In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Legal Project Management – a new kid on the block


Author: Reinhard Wagner     Source: IPMA
Projects and project management are increasingly popular in many sectors. In product development or the service industry projects are the new normal. However, project management for legal departments or firms is “the new kid on the block”. In response to economic and regulatory ramifications during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the legal profession (particularly in the USA) was compelled to begin recognising the lack of competence in managing projects. Professional services such as the provision of legal advice are largely delivered by way of projects (or even programmes). Until recently, legal education globally has not included formal training in project management, and only very minimal training in business management. Whilst this education issue is now being addressed (particularly in the USA and in Australia), the vast majority of currently practicing lawyers are untrained in how to best to deliver legal projects – whether they be largely standardised, or highly bespoke and complex in nature.

Analysis shows that despite now over 40% of larger US law firms engaging in Legal Project Management (LPM) trainings, only 33% of law firms are actively using LPM to support legal work (and with an even lower percentage of 24% for in-house legal teams), and only 19% are re-designing their processes to enhance project delivery. This indicates a disconnect between the need for project management, and the reality of implementing project management – particularly within those professional disciplines (such as law) that until recently had not evolved their underlying business model in centuries.

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) addresses these issues. Legal Operations is a multi-disciplinary function that optimizes legal services delivery to a business or government entity by focusing on twelve core competences. Through its LPM Initiative the CLOC consortium published a Legal Project Management (LPM) Guide, providing a framework that can be used to develop an LPM programme in a legal department or firm and educate all stakeholders accordingly. The four stages “Intake”, “Planning”, “Execution” and “Review” are detailed in activities, results, success criteria as well as roles and responsibilities. A beta-version of an LPM business case and action plan outlines the why, what and how of LPM, taking the stakeholder needs into account. Basically, LPM is what many lawyers (intuitively) do, only more systematically and using the language of business. Main emphasis is – like in many other projects – communication, with all stakeholders engaged. It may help to improve resource utilization and reduce non-value adding (or wasted) time. It will in addition help to align expenditures with values / outcomes and reduce the time to completion.

There are well-established LPM working groups in both, Australia and the UK, with the support of their respective national project management associations (AIPM and APM, both members of IPMA). A common point across these entities and working groups is that ‘LPM’ requires a lot more than simply placing an ‘L’ in front of ‘project management’. There are key differences in how professional services projects are managed compared to engineering projects, and which lead to differences in both applicable processes and mindsets. These is also significant research to suggest that as a generalised group, legal professionals are more likely to resist change – and particularly if that change is to implement LPM and its focus areas of (non-legal) process compliance and accountability; trust, delegation and communication; and work standardisation.

These findings broadly correspond with research recently undertaken by KPMG and AIPM (not legal/professional services specific), which shows that the skills identified as most lacking in project professionals include ‘leading change in the organisation’ (49%), ‘delegating authority effectively’ (40%), and ‘communication skills’ (38%). The same research also shows that whilst 49% of the surveyed organisations had centralised PMOs, 30% of respondents had equally de-established an existing PMO within the past 2 years – once again highlighted the potential disillusionment that can arise from providing initial project management support (or LPM training) should this not translate to adoption and delivered benefits. Other surveys complement these findings, arguing that clients are demanding innovation and cost containment and, if clients are not finding their demands met, they may engage firms with a hunger for the more limited work available.

What is a potential way forward? Legal departments and firms need to engage with the community of project management professionals and exchange their ideas, demand and experiences. A tailored framework could be developed, including but not limited to methodology, tools and competences needed. IPMA could add with its competence standards to the LPM framework, on the level of individuals (IPMA Individual Competence Baseline), on project level (IPMA Project Excellence Baseline) and the organisational level (IPMA Organisational Competence Baseline). Even agile project management practices such as the IPMA Agile Leadership could be adopted by legal firms or departments. The AIPM has already certified about a 100 individuals in this sector, more to come, maybe also in other countries? In Germany legal firms already expressed their needs for know-how and improvements in LPM, however curricula and courses need to be developed and provided together with a certification offering.

(Acknowledgements: Key information was provided by Louise Lloyd, General Manager of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM)).
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