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A recent question about implementing Legal Project Management (LPM) at law firms brought my thinking into focus. Although I had generally been approaching LPM this way, I had not articulated quite as clearly … until now.

The usual questions I get center on my advice for how a firm should roll out LPM. Should they hire certified project managements? Should they train associates on LPM? Should they train all lawyers on LPM? Should they invest in legal specific PM technology?

My new answer is  … Yes.

Which is the short answer for … It Depends.

And what that really means is that LPM will take a different shape in different circumstances. For one practice embedded certified PMs will make the most sense. In another practice it might be training senior associates.

The real point here is that a firm should be cautious about narrowing its LPM approach at the macro level. It should let the needs of the practice determine how LPM evolves. Different practices and even different clients will have unique needs. This means firms will need to be flexible in their approach to LPM. They will want to have doors open to each approach and not commit entirely to one or another. Perhaps over time one approach will surface as the standard, but until then I suggest firms not impose what could potentially be a a litigation solution on a transactional practice.

This is my standard theme: It’s about the conversation. Just as I suggest talking with clients about their fee needs, I also suggest similar conversations with practice group leaders to determine their needs. We better make sure we understand the problem before we propose a solution – or more appropriately in this case – solutions.

  • Toby – I couldn’t agree more with your key point.

    I cannot count high enough to tell you how many firms we’ve seen delay action while they form committees to try to figure out a complete and long-term approach to LPM. They would have better luck finding unicorns. Different firms, different clients, different practice groups, and even different lawyers require different LPM solutions.

    However, I also believe there is another answer to the question “How should we get started?”: Start small, today. A well designed pilot test can lead to a quick win and some new internal champions.

    We recommend starting by coaching a few motivated lawyers who are open to new ideas and can see an immediate payoff. That could be the key partners who are responsible for new alternative fee arrangements. It could be relationship partners who are worried about protecting business with key clients looking for greater efficiency. It could be an entire practice group that is considering new checklists, templates and processes to improve its competitive position.

    The exact individuals and groups will vary from firm to firm. But in every case, the best lawyers to start with are those who are open-minded about change and efficiency, in a position to benefit when it works, and influential enough to quickly spread the word when it succeeds.

    Other consultants might recommend pilot testing something else. The important thing is to stop looking for the perfect solution, and instead as one of our clients put it: “Just do something. This will spread project management, because when lawyers succeed, others in the firm will imitate their success.”

  • As most traditional law firms continue to endlessly debate over initiating LPM, smart clients have moved on to those firms that are already far along in the LPM process and offer fixed fees.

  • I might have a slightly different approach than Jim, but I think his core point is correct. Start now. Try something. Pilots are great. Find the thought leaders in the firm who recognize the need for change in this area and mobilize them in support. And hire a professional to help – Jim, Pam, me, where the difference in the varied approaches we take is minor compared to the difference between doing something and doing nothing. (Heck, hire the three of us to each take a team, like some pseudo-reality show on the Food Network!)

  • When it comes to LPM, I agree that conversation is king (or queen!) since each practice group has its own LPM requirement. We need to figure out each PG's wishlist and work LPM into it, not the other way around.

    The catch is that LPM is often perceived by the PG as a disruptive technology. The strategy is to sell it as a process to enhance productivity and client development. I would also add motivation to the mix – Does the PG have the DESIRE to improve or is it happy with the status quo? Successful LPM not only improves efficiency, it also induces business growth (both internal & external). So we've to be cognizant of change as well as growth management.

    There're different ways to stir motivation but that's for another discussion. To be the best of something you need talent and persistence.

  • Let's get real here. Clients should never engage a firm that is not doing LPM. Any type of competent LPM will lead to better results at a price that has the client's informed consent. Firms balk at LPM because good LPM will expose and/or reduce inefficiency and overbilling.

    Informed clients have two choices. Require LPM from their firms or choose fixed fee value billing. I prefer the latter, because it shifts the burden to the firm to properly scope and budget the project. Any firm that can't handle this task is either inexperienced or more concerned about their PPP numbers than their client's best interests.