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August 22, 2018

What to Expect from Legal Project Management Coaching (Part 1 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

As explained in our white paper, The Keys to Legal Project Management Success, the five most effective ways to increase legal project management (LPM) results are to: (1) focus on changing behavior and solving problems, (2) aim for quick wins to create internal champions, (3) publicize successes within the firm, (4) use just-in-time training materials, and (5) take action now and follow up relentlessly. 

In over a decade of research and consulting with hundreds of law firms, we’ve seen that one-to-one LPM coaching is the most effective way to change behavior and achieve quick wins. 

There are a number of ways that LPM coaching programs can be structured by internal staff or external consultants.  Our own approach has evolved over the last ten years, as we found that some tactics worked better than others.  This series of posts explains how our approach works, what lawyers can expect if they sign up, and actual successes that typical participants have achieved.


What is the goal of LPM coaching?

Project management has been used for decades in fields like engineering, construction, information technology, and aerospace.  It is only in the last ten years that lawyers have begun to apply these systematic and disciplined tactics to the unique challenges of the profession, and best practices have begun to emerge.  A primary goal of LPM coaching is to help lawyers apply the latest findings about best practices, so they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

From the start, the primary goal of our coaching programs has been to help lawyers apply LPM quickly to find “low hanging fruit” and directly experience such immediate benefits as: 

  • Increasing realization and profitability
  • Reducing risk
  • Protecting current business
  • Increasing new business

We have repeatedly seen that once individual lawyers achieve success, they become internal champions who help spread LPM best practices to others within their firm.  (Our web page includes several case studies showing how this has worked at a number of firms.)


How does our LPM coaching work?

A certified LegalBizDev coach provides one-to-one advice on the best ways to apply LPM over a period of several months. LPM coaching is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. What works best for one practice team or one individual lawyer might not be best for another practice team or individual. Therefore, the precise content and approach of coaching is customized to each lawyer’s needs and personality. But for every lawyer, each call provides an opportunity to brainstorm with an LPM expert.  And the very fact that a lawyer has a call scheduled helps that individual find the time for LPM in an otherwise busy schedule.

The program typically includes unlimited phone calls and emails for two months from the date of the lawyer’s first call. Most lawyers schedule a 30-minute phone call at the same time every week, such as every Tuesday at 10 AM.  If the lawyer is unable to complete at least eight calls within two months, the program is extended for up to two additional months or until eight calls have been completed, whichever comes first.

Most lawyers begin the coaching process by selecting an active client or matter, then identifying which of eight key LPM issues are most critical to meet their goals. Each participant receives a copy our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide (4th Ed.), which is a toolbox of templates and best practices. During the coaching program, the LPM coach helps the lawyer quickly select the tools that are most likely to result in immediate benefits for their immediate situation. During the coaching, the lawyer also becomes aware of all the other LPM tools that may be helpful to them in the future, and when to use those tools.

A few lawyers prefer to start the coaching program by analyzing a past matter that went over budget to better understand how LPM could prevent that problem in the future.  Some use the coaching program as a CLE-type course to understand the big picture of LPM.  Although these theoretical approaches offer value, we prefer to engage lawyers in an active matter so that LPM is immediately real and relevant to their practice.  But the bottom line is that our approach is entirely customized, and whatever works best for the lawyer works for us.


Is LPM coaching just for lawyers?

To maximize the benefits of LPM coaching, we believe it is best if lawyers participate in our LPM coaching program.  However, we have coached paralegals, legal assistants, project management professionals, and LPM staff members with success.  The reason we recommend coaching lawyers is obvious to anyone who has ever worked in a law firm:  lawyers are in charge, and if they don’t buy into LPM, it simply will not be applied as effectively.  We have found it can be unproductive and frustrating for a legal assistant to learn new LPM concepts, and then be limited in his or her ability to implement that new knowledge because they lack the authority to introduce important changes into the LPM process. 

In addition, lawyers are principally involved in many of the key LPM issues.  Lawyers work with clients to set objectives and define scope and negotiate changes of scope.  The same holds true for other key LPM issues such as managing client communications, assigning tasks, managing the team, assessing risks, and managing quality. 

While many lawyers would prefer not to set aside time for coaching, as we often say, “You can’t pay someone else to do your pushups.”  It is the lawyer who must learn LPM concepts if LPM is to be fully implemented in ongoing client matters. 

Some of this material has been adapted from the Fourth Edition of our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide



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