What is a Legal Project Manager?
A legal project manager applies project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services. Whilst both the legal profession and the role of legal project manager is neither new, there has been a global wave of interest in gaining more traditional project management training to become a globally recognised legal project manager.
Any lawyer running a legal matter is a legal project manager, however a greater need to take a stronger project management approach has come initially from the global client market demand for fixed priced legal services, and the need to find further efficiencies in planning and delivering legal matters. 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, supported by the need to then having to deliver it and remain profitable. This shift is due to clients wanting to better understand the legal costs and limits to their risk of high expenses for legal work that could lead to their financial loss even when they win the legal case. It allows them to make more informed decisions about whether to pursue a legal pathway or not.
Law firms are needing to improve their processes to stay competitive, focusing on balancing human resources and technology use. Process improvement comes from understanding all the knowledge areas being applied and where beneficial changes can be made. The project management discipline comprises ten knowledge areas: scope management, time management, cost management, quality management, risk management, human resource management, communications management, stakeholder management, procurement management, and integration management. Integration management is basically how everything comes together within the 4-phase life cycle: engagement, planning, execution and close-out.
A legal project manager should be educated in each, and be able to plan and execute more complex legal matters that require a project team. As more team members are engaged, there is a greater need for the legal project manager to understand the process, allocation of work and how to track individual and team performance. Such project teams often involve multiple lawyers, and para-legals, such as a large litigation project.
One of the key roles of the legal project manager is to lead the team through the project process, while team members have a focus on the legal matter at hand. This need on complex cases has seen a shift where highly skilled non-lawyer project managers are coming into legal project manager roles. The key reasons for this includes:
- Non-lawyer legal project managers are less costly than their lawyer counterparts;
- They are use to planning and delivering projects across the 10 functions and how to focus and manage each;
- They are not focused on the legal tasks, and concentrate more on the process, including communications and stakeholder management;
- They are more versed in project management systems, structures and software; and
- They will not get bogged down in the legal detail, as they cannot take on the legal tasks.
As lawyers need to become more technical savvy, with changes in legal practices that incorporate artificial intelligence and other innovation advances, the skills of a legal project manager change. Traditional project management has always had a focus on technology and process improvement. The modern legal project manager requires a focus on process efficiency and the best use of technology that will enhance the work being done.
The easiest way to think about it is that the legal project manager focuses on the process, and the team focus on the tasks. It is likened to the mechanic focuses on keeping the car on the road mechanically, whereas the drivers is focused on the destination and the task of driving.
In almost every case, a lawyer playing in the legal project manager role is also doing legal tasks, so it becomes easier to understand that they are wearing two hands: the legal project manager hat and a team member hat.
Every few industries do you see a project manager solely doing the project manager role, which would be generally restricted to mining and resources where there are hundreds of team members involved. In reality, we are playing multiple roles, but the non-lawyer legal project manager cannot take on the restricted legal tasks, so they are far more focused on process, communications, stakeholder management, and leading the team.
In summary, lawyers today are requiring to be more technical savvy and have a deeper appreciation for the legal matter ‘process’, and law firms are needing to work more effectively through process improvement and technology adaption.