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January 09, 2019

LPM success at Baker McKenzie (Part 2 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

Baker McKenzie is one of the largest law firms in the world, with 78 offices in 46 countries.  This interview with Kevin O’Sullivan, Baker McKenzie’s Head of Legal Project Management in London, was conducted by LegalBizDev CEO Tim Batdorf. 

 

LegalBizDev:  Do your project managers get involved in coaching lawyers?

O’Sullivan:  Yes, very much so.  Our process includes both coaching and delivering on time-consuming tasks such as running the resourcing, the management reporting, and the team task management.

LegalBizDev:  How are your project managers organized?

O’Sullivan: They are actually assigned to three different types of roles:  practice-group-facing, client-facing, and technical support.  The technical support team is a new concept for us and a recognition that increasingly many of our interventions involve innovative use of technical solutions.  We have therefore created staff roles to focus on the deployment of technology.  This enables them to become experts in numerous emerging technologies and in designing good process solutions for given challenges.

The reason that some assignments are practice-group-facing is that within a law firm there are obviously different mandates with different requirements, such as trademarking vs large M&A transactions, or contentious filings.  There are different people working within those practice groups who we need to take on a change-management journey.  And therefore, by being present, by being an established member of that team, we’re able to get more hooks in and suggest ways to approach something.  This makes it easier to disrupt some of their current processes and drive a greater understanding of the way in which LPM can improve the efficiency of their approach.

Practice-group-facing project managers work in local offices with partners, senior associates, trainees, etc. – all the way through the team – to look at matters where there is significant complexity, such as multi-jurisdictional issues or complex interdependent processes.

These project managers nurture the team members.  The word I tend to use is they’re ‘harvesting’ work from those practice groups.  Project managers are embedding themselves to remind team members: ‘Don’t just plan to perform this matter in the same way you did on previous matters.  Let’s have a think about whether we can approach it in a different way.’  These project managers build up knowledge, both of our people internally and also, to some extent, of the clients with whom we regularly work.    

The motivations for having a project manager involved vary.  From the client’s perspective it might be that the client has stepped in and said, ‘We would really like to see the efficiency brought by the presence of a project manager on this matter.’  It may also come from the internal team saying, ‘This is a significant risk to us because we are investing heavily in this piece of work.  We’ve got a fixed-fee arrangement and we need to make sure that we’re controlling and managing the matter to give us the best chance of success.’

LegalBizDev:  What about client-facing project managers?

O’Sullivan:  The client-facing project managers are not wedded to a single practice group.  One day they could be drafted into the contentious area of the business, and when that piece of work comes to an end, they would move into a different area.

In cases where there is a large team, high client expectations, or just a complex new matter coming on board, we would often have project managers on the team that help deliver on that matter.  They embed themselves within a working team and lead on the process aspects of that matter.

Client-facing project managers are also brought in if we have developed processes which can increase efficiency in other matters.  Since there is already a proven way of working, we don’t really need to design it as dramatically as the first time we did that kind of work with that client. 

Another reason to add a project manager to a team is the resourcing consideration.  This situation arises if a team on the ground is managing a number of matters and a number of different people on a day-to-day basis.  This particularly applies if there is a very large piece of work, very complex, and perhaps globally reaching.  Then we can put in a member of the team who is able to be fully available to that project.

LegalBizDev:  The idea of having project managers working so directly with clients is an unusual one and quite interesting.  Could you sum up some of the benefits?

O’Sullivan:  The benefits fall into the areas of driving controls, visibility, and better communication.  On the client side, there’s also an element of transparency as well. 

If we look at the way many lawyers track financial information and communicate with clients traditionally, the approach has often been: ‘We have finished the work, here’s the invoice, and by the way, we are overrun.’  But communication needs to be much more alive than that.  Our LPM initiatives have brought regular reporting.  But we’re not just providing a report.  If the number has been driven up beyond where we expected, we’re deeply involved in looking in and analyzing why, and doing something about it.

LegalBizDev:  People often ask us how many project managers they should hire per 100 lawyers.  How many do you have?

O’Sullivan:  In the London office, our current ratio is about 3 project managers per 100 lawyers and equivalent professionals.  More specifically, we have 14 project managers serving 440 lawyers and equivalent professionals.  Remember that in many cases these are billable.  Our goal is always to assure that our total LPM team is not an overhead expense, but actually increases the bottom line.

We don't believe that we have yet achieved the critical mass within London.  Our focus is to ensure that we not only grow the team but also complement the managers with improved technology and supporting staff, including legal project coordinators.  We currently have 12 legal project coordinators in our local service center in Belfast, as well as other functional support teams in local offices and service centers.

LegalBizDev:  Given that Baker McKenzie has the resources of one of the largest law firms in the world, many people who are reading this may wonder what smaller firms should do.  Do you have any advice for them?

O’Sullivan:  My best advice for any size firm is don’t underestimate how much of a change program LPM requires.  This is a profession that has long operated in a certain way.  Lawyers continue to be trained to operate in this way, and therefore will naturally default to it until they’ve been shown the benefits of the LPM approach. Those seeking quick wins will likely find them in improving collaborative working, task delegation, visible matter reporting, and communication.

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