Legal project management can be defined as the “application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services”. Whilst both the legal profession and the project management discipline are neither new, there has been a global wave of interest in legal project management practices.
So what is the sudden catalyst for law firms to take a project approach to legal matters? It simply comes down to client market demands for fixed priced legal services. This is a historic shift from a lawyer progressing work and charging for their time as they go, to a model where an accurate quote can be given upfront. Clients are now wanting to better understand the legal costs and limit their risk of high expenses for legal work that could lead to their financial loss even when they win the legal case, making better informed decisions about whether to pursue a legal pathway or not.
To enable a law firm to determine a budget, a project management framework is needed, which then extends to managing the legal matter assignment to ensure the law firm still maintains a profit. This means both getting better clarity to the scope of the work upfront, whilst having the methods and processes to manage client expectations and scope changes as the work progresses.
Of course fixed prices are not the only driver, as law firms become more competitive with a high need for successful delivery of managing complex legal cases, where they are also seeking more efficiency, effectiveness and consistent high quality processes, whilst better managing their own resources and risks.
A legal matter, whether that is formulating a contract agreement, a will and testimony, and through to a significant court-based litigation, comprises typical process steps that can be analysed to create a standardized work breakdown structure for each legal matter type.
For example, the process of facilitated arbitration to settle a dispute still follows general process steps which could be managed as an activity where the budget and schedule is estimated as a first stage of the total potential work. Breaking up a complex legal matter into stages works well as failed arbitration (stage 1) often leads to the law courts (stage 2) where the next stage of court preparation can commence. This simply means recognizing that a complex legal matter (project) has stages where decision points exist and where a budget and schedule can be determined for each, safeguarded by an agreed change management process in place.
By using project tools and techniques, the law firm can better plan, budget, schedule and allocate resources to progress the work. Profits can be tracked during execution. This includes identifying and managing its own risks, managing process issues effectively as they arise, and dealing with scope changes that often leads to increase in fees. These are fundamental project principles simply now being applied to the legal profession.
Legal Project Manager jobs are now being formed. The role may be occupied by the lead lawyer, but these new roles are also involving project management experts who are not legal practitioners themselves that help large law firms better manage the legal matter process, aimed to free up the time of its high paid lawyers who will then focus on the actual legal tasks, without compromising the key stakeholder engagement, process management, and communication processes.
Lawyers have effectively been project managers since the profession’s inception, but the change is the formalization of the methods, tools and techniques that brings project management rigor to the benefit of the client and the law firm, balancing their interests and ensuring a more favorable relationship.
Legal project management training will ultimately become embedded in the education of law schools, yet today’s law firms are needing to fast track their team’s competency in developing project skills.
The International Institute of Legal Project Management was formed in 2017 from the need identified in the research undertaken for the Legal Project Management Competency Framework. It serves to provide the global standard for LPM certifications.