On February 10, I had the honor of co-chairing the Law Practice Institute’s annual program on project management for lawyers. There were over 600 people registered. For the first time, in-house lawyers from corporate or government law departments outperformed participants from private firms by 50%.
In preparing this, I have considered the changes we have seen in the legal marketplace over the 12 years that I have co-chaired the event and how LPM has evolved and changed. Some of the major trends affecting the LPM today are outlined below.
LPM is here to stay
In most organizations, LPM is a relatively recent development in legal practice, appearing about 15 years ago. But this is nothing new. Project management has been around since the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. In the United States, it has been popular since the beginnings of industrial manufacturing. The Project Management Institute, one of the largest professional associations in the world, was founded over 50 years ago and project management has been a practice in most industries for many decades.
In law firms, much of the growth in the use of legal project management has been around for the past five years, although a handful of pioneering firms have been using it for over 10 years. Some leaders of legal departments have described it as table issues in the LIP program for the past 5 years. But there are still legal organizations where the idea of using project management approaches to improve the delivery of legal services is still virtually unheard of.
Among the audience interviewed during the show:
- 69% said they used some type of kick-off meeting at the start of the deal with all or most members of the deal team
- 48% said they use some version of project charters, scope, or statement of work documents (and 9% plan to)
- 64% said they use some version of project plans (and 5% more plan to)
- 47% use budget templates (and 5% more plan to)
In contrast, when members of the Legal Department were asked “how often does your law firm update you on the financial status of a case”, 42% said “rarely”. I’m sure the project management professionals present were appalled. This is one of the critical areas that legal operations are trying to change.
Above is the maturity curve that we launched about five years ago with the LPM Institute advisory board and at the PLI program the same year. As you can see, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of law firms in the United States and around the world that are now in the higher levels of maturity. This means that there are high levels of LPM adoption in their avocado populations.
Last June, I chaired the Global LPM Summit. This is the first world conference on this subject with more than 75 speakers from a dozen countries. It was gratifying to hear many speakers from the UK, who revealed that they no longer had to push for lawyers to join. LPM is widely accepted in their organizations. Two things are becoming increasingly clear: (1) the use of LPM is widely accepted in many organizations around the world: and (2) many legal departments expect LPM approaches to be used in their business. LPM really is here to stay.
Integration challenges continue
Despite high levels of buy-in at firms with large LPM teams and robust adoption of LPM approaches at many law firms, it remains a challenge. In some companies, legal project managers still struggle to gain the level of authority that project managers have outside of the legal realm.
In the world beyond legal, in business around the world, project managers drive and direct projects. The high-rise buildings in city centers, the planes that fly us across the country, the schools our children go to – none of this would exist without a project manager directing the details of this construction. In technology, healthcare, manufacturing, and more, project managers lead and direct others to accomplish projects. In the legal realm, the role in many firms is still mostly in the background – guiding planning, oversight and influencing – but without the ability to “tell” lawyers what to do, let alone tell partners what make.
However, increasingly, in law firms that are strongly adopting LPM, legal project managers are seen as highly valued professionals. They help case teams operate efficiently and meet client expectations. In many companies, they are in direct contact with customers, helping team leaders ensure they meet and exceed customer expectations. Plus, they help with issues ranging from changing staff on a topic, setting up a customer-facing dashboard, discussing scope changes and budget impact, and more. .
Legal project managers are in high demand
Despite the power gap I just mentioned, the demand for these roles is growing exponentially. Indeed, legal organizations are realizing the positive impact that legal project managers can have on the bottom line – by reducing legal expenses for a legal department or improving profitability and client relations on the firm’s side. lawyers. There are law firms with teams of more than 50 legal project managers who handle the thousands of files that their firms handle each year. They are aided by a mixture of advisory assistance and training, and templates are provided to lawyers for self-help.
With so many law firms hiring legal project managers, whether they’re the first ones or the 50s, there’s been a real talent shortage in recent years. Some legal project managers have moved from one firm to another, often for a better title, better compensation, or both. This has led some companies to train their own talent from within, for example, paralegals, associates or other roles. (https://lawvision.com/how-to-build-and-scale-your-lpm-team/#.Yh0kuS-B2fU)
Some companies in the UK have taken the approach of creating a talent pool by educating university graduates in various areas of legal operations, including LPM. In other cases, firms have hired independent legal project managers, who are essentially LPM consultants who can be seconded to the firm to fill a capacity gap. This can be, for example, taking the place of a person on leave or while they are in the process of hiring a full-time project manager. My colleague and partner, Carla Landry, has been seconded to two firms over the last year or so in this type of role.
Another trend driving the demand for legal project managers is the client’s willingness to pay for legal project management – particularly when that means the work is handled by someone skilled in LPM and at a lower rate. to that of a traditional partner. This can at least cover the costs of your company’s LPM professionals and sometimes generate additional fees, further driving demand for these valued professionals.
The daughter of a participant in one of our public LPM certification courses disguised as a legal project manager for a school day on the theme “what do you want to be when you grow up?” She was carrying a copy of one of my books on LPM.
We need many more aspiring legal project managers to fill the demand for positions in legal organizations. There are many former lawyers practicing in these roles as well as others with a background in business or traditional project management. We have a war for talent not only to find enough lawyers to do the job, especially at larger firms, but also for professionals skilled in LPM, innovation, legal technology, practice management and pricing , to name a few.
Customers continue to drive value
The ACC Value Challenge, launched more than a decade ago, urges legal departments and the outside counsel they hire to adopt common sense business principles. This includes project and process management or value-based fee agreements. Each year, they select their Value Champions from legal departments and law firms that excel in pursuing these goals.
Clients driving firms to increase value and efficiency are a major force behind the growth in the use of LPM in law firms. We have also shared numerous snippets of RFPs in past blogs and programs where companies have requested the use of LPMs or dedicated legal project managers assigned to their cases.
Source: Lawyer Wolters Kluwer Future Ready 2021
The recent study by Wolters Kluwer also shows that legal departments would change firms if they were not efficient and productive. As you will see today, LPM is one of the best ways to demonstrate both.
LPM can help manage stress, burnout and other issues
Even before the start of the pandemic, the mental health crisis in the legal field was regularly discussed. This culminated in the ABA Well-Being Pledge a few years ago to try to address the fact that our profession has the highest levels of depression and addiction. The International Bar Association (IBA) has also published a report on mental health issues in the profession. Recent research that appears in the legal press almost weekly shows that lawyers are incredibly stressed by workload, remote work, understaffing and more.
These pressures have caused unprecedented numbers of people to quit legal organizations as part of the great resignation. While LPM can’t solve all of these problems, it can help alleviate some of the stress lawyers face. It can do this by using LPM approaches to more proactively manage workloads and deadlines, clarify roles, avoid duplication of effort, communicate more clearly, and much more.
In fact, at one of our panelists’ firms, they’ve seen firsthand that legal project managers can help relieve the stress on their lawyers. And, other research shows that a more organized approach to work assignments can not only help manage stress, but also improve diversity and inclusion efforts.
Stay tuned for more developments
These are just some of the highlights from the recent PLI conference. We will continue to see LPM programs in law firms and legal departments evolve and mature and the roles of legal project managers become even more critical to the effective and efficient management of legal matters.