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September 11, 2013

Why is legal project management growing?

Some background on this post: Lawyers often ask us for a one page summary of what LPM is, and why they should care.  But summarizing all the facts in a single page is very difficult.  As Mark Twain once put it“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Over the last few months, LegalBizDev Principal Ed Burke and I have been exchanging drafts of this post.  If you want to prove to yourself that we met the challenge, feel free to download the one-page pdf version.

Clients have been using project management for decades to reduce risks, cut costs, streamline processes and protect profits.  Now they’re pressing law firms to adapt it to legal services, to provide more value and improve the predictability of budgets and schedules.


What is legal project management?

Though new to law firms, project management has long been used by businesses to protect profits through efficiency and predictability.   Their projects – from the design and production of a new line of jet engines to the acquisition and integration of a billion-dollar company -- can reach nearly unimaginable levels of complexity, variability and risk.  Businesses from engineering to investment banking have developed a rich and deep body of knowledge about how to manage projects on time and within budget.  Legal project management adapts these proven techniques to the unique challenges of managing unpredictable legal matters and disputes.  


How it works.

Project management applies templates, checklists and other recognized management tools to planning, managing, delegating, budgeting, tracking, meeting deadlines and avoiding risks.  A 2011 meeting of litigation experts hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel and the American Bar Association found that, while lawyers are quick to grasp new management techniques, “the challenge is change/behavior management.”  As a result, the quickest path to ROI is one-on-one coaching, in which experts advise lawyers on immediate legal project management tactics each lawyer can use to address the issues they face today.


What’s new?  

Any lawyer who has ever planned a budget or managed a team has served as a legal project manager.  But clients are now choosing law firms based on their ability to apply a more systematic and disciplined approach that delivers more value, more quickly. “More efficient project management” is now one of the top demands of in-house Chief Legal Officers, according to a recent survey by Altman Weil.  


The benefits.

Project management was initially adopted by many firms to protect profits in fixed-fee arrangements.  But then they saw its benefits in billable-hour matters, including decreased write-offs and write-downs through more accurate budgeting and tracking.  It also enabled firms to take on more work without adding headcount or cost. A recent American Lawyer Media Legal Intelligence survey found that firms that use legal project management report more productive client relationships, improved communication, greater cost predictability and other benefits.   

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The first “how to” text in the field – the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide by LegalBizDev founder Jim Hassett – was published in 2010 and is now in its third edition.  For more information, see www.legalbizdev.com/projectmanagement. 


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