Maybe you’ve been hearing that Legal Project Management (LPM) is a way of achieving greater efficiency, productivity, profitability – and client satisfaction. But maybe you’ve also heard it can be a complex, costly, and bewildering set of procedures and metrics. Maybe you’re thinking, “that may not be for us. Maybe it’s overkill for our practice, our lawyers, and our clients.” Maybe you’re asking …
Is Legal Project Management right for our firm?
Some basic questions – five that look outward to your clients and markets and five that look inward toward your firm’s lawyers and service delivery — may provide a snapshot that helps:
- Identify real LPM opportunities and benefits for your practice
- Suggest if LPM’s rewards are likely to outweigh the time and effort it requires
- Predict whether your firm’s lawyers will be likely to buy in to new LPM initiatives.
- Eating Your Lunch: Are competitors using their LPM expertise to steal business in some or all or your traditionally-strong practice areas?
- Bidding Wars: Are you losing client bidding contests or RFPS where clients either explicitly insist you use LPM or demand lower rates, greater efficiency, fewer surprises and better communication?
- Clients Busting Your Chops: Are you getting client complaints about excessive bills, out-of-control costs, scope creep and frequent do-overs?
- A New GC or Management: Is a change in the client’s legal or operational leadership going to alter traditional relationships and/or spark a push for new innovations, new economies, and better accountability from outside counsel?
- Paradigm Shifts: Will your practice be impacted by changes in how legal work gets done in the future (i.e., legal process outsourcing, offshoring, use of non-lawyer workers, new technological tools and systems)?
These outward-looking factors reflect many ways in which lawyers are being pushed into LPM rather than willingly jumping into it. But that’s okay, as long as they land on their feet and are willing to adapt to keep pace. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Signals from Within
A firm’s LPM readiness usually combines business drivers (i.e., are we making or losing money?) and human factors (i.e., money, motivators, buy-in, resistance, etc.) Either way, within a firm, LPM success more often is led than pushed, both by powerful business opportunities (or threats) or by powerful people.
- Bad News: Are once-powerful practice areas or client teams showing declining profitability and productivity?
- Leveraging Commoditized Practices: Are you trying to grow new practices that depend on repetitive steps being done more consistently and efficiently? This is where LPM can really shine in smaller firms.
- Sponsorship from the Top: Are you or your firm’s leadership willing to make serious changes to improve productivity and profitability?
- Demographics: Does your firm have up-and-coming tech-savvy lawyers who want to break out of traditional roles and incentives? Will a new generation soon take the reins?
- Committed Champions: Are there powerful, knowledgeable lawyers willing to take an active role in demonstrating how LPM has worked in their practices?
If your answers suggest that some form of LPM may bolster your fortunes, but you don’t know how to begin, start simple. Don’t try to make sweeping changes all at once. Grab for low-hanging fruit and go for some early gains. Build some buzz and momentum with the troops.
To make LPM work for you don’t necessarily need a lot of sophisticated systems and software. You just have to do your work with a disciplined and a strongly front-end loaded approach to allocating time and effort. In a nutshell, here’s how to make LPM work for you:
- Spend a lot more effort on initial Scoping: map out desired outcomes, timeframe, costs and budgets in detail with your client before diving in and billing time. Know where you’re going.
- Plan Better: Stop winging it; Take the time to map out phases, tasks, performers, budgets, and deadlines and communication pathways. Advanced planning beats damage control any day.
- Really Execute That Plan: Adhere strictly to your map and your budgets and make other players follow the plan, too. Don’t bogart project management: Keep all essential players in the loop all of the time.
- Constantly Measure and Monitor progress against plan. That will identify scope creep and blown budgets early. If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed.
- Commit to Post Project Review for every engagement, and loop in the client: What did we do well? What can we do better next time?
Try these common-sense steps, and, voila!, you will have become part of the LPM generation.
Pam Woldow is a consultant known for her pioneering work in transforming law firm-client relationships and helping both law firms and legal departments keep up with the profound changes that are reshaping how law is practiced. Pam is a Certified Master Coach and a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management, and she has been named a Legal Rebel by the American Bar Association, a role from which she derives particular satisfaction. Visit Pam’s award-winning blog At The Intersection, for powerful insights into the future of the legal profession and practical approaches for improving legal service delivery.