Integrate LPM in Law Firms

Post by 
Mark Clark
June 17, 2020

any law firms have wisely, and with some success, deployed Legal Project Management (LPM) but, more often than not, as a stand-alone function. This limits its value to the firm and the opportunity to deliver what clients are demanding – consistently better, simpler and cheaper cases/matters. Clients are seeking a justification to invest in the firm (spend their money to gain greater assurance of success, more transparency, improved communications and an increase in overall value).

LPM is the application of the concepts of project management to the control and governance of all legal services: cases, matters, consultancy and other services.

Deploying LPM in an integrated manner will help to meet clients’ expectations, create real sustainable growth and develop people’s understanding and appreciation of the legal process – clients, partners, associates and staff.

Many of the new innovations in law (innovation itself, AI, new client offerings, use of apps, knowledge management, business development partners) have been trialled as a tactical solution, in a stand-alone mode, but never fully integrated into the end-to-end operations of firms. The opportunity to deliver sustained value and improvement is often lost.

Does LPM work across your client channels, with bids and pitches, pricing and commercials, resource management, innovation, knowledge management, advances in technology, lawyer development, and help exceed the changing expectations of clients?

Law firms should absolutely deploy an LPM function, but in an integrated, sustainable manner that aligns the objectives of every case, or matter, with those of the client and the firm.

As with all new innovations, remember why you are deploying it – for your clients, your firm and its people.

Do law firms currently deploy their LPM function in a stand-alone ‘silver bullet’ approach and so lose most of its potential benefits?

Managing cases, no matter what their size and nature, is best achieved utilising a consistent set of tools, processes and methods. The majority of every legal case is a repeatable process, using knowledge and experience gained over many years – e.g. initial assessment, information analysis, interviews, case studies, precedents. The high-value work undertaken by partners and senior lawyers is the judgement and interpretative work based on opinion and experience. Even this relies heavily on the initial stages – quality input leads to quality information and decisions.

To be clear, the size and complexity of each case should determine whether a dedicated or part-time LPM resource is required – a legal project manager undertakes a role not a job! A mature LPM function will provide control and governance through an assigned resource or by guiding partners and senior lawyers. Value will be achieved by assessing the need on a case-by-case basis. A word of warning: don’t assume that an LPM resource needs to be assigned to undertake allthe administrative work. Real value is achieved when the lawyers and LPM resource work in harmony with other business functions – deal teams, commercial, resourcing, technology, knowledge management, legal administration and business development.

LPM provides a consistent approach, but if deployed in an isolated, case-by-case manner, the achievements and benefits are fleeting, with the learnings, shared knowledge and experience benefiting only a few. Some law firms enhance the value of their LPM function by operating a team culture in which standard methods, tools, experiences and knowledge are shared, but only within the team.

Deploying a sustainable LPM function effectively requires doing so in three key stages.

1.    Realising that legal cases are a form of project, best enabled through the deployment of LPM, is Stage 1.

2.    Having the insight and belief to realise that operating an aligned, integrated LPM function that works in a harmonised manner with the rest of the firm is Stage 2.

3.    Driving LPM to operate in a sustainable, client-focused manner, with performance and value targets, is Stage 3.

Many firms have focused on, and remained in, Stage 1.

Where is the integrated approach?

Although this diagram is a very simplistic representation of how LPM is currently deployed, from this it is clear that a member of the LPM function will support the partners and associates in a very focused way, but in isolation. That is, the individual case will gain value from the oversight of a project manager, but firm-wide opportunities may well be missed. The case should be delivered in a more efficient manner – achieving its goals, on time and within budget.

Other opportunities are missed because many feel LPM only applies to larger cases, those that can justify the cost of a project manager. I disagree.

No matter what the size of the case – large, medium or small transactional work – a project management approach, whether full- or part-time, can deliver huge benefits, especially under an integrated model where shared knowledge makes it easier to produce a scaled, repeatable approach.

LPM needs to be integrated with all aspects of a developing law firm, managed through the operation of a Project Management Office (PMO).

No modern business would operate without a business PMO, or some form of governance and control function – providing standards, business reporting, risk assessment, value realisation, etc. The overall governance and control provided by a PMO offers clients the assurance that, in addition to being highly skilled lawyers, the firm manages their cases in a professional manner.

Overseen by an active and effective PMO, we need LPM to align with Business Development, Finance, People and Knowledge Management/Innovation.

Business Development: Clients want the reassurance, within a proposal/pitch, that their case will benefit from an LPM approach – the cases will be delivered to scope, on time and within budget. This has become a key requirement of clients, or focus area, within their Request for Proposals (RFP). As stated, clients want to see law firms operating in a controlled and well-governed manner.

Finance: Clients want the reassurance that they are receiving value for money. Partners too need to be reassured that they are offering value for money and achieving the required level of profit. Finance and LPM need to be aligned to drive all commercial aspects of a case. Business intelligence underpins the firm’s ability to measure progress against its strategy and targets and can prove the value of LPM to the firm and clients.

People: Change is only delivered and sustained by people. An LPM function cannot just be parachuted into a firm – project managers need to be recruited – but, more importantly, partners, associates and staff need to understand the fundamentals of LPM in order for it to achieve all the benefits. Short project managers awareness courses are essential, together with enhanced learning for those having greater involvement.

With success, the demand for project management, and related resources, grows. HR is best placed to manage this supply/demand position, but only if it is closely aligned to the LPM function.

Linking business, commercial and people success requires an effective performance management process. As with all innovation, we need to be able to measure the impact, success or otherwise. Performance management is not just about ensuring that individuals perform; it is about understanding how functions, systems, processes and people perform and what we can change to assist their development or growth.

Knowledge management/innovation: LPM is innovative – a new tool that lawyers can use to enhance their client offering. By aligning LPM to all knowledge and innovation activities, we can enhance the value of LPM and test new ideas. New tools and ideas are always being developed and these can be trialled and enhanced using best practice project management techniques. Shared services is a great example of how an aligned LPM function can share resources across many cases, delivering improvements in quality and greater value.

And so . . .

The deployment of an LPM function in an integrated, harmonised manner will help to achieve, even exceed, your original goals and targets. It will meet your clients’ expectations, create real, sustainable, profitable growth, while also developing people’s understanding and appreciation of the legal process – clients, partners, associates and staff.

Remember, real change is achieved and sustained by people.

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