legal project management. Although there are several ways legal experts can master LPM skills:
1. Take one or several specialized course
These courses and training programs break down regular PM principles applied to the legal field:
As legal-focused qualifications roll out more widely, they will become a desirable feature on a candidate’s CV as well.
2. Study traditional project management guides and methodology
Learn more about SCRUM, AGILE, and Kanban methodologies. Taking a closer look at IT project management might be helpful, as it is more diverse and flexible than other industries’ frameworks.
3. Practice and build up what works for you
Yes, there are guidelines. No, they might not work for your company processes exactly as written in the manuals. That’s okay because you will always need to adjust them to satisfy your company’s needs. Don’t be afraid to test new approaches and design your own based on existing knowledge but unique enough to meet your strategic goals.
LPM isn’t just here to stay – it’s going to change and advance the entire legal business model. Law firms and legal departments are adopting new business roles, including legal project managers, legal operation heads, LPM office directors, and legal ops managers. By establishing an LPM system, legal practices can emerge to meet the demands of the modern world.
This is the first article in our series dedicated to legal project management. Stay in touch for our next update!