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March 25, 2020

The Top Four Facts Law Firm Leaders Need to Know About LPM (Part 2 of 2)

Fact 2: Experts disagree about the best way to define LPM (cont. from Part 1)

In defining LPM, we believe that lawyers must take a systematic approach that is closely related to the Agile approach to project management.  Stated simply, we encourage lawyers to use an iterative process that focuses on key LPM issues, one at a time, in their order of importance.

In an article entitled “Agile: A Non-traditional Approach to Legal Project Management,” Kim Craig, then SeyfarthLean’s global director of legal process improvement, and Jenny Lee, a senior project manager with Seyfarth, explained why Agile is particularly relevant to the legal profession:

Traditional project management focuses on robust, comprehensive, mandatory project documentation with lengthy project charters, detailed project plans, complex status reports and rigorous, formal change control logs… [But] the world of legal service delivery is fast-paced and unpredictable. In legal matters, we cannot possibly know everything that will be involved with litigation at the outset. Developing an overall strategy is generally common practice, but detailed, cradle-to-grave planning is impossible.[1]

Agile contrasts with the more traditional approach to project management which holds that every project should start with a well-defined plan.  Only after that is completed and approved do you begin working your way to the end, one sequential step at a time.  

The traditional approach is also known as the “waterfall” approach because progress is seen as flowing steadily from the top to the bottom (as in a waterfall).  It typically sees projects in terms of five key phases or steps such as:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Evaluation

In some cases, firms have hired LPM Directors based on their “waterfall” project management experience in construction, government contracting, and other areas where traditional techniques are used and Agile techniques are not.  This has led to many stories of LPM Directors who could not or would not adapt to a legal environment, and who ended up working with the very small group of partners that were interested in project charters and Gantt charts.

So, if anyone tells you that LPM is defined by five steps such as analysis, design, implementation, testing and evaluation, beware.  They are describing the traditional waterfall approach, not the Agile approach which applies better to lawyers. As the old cliché says, “you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and attempts to apply the traditional waterfall approach have set back the cause of LPM at many firms.

Fact 3:  LPM success requires long-term managerial support

In our work with hundreds of law firms, we’ve seen the importance of follow-up over and over again.  In every single case where we have seen a firm make significant LPM progress, it was led by influential partners or members of the executive committee who were strong believers in LPM.  In a few cases, we’ve seen LPM programs make an enormous amount of progress when they were led by a powerful internal champion, and then slow to a crawl when that decision-maker left the firm.

Many firms have individual lawyers or practice groups that are quite advanced in LPM, but in our opinion not a single law firm in the world can yet say that LPM has truly taken hold across the entire firm. LPM aims to change habits that have been reinforced over decades, and to help firms constantly adjust to evolving client demands.  Having long-term managerial support is critical to success.

Fact 4: Law Firm Partners Don’t Know What to Do Differently

According to Altman Weil’s 2019 Law Firms in Transition Survey (LFiT, p. 44), most law firm partners (60%) don’t know what to do differently, and that’s why law firms aren’t doing more to change the way they deliver legal services. That might also explain why most law firm partners (69%) resist most change efforts (LFiT, p. 44).

If you’re a law firm leader who wants to make positive changes at your firm, you absolutely must be able to demonstrate how things can be done differently, and with positive results. At LegalBizDev, we have been successfully coaching lawyers in LPM over the past decade. In this way, we help law firm partners become internal LPM champions who advocate for LPM by sharing their success stories with other lawyers at the firm.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, an online library of LPM tools and templates which is updated twice a year.


[1]   Kim Craig's article originally appeared in the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA’s) December 2013 white paper titled, “Business and Financial Management: Wrangling the Wild Ride.”

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