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February 10, 2016

The evolving role of directors of legal project management (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner

As recently as five or six years ago, it was easy to calculate the number of law firms that had hired directors of legal project management (LPM): zero. As the field has grown in the last few years, it has gotten much harder to get a precise count. But there is no doubt that the number is growing.

As Hildebrandt Consulting and CitiPrivate Bank reported a few weeks ago in their 2016 Client Advisory:

An increasing number of law firms are making greater use of project managers, who are tasked with helping partners determine necessary resources, stay on budget and avoid scope creep. We expect to see greater use of project managers, as well as pricing specialists, to help partners understand the true cost of running a matter (p.10).

However, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the job description for these new positions and about how well different tactics are working. To gain insight into these critical issues, we recently interviewed 15 people who currently perform the role of LPM director:

  • Kim Craig, Global Director, Legal Process Improvement, SeyfarthLean Consulting
  • Stuart Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and LPM, Baker & McKenzie
  • Pete Elliott, Director of Legal Project Management, Benesch Friedlander
  • Chris Ende, Managing Director for Pricing and Project Management, Goodwin Procter
  • Alex Erines, Pricing and Project Manager, Crowell & Moring
  • Bart Gabler, Director of Pricing and LPM, K&L Gates
  • Keri Gavin, Director of Pricing and Project Management, Winston & Strawn
  • Bree Johnson, Director of Value Pricing and LPM, Stinson Leonard Street
  • Rick Kathuria, National Director of Project Management and Legal Logistics, Gowlings
  • Jennifer Mapp, Director of Pricing and Project Management, Dechert
  • Linda Novosel, Chief Pricing and LPM Officer, Steptoe & Johnson
  • Melissa Prince, Director of Pricing and Legal Project Management, Ballard Spahr
  • Peter Secor, Director of Strategic Pricing and Project Management, Pepper Hamilton
  • Tom Snavely, Manager of Legal Process Improvement and Project Management, Faegre Baker Daniels
  • Kathleen Thompson, Strategic Pricing Analyst and Legal Project Manager, BakerHostetler

To maximize the frankness of their responses, we promised that while their names would be listed in the article, every quote we used could be reviewed by them in advance and none would be attributed to a particular person or firm.

We were quite surprised by the wide range and the variability of the responses.  After reading and re-reading the interview summaries several times, our main conclusion was that there is a striking lack of consensus both on what the LPM director role should be and on what works best.

If we had interviewed 15 law firm executive directors or CFOs about their jobs, we would have expected to find some variations among firms but an underlying foundation of consistency on the central role. We did not find that kind of consistency here.

If, based on these interviews, we summed up the state of the art of law firm LPM directors’ role in a single word, the word would be “pioneer.” Like the pioneers in the American west, some are likely to end up with greater success than others. Which tactics work best? There is no shortage of consultants who will provide advice on this important question (including LegalBizDev; we are guilty as charged). But in this time of great change in the legal profession, a consensus has not yet emerged.

The people we interviewed did strongly agree on the benefits of LPM. As two interviewees put it:

Clients are more interested than ever before in requesting data from lawyers and in talking about costs and budgets and the value that they receive from the lawyers’ work.

LPM improves the client experience by driving efficiency and value.

Indeed, LPM helps not just with clients but with the way lawyers perceive their work:

The client feels it is getting good value and the lawyers feel that they are improving the way in which they work.

But there is much less agreement about how to get from here to there. For example, consider the role of LPM directors in selecting and supporting new software. One described the main goal for 2016 as:

Expanding our software program and showing firm management some quantifiable results from its use.

Several others also felt this was the most important aspect of their job:

Our main achievement to date has been to build an in-house software tool based on Excel that the lawyers can use for project management.

One of the first things I did after accepting this position was to look for software that would help the firm’s lawyers answer LPM questions. But we haven’t yet found software that satisfies our needs.

Our biggest challenge centers on the lack of technology in the market. There are a great many software packages on managing to budget but very few or none that put together all the pieces of LPM, including staffing and document management as well as budgeting. So our firm built a budgeting and tracking system internally from scratch…. This took a full year. We are very pleased with the results. Not all the partners are using it, but a fair number of partners are on board and at least use some pieces of this tool.

In reviewing these comments and other off-the-record conversations, we were reminded of the split of opinion regarding software that we reported in the book Client Value and Law Firm Profitability, based on interviews with AmLaw 200 leaders, including this negative example:

We spent an incredible amount of time and resources coming up with a very sophisticated reporting system that would allow people, with a couple of clicks through our intranet, to go into any particular matter that had a budget, and see down to the timekeeper and task level, exactly how they were doing. Nobody uses them, as far as we can tell—literally, nobody. All they care about is the high level. Lawyers want an email once a week saying, where am I with my budget? They don’t care about the more detailed information (p. 118).

Perhaps that is why one LPM director described an important part of the job as:

Handling the firm’s roll-out of LPM technology effectively, since lawyers resist using technology unless it works well the first time.

And while some we interviewed emphasized their role with software, others did not mention it at all.

In parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll discuss other tasks performed by LPM directors and staff.

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