Legal Project Manager Jobs – A Shift to Include Non-Lawyer Legal Project Managers

  • Legal Project Manager Jobs – A Shift to Include Non-Lawyer Legal Project Managers

    Any lawyer leading a legal matter is a legal project manager, but that is not necessarily the job they want when you consider that they are playing the role with multiple hats: the project manager coordinating the process of the legal project, and the lawyer dealing with the legal tasks. The more mundane tasks of collecting data, managing communications, overseeing the fees and charging, and dealing with risk management and other process-related tasks can be a distraction to focusing on the law.

    As the work extends from a single lawyer to a legal team, the need for stronger process and highly developed leadership skills become even more critical. A Barrister leading a complex litigation matter can have a significant sized team and the success of the case can highly depend on the performance of their team and their leadership skills. In many cases, a barrister may act as the legal project manager to take care of managing the team, whilst other barristers are focusing on the legal aspects of the case. This may appear to be a costly approach.

    Today, even technology is having an impact on human resources as artificial intelligence starts to be integrated into legal software solutions where tasks traditionally given to legal researchers and para-legal personnel are becoming replaced by computer functionality. What artificial intelligence cannot replace is the leadership skills required to oversee the team and the need to manage the communications between the key stakeholders.

    This is where legal project management jobs are starting to see a shift in resourcing complex and multi-team member legal projects. In an effort to reserve the lead lawyer’s focus to be solely on the legal tasks, is to get them off the mundane process coordination tasks and that is where a non-lawyer project management may come in handy. With a dedicated and trained project manager (given legal project management is yet to be taught as a fundamental skill in law school), it also aims to resolve the historic communication issues that has haunted the legal profession, and reduce the overall costs by having cheaper non-lawyer project managers to coordinate the project.

    Of course any legal project manager job is best fulfilled with a person who is knowledgeable about the law and the legal services offered by the firm, but the need to have someone solely focusing on the project process and its related communications, risks, and progress reporting may even mean the traditional para-legal, legal researcher and practice manager can be groomed to become a legal project manager.

    Their cost can be significant less, but their role is absolutely clear – to coordinate the legal project process, so the lawyers can focus on the legal matter at hand. They cannot be involved in the legal tasks, so they are focused on all the other activities that make the project process go smoothly.

    The start of a trend to bring in professional project managers also helps law firms move to fixed price models that reply on good project management practices, especially when you consider:

    1. Non-lawyer legal project managers are less costly than their lawyer counterparts, avoiding the high spend from lawyers working on non-legal coordinating tasks;

    2. They are highly experienced in the project management planning and delivery tools due to being trained across all of the 10 functions of project management;

    3. They are not focused or distracted on the legal tasks, instead they are dedicated to the process, including communications and stakeholder management;

    4. They are more versed in project management systems, structures and software that are now being merged with other legal systems to enable a fixed price costing methods and better legal service delivery; and

    5. They will not get bogged down in the legal detail, as they cannot take on the legal tasks anyway, making a clear segregation of jobs.

    The easiest way to think about how using a non-lawyer project manager can work, is to recognise that the legal project manager function focuses on the project process, and the team members focus on the tasks. It is likened to the mechanic who focuses on keeping the car on the road mechanically, whereas the race car driver is focused on the destination and the task of driving. This means complimentary skills, with a total focus on the higher paid lawyers doing the legal tasks – what they enjoy and are trained for.

    The International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) is recognising the transferability of professional project managers skills into legal project manager jobs. The IILPM training and certification still requires exposure to the legal environment or supporting professional project managers who are qualified lawyers, but may have left the law profession and could now be attracted back.

    Project management as a discipline has become one of the fastest growing skillsets across the globe. The global Project Management Institute (PMI) is arguably one of the largest professional associations in the world, operating with over 285 chapters, with members in over 179 countries and 27 territories, and having over 720,000 certification holders. The International Project Management Association has established 70 member associations across Europe to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and North and South America.

    The UK Association of Project Management (APM) has just become a Chartered body, having been awarded a Royal Charter this year, allowing project managers to become chartered project managers.
    In summary, law firms seeking to manage legal team costs, moving to fixed price fee models, and whom want to leverage their non-lawyer staff members may look towards options for legal project manager jobs from both lawyers and non-lawyer resources.

    As legal project manager jobs are becoming more frequently advertised and sought after positions, the attractiveness of considering non-lawyer profession project managers, and developing para-legal and practice managers into those roles may provide a more cost effective and focused legal project delivery model.

    About the Author:

    Adjunct Associate Professor Todd Hutchison is an expert in project management, and resides as the Chairman of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (www.iilpm.com), and a former Board Director of the Project Management Institute. He runs the global Peopleistic consultancy and training organisation, and heads their new Legal PM division.


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