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April 08, 2020

What exactly is LPM? Here’s our definition

Though it is relatively new to law firms, project management has long been used by businesses to protect profits through predictability and efficiency. 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.

Professions 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.

By our definition, legal project management (LPM) increases client satisfaction and firm profitability by applying proven techniques to improve the management of legal matters. Thus, we see LPM as an umbrella term that embraces a very wide range of management techniques, including pricing, communication, process improvement, and much more.

Others disagree. For example, the field of knowledge management (KM) identifies useful intellectual property created during past matters and then leverages that knowledge inside the firm through increased access and sharing. In some firms, LPM and KM are entirely separate departments. In others, LPM staff are part of the KM department, or KM staff are part of the LPM department.

However, if a management technique can help lawyers accomplish their goals, we say it is part of LPM. We believe that hair splitting over what is and is not LPM can become just another excuse to avoid action. Instead, law firms need to move as quickly as possible to the central problem addressed by LPM: What must we do today to meet client needs while remaining profitable?

We also include personal time management in our definition of LPM.  This field is not mentioned in many project management courses and texts, nor is it listed in the index of the Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the bible of the field which is used to certify project managers in other industries. But for some lawyers, personal time management is a vitally important skill which can increase value and profitability. That’s why we include personal time management in our definition of legal project management.

Like Barbara Boake and Rick Kathuria, the authors of Project Management for Lawyers, we argue that “project management is a tool box—choose only what you need to most effectively manage [each] project.” (p. 14).  The key to success, we believe, is to find the “low-hanging fruit,” the management tactics that are most likely to help each individual increase value and profitability.

By our definition, any lawyer who has ever planned a budget or managed a team has served as a legal project manager. But what was “good project management” for lawyers a few years ago is no longer good enough. Clients are now choosing law firms based on their ability to apply a more systematic and disciplined approach that delivers more value more quickly.

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