[Image CC by nhanusek]

This week’s Elephant Post question on Project Management (PM) centers around the concept of is PM conducted in a law firm setting significantly different enough from PM conducted, say in a Fortune 500 company, that it deserves its own classification? Is it Legal Project Management (LPM)? Or, is it simply Project Management conducted within the confines of a law firm… and the “Legal” prefix is simply a marketing ploy to get lawyers to buy in?

Some of the top people in the PM/LPM field chimed in this week, and I think you’ll enjoy the banter that goes back and forth. We thank all of those that contributed, and we’ll do this all over again next week with a new question that asks if law firms should just give up on Client Relationship Management tools (like InterAction), and just outsource the CRM using social media tools like LinkedIn? I actually know of some that are… but I imagine this question would cause minor strokes in some law firm Partners and some of you that actually manage your firm’s CRM tools. So, if you have a perspective, scroll down to the bottom of this post and fill out the handy-dandy form we’ve set up for you.

Steven B. Levy
Author, Legal Project Management

There absolutely is a difference. Traditional project management is designed for construction, aerospace, manufacturing, and other such areas with horizontal and vertical task stability — you know in advance each of the tasks (vertical) and you know in advance how long each will take within a narrow range of variability (horizontal). Legal does not meet either of these requirements. The profession is getting noticeably better on the vertical axis, clear identification of all of the tasks along with clear separation of them. However, in legal, as opposed to construction, say, you have a human adversary expending considerable effort to disrupt your plans. (E-discovery is a special case that comes closer to mapping to traditional project management techniques and tools.)

That said, the principles are the same.

Thus Legal Project Management is the application of the principles of project management to legal cases or matters (a/k/a projects).

Also, consider that there are three levels of “project management” — project administration, project management, and project leadership. Project administration isn’t much different in the legal world, and need not be done by attorneys. Project management currently, where it’s being practiced, is usually done by attorneys, but over time there’ll be a balance between attorney and non-attorney PMs. However, project leadership, the most critical aspect of PM and LPM, will remain an attorney role for the foreseeable future.

Legal Project Management makes a difference in the practices that adopt it. Project leadership can make an even bigger difference — for clients, for the team, and for profitability.

Jeffrey Brandt

There is absolutely no such thing as ‘legal project management.’  You can start with my post here!

Project management is project management.  To label it with the industry it is being used in hyperbole.  Good project management adapts to the project at hand.  How much and what kinds of project management tools you use are as varied as the nature of the projects themselves.  Legal has nothing unique in it that would require a special prefix on project management.  While project management may have had its start in heavy industry and manufacturing, progressive service industries have also engaged and used it.  Have you ever heard of a small company called PricewaterhouseCooper?  What about another small company called Bank of America?  Of course you have.  Have you ever heard of FPM or financial project management?  What about BPM or banking project management? I doubt you have.  I certainly haven’t.  PwC and BoA have been using PM for ages on their projects.  Is it the exact same kind of PM that law firms use or that NASA uses to build the next generation space shuttle?  No. Does that mean they need to prefix PM in order to make it relevant?  No. The basics processes and benefits of project management are solid without being dressed up.

Toby is right that there has been progress on the PM front in the legal vertical and that is great news.  I look forward to more and more PM processes and tools being used in legal.  The bad news is that either legal feels the need to engage in self-aggrandizement, or the industry vendors or consultants feel the need to prefix plain, old PM in order to sell it or charge more for it.

Thanks for listening.  I’ll let you go now.  You probably need to get back to check your legal email on your legal mobile device or your legal PC running your legal Windows 7.  Or maybe you need to make a legal call on your legal telephone.

Sorry folks but the Shark Repellent Bat Spray is just plain, old shark repellent.  And that’s ok, because shark repellent is great!  It can come in very handy when you accidently get dumped in the water and no amount of fisticuffs (or booticuffs?) will get that shark off you before it explodes.


Eric Elfman
LPM Vendor

I think that LPM exists and is different than PM, but not for the same reasons as Steven.

Although Steven is on to something in his reference of who PM was designed for and where it came from. If you are building freeways or nuclear submarines, then you need PM the way that Microsoft Project defines it: top down, rigid, hierarchical and complete. LPM is not that.

I believe that LPM is closer to a “lean” project management that we use in the software industry. In lean PM, you can’t plan to the end of the project, you have to be flexible (or iterative), status meetings and updates and collaboration is key. I believe that LPM is really “Lean Project Management,” but from my experience, the legal market doesn’t receive that message well.

Ben Wightwick
“Legal” IT PM and BA

This will be a short post to the previous additions, as I’m no expert.

You don’t hear BPM (Banking project management) or IPM (Insurance project management). I think (an this is where I get myself into trouble) lawyers like labels, and need something that uniquely defines them/firm/program of work. The fact it’s based on facets of existing solid and sensible project management practices is neither here nor there.

LPM or PM (with a legal component slant) – it’s the PM that’s important and it’s not rocket science.

Toby Brown

Is there really such a thing as Automotive Design?  Isn’t it really just “Design?”

My point is that if an industry needs to add its name as a prefix to a valuable idea in order to adopt it, then go for it.  Legal Project Management may just be a flavor of PM.  So what.  If adding the “L” gets law firm partners on-board, then it makes sense to me.

David Whelan
Manager of Legal Information

Project management is project management.  There are going to be nuances depending on the organization and the type of project but I don’t think there is a fundamental need to call it “legal” project management.  Law firm IT already does project management and, while the subject matter is different, I’m not sure that the project management concepts are.

However, the legal world seems to have two recurring themes.  First, in order to sell the lawyer (partners, faculty, members), you need to have a lawyer doing the work.  Calling it Legal Project Management will make it feel better for the audience and for the lawyers who are going to do it.  Second, we like to create silos.  Calling it Legal PM enables  the creation of a second project management nexus (PMOffice, whatever) in organizations that might already have the basic infrastructure, if not necessarily the right knowledge base, to provide project management support.  The upside is that creating a new silo is probably easier and the downside is that, in about 3 years when this has proven itself as either a fad or a staying trend, you may need to figure out how to merge multiple project management units.

Timothy B. Corcoran
Legal Technology & Marketing Executive

Legal Project Management is the application of standard project management concepts and techniques and tools to a legal practice.  Simply re-labeling or packaging the core concepts differently doesn’t change the discipline, but it may make it more palatable to lawyers.  Having spent several years conducting LPM trainings and workshops, I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that lawyers will not embrace concepts and techniques that appear to be designed for other disciplines.  On multiple occasions a law firm hired a “specialist” from another discipline, only to reject all the examples and case studies that were culled from industry, so I was asked to deliver a version customized to the legal field, and all of my anecdotes and case studies were from actual matters at actual law firms… so same concepts, different context.

I’ll also add that while lawyers generally “get” the analytics that are so important to good project management, they embrace this only after they’ve understood the underlying business concepts.  For example, diving right into process mapping to inform budgets will falter unless the lawyers first understand the critical importance of predictability to clients.  Also, lawyers often don’t readily acknowledge that there isn’t infinite variability and “art” in their legal work, and much of what they do in matter A is applicable in matter B, and so on.  They tend to equate repeatability with commodity, and few lawyers believe s/he practices commodity law.  So one area where LPM must be adapted from general PM concepts is to differentiate between those processes that are “routine” and those that are truly innovative and creative.

Pam Woldow

As a lawyer who has used LPM in her own legal practice, and in the last four years has taught it to thousands of lawyers in law firms and corporate legal departments, Legal Project Management is a significant and independent variant of standard PM due to the legal environment in which lawyers operate.  Equating the two would be like saying that since a horse has four legs and a dog has four legs, a dog is a horse.

One of the primary goals of PM is to reduce variation.  That’s perfect for turning out car fenders on an assembly line.  PM is also aimed at collaborative efforts to achieve goals set forth in a Project Charter.  So, it is excellent for planning linear processes, like software or systems development, where a team is working toward a singular goal.

For those of us who have practiced law, those PM goals don’t work in real-world legal trenches.  Law is inherently different from manufacturing and IT.  In litigation, for example, you have an opposing counsel whose efforts, intellect and time are spent trying to frustrate, defeat, and unseat all your efforts.  There is no single team all working to create a fender or a software installation.  Instead, you have clashing, opposing forces that are paid (handsomely!) to think of and effect ways to undo the gains of the other side.  In a software installation, for example, this would be like having someone erase programming code and toss the computers out the window every night after a day’s work.

And, transactional work has the same tensions.  In mergers and acquisition deals, there are fleets of brainy folks trying to move the price point in favor of their client.  All the while, business folks, shareholders, the press and others are bringing unique pressures to bear on the chess pieces that the lawyers are moving on the board.

Moreover, the players – the lawyers – have very specific personality traits that have been tested and written about many times.  They tend to be extraordinarily autonomous and non-collaborative – markedly more so than the general population and other professionals.
Lawyers work very independently.  In fact, we’re trained to do so from law school onward, and the compensation structures in law firms intensify and reinforce that tendency.  So, in law firms you have a boatload of autonomous, intelligent folks engaged in ritual warfare on behalf of clients who pay them to achieve certain goals.  This is not an environment where standard PM is going to play well.

That said, there are processes that can be improved and made more efficient.  There are patterns in matters or parts of matters that can be flow-charted and for which some parts of traditional PM approaches make sense.  The push towards sharing information and collaborating that LPM supports absolutely enhances the efficacy of strategizing, staffing and managing legal matters.  But, a dog is NOT a horse.

Next Week’s Elephant Post:

Is It Time To Outsource Client Relationship Management Tools to Products Like LinkedIn?

Perhaps your firm is the exception and you have somehow got your CRM tool to work properly and get everyone in your firm to share their contacts, and keep all that information up to date. For the rest of the world, however, it seems that no one has a success story to talk about when it comes to the data found in their CRM. Is it time to just give it up and admit that CRM is a pipe-dream? Can the information that is found in external products like LinkedIn actually work more effectively than trying to keep up with all of those relationships internally?? Let us know your perspective.