In-house lawyers play a pivotal role in not only managing multiple legal matters for their employer, they are also responsible for project managing the coordination and engagement of external lawyers coming into the business for short-term assignments. On top of that, they are often leading the commercial-based portfolio at the same time, and having input on the overall strategy of the organisation.
They often get involved in the selection of external lawyers. Having external law firms providing fixed price legal services (alternate fee arrangements) allows the in-house lawyer to manage their own budget better when engaging external Counsel. To do that, the external firm must be using legal project management practices, which adds the extra benefit of increasing the likelihood that the internal project’s deadlines can be met. As time is often of the essence for getting such advice, meeting timelines for internal matters is important for the in-house lawyer as they are being held accountable as an employee for delivering timely legal and commercial advice and solutions.
Arguably, legal project management skills are even more important to the in-house lawyer for several reasons:
1. In-house legal matter management function – they are typically running multiple legal matters in parallel for the organisation, and they need the means to be able to allocate their resources across different legal projects while still delivering on all the timelines;
2. Advisory function – they are often advisors to the organisation’s own strategic projects, so they need to understand the principles and practices of project management wider to see the risks and consequences of project challenges in the business delivering on its strategy. This means they need to be able to help with guidance to the organisation’s own non-legal projects;
3. Board of management function – they are often residing on the board of management, so they have to understand the wider portfolio, program and project management terminology, principles and practices to adequately contribute to strategic discussions (even the global Project Management Institute now refers to the ‘p’ in their name as covering portfolio, program and project management);
4. External legal services engagement function – they are often project managing the engagement of external lawyers and specialist advisors, playing a key interface role (legal project manager) between the organisation and the external law firm;
5. Contract administration function – they are typically more involved in the breadth of contract administration. This means involvement beyond just the creation and review of contracts that relate to significant and complex projects being undertaken by the business, and the general legal issues for guiding contract breaches and any legal action. Unlike their external counterparts, they are often more involved in the execution phase of business projects through contract administration oversight. This requires a better understanding of the project life cycle as they typically are more involved throughout the process; and
6. Portfolio management function – they are often called upon to run process improvement and governance projects internally for the organisation, that goes beyond just a legal focus, but more as a leadership function in designing and implementing internal infrastructure systems and process.
As the Legal Project Management Competency Framework (2017) found, legal project management is not just about project practices, but incorporates technology enablement, process improvement and the people dynamics. As an in-house lawyer, they are more relied upon for guiding or overseeing general business systems, processes and technology decisions that drive their own leadership portfolio.
In reality, they are not coming in for the occasional legal advice with clear legal service boundaries – they are part of the everyday team. They have to refine their interpersonal, communication and stakeholder skills to deal with the organisational politics, and the many non-legal activities that project management capabilities deploy.
The in-house lawyer arguably therefore needs to be more of an all-rounder project manager than their law firm counterparts.
About the Author: Adjunct Associate Professor Todd Hutchison LPP
Known as the Corporate Mechanic, Todd Hutchison is an international bestselling business author, certified speaking professional, awarded business leader and global consultant.
He is the Global CEO of the Peopleistic Group (www.peopleistic.com), and head of Peopleistic Legal PM (www.peopleisticlegalpm.com).
He is the Chairman of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (www.iilpm.com). The Institute has established a You Tube, Face Book and LinkedIn site for those wishing to get free guidance.
Follow Todd on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/corporatemechanic or Twitter at https://twitter.com/ToddHutchison