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Legal Project Management (LPM), perhaps THE legal buzz-phrase of 2012 continues to increase in popularity. The basic thinking behind it is centered on efficiencies. Many clients are asking their firms to become more efficient. As I have noted in the past, they might want to be more specific about what they mean by efficiency. However, LPM will likely be an effective tool for firms to use in providing legal services for clients at lower costs.

Recently I met with some project managers (PMs) to learn from them and increase my knowledge on the subject. These were project managers involved in commercial real estate building projects. What is unique about their business is that they represent clients, versus general contractors or architecture firms. My first question for them was: Why Clients? I assumed the project managers working with the building contractors would be more than sufficient. Why would a client pay more for their own project managers?

The reason was made clear by some of their comments. They said architects were focused on building the most functional and attractive buildings. Construction contractors meanwhile were focused on delivering on spec and under budget. Neither of these goals were entirely focused on the client’s agenda. Therefore the role of the client-side PM has the potential to bring significant value.

I saw a direct analogy to project management in the legal space. Here the law firm functions as both the architect and the contractor. The law firm agenda is delivering the most effective legal service with the best possible outcome. Or in other words, they want to be the best lawyers they can be. It’s not that they don’t care about the client’s agenda; it’s just that they can never fully appreciate it. Added to that situation – the client’s agenda can shift over time.

As a pricing guy, I am always focused on developing fee options that align law firm and client interests. Yet even the best fee deal is not a full alignment of agendas. In fact that full agenda alignment is unattainable. Two people will differ on agendas, so we can’t expect two organizations to ever come close to that ideal.

The project managers shared with me a number of examples where their involvement increased value and lowered costs. One of their clients I know commented that they easily saved more on their project than the cost of the extra PMs. And the client was happier with the results.

Obviously not all legal matters will benefit from a similar client-side PM resource. However, there are likely savings for clients to realize in many practice areas. And beyond savings, the client will realize more effective legal services. (This comment should make Ron Baker happy.)

Of course I am crystal-balling here a bit. The LPM space is embryonic at best. I predict a bit more evolution will be needed before a client-side LPM option is embraced. Either way, it was interesting to learn from another industry and see that new ideas are being employed in other industries as well.