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Delivering Results: Introduction to Legal Project Management - Part 1.

The skills and expertise of the project management profession has enabled the construction of world-class infrastructure projects, the showcasing of global sporting events, the development of ground breaking software, and the delivery of complex new technology across large scale organisations.

Law firms have been increasingly applying project management tools and techniques to deliver their legal services to clients at an agreed price and by an agreed time - profitably. In-house legal departments have also been looking to manage their own matters and have their external counsel manage them according to project management standards, within alternative, fixed fee arrangements. A useful resource to support in-house lawyers is the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge, which has been advocating legal project management since 2008.

This blog is a first in a two part series on legal project management. It gives an overview and introduces practical project management tools for immediate use.

Legal Project Management (LPM)

The IILPM (International Institute of Legal Project Management) defines LPM as ‘the disciplined application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services.’

Traditional project management is the planned approach to undertaking assignments in distinct phases to achieve specific goals within well-defined constraints (time, costs and quality).

During the project life cycle, legal projects (matters) can be broken down into the following four phases:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Close-out

Through these four phases, LPM breaks down legal matters into detailed upfront scoping and planning, and then monitors and controls progress against the plan and budget, with any scope change and risk management discussions anchored in a pre-agreed, transparent approach to communication. The project management‐trained lawyer or legal project manager working within a legal department or law firm ensures that the lessons learnt from the project are implemented, creating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.

Project Managers & Their Tools

By taking a well-thought through approach, project managers have been known to bring order (and calm) to chaos, excelling when rigorously and intelligently applying the tools from their project management toolkits.

However, if a lawyer is not yet ready to implement a complete LPM approach, they can still take advantage of the plethora of powerful project management tools, customising to incorporate these into their working practices.

A couple of great tools worth considering for those new to legal project management are:

LPM Tool No 1: Work Breakdown Structure

This is a process scoping tool that determines the activities and tasks required to execute a legal project, listed in the most appropriate and efficient order to achieve the agreed deliverables for that project.

Then lawyers or other legal resources can be assigned to each task, along with the expected duration and budget or fee estimate. Actual performance and variance is subsequently tracked against this estimated duration and budget to monitor and control the schedule and costs. A review is held at the end of the project to improve budgeting and scheduling for the next project through a continuous improvement process.

The work breakdown structure is a core tool in the legal project manager’s toolkit, enabling accurate scheduling, effective budgeting and standardisation. It can be applied to both small run-of-the-mill matters and large, complex ones. Work breakdown structures can also help pinpoint the aspects of the legal work that are harder to scope, as a result of too many unknowns. Gaining rigorous clarity about the work involved provides lawyers with transparency for better resourcing, budgeting and pricing decisions.

LPM Tool No 2: Stakeholder Analysis Matrix

In addition to all this objective scoping, scheduling and budgeting, the fuzzier art of effective communication is acknowledged as fundamental to successful project management, hence the ‘Stakeholder Matrix.’

The Project Management Institute defines a stakeholder as ‘An individual, group, or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.’

The project sponsor, which for private practice lawyers is usually the client, and the legal matter team members are all key stakeholders. Other stakeholders could include: employees of companies in a merger and acquisition project, financiers, regulatory bodies, the courts and expert witnesses.

By mapping out stakeholders’ interest and power of influence on this Stakeholder Matrix, shown below, lawyers can clarify and organize the level of engagement and communication required to either encourage stakeholders to support the legal project or deter them from negatively impacting it.

Stakeholder Matrix.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: PMBOK

 Takeaways

The use of legal project management is increasingly important in the legal services industry. Client demand, doing more for less and the use of technology as an enabler has influenced this. Those who are not adopting LPM into their everyday legal operations may need to consider the negative impact on efficiency, effectiveness and profitability.

In Legal Project Management - Part 2, we explore the adoption and implementation of LPM by law firms. We are interested in hearing your views on LPM. Are you currently using LPM tools to enhance your efficiency and deliver better results?

Liz Kenyon