Legal project management is not a new phenomenon – so why haven’t more firms considered using proven project management principles in managing their processes?Since the beginning of 2014, my colleagues and I have partnered with the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) through a series of roadshows to lead discussions on how law firms can improve these processes and manage their clients’ expectations by implementing project management principles in their case and matter management processes.
A survey conducted by Altman Weil of Chief Legal Officers reveals that “more efficient project management” was the third most popular response when they were asked which improvements they would most like to see in their law firm services. You can also see that the two improvements that rated higher in the survey are directly related to the level of efficiency with which matters are being managed. A seasoned project manager can recognize the common project constraints in all of these “desires for improvement” and understand the methodology and strategy to address them.
The market continues to drive legal project management to the status of necessary rather than optional. Many of the marketing members of law firms whom I have worked with report that their clients or potential clients are as interested in their firm’s matter management methodology as they are in their experience in a legal area. And why shouldn’t a client be as interested and ask these types of questions? These companies have embraced the same type of project management principals and strategic planning in their own industries and are realizing the benefit. It makes sense that they ask, and in most cases expect , that these principals be used by the law firm they intend to hire.
Perhaps your answer to my first question is “We are a mid-to-small size firm and there is an overhead cost we need to consider before bringing in project managers to our firm.” It is possible that your current strategic plan may not support this type of change just yet. But this position forces me to ask a few follow-up questions. Do you really know whether your firm is managing matters as efficiently as it could be? Are you meeting or exceeding your expected profit margins? Are your clients asking you to produce and report qualitative and quantitative data on matters, and, if so, can you produce such reports? Have you been able to manage change or “scope creep” as matters mature? Do you have the appropriate management tools and the appropriately trained person(s) using the tools? Lastly, do you think your attorneys and paralegals would be more efficient in their practice if they were able to remove some of this burden from their responsibilities?
Law firm leaders are asking these types of questions on a daily basis and would be able to realize some level of efficiency by simply improving their firms’ daily operational processes. Perhaps taking a more structured and disciplined approach in your delivery of legal services is needed. If the latter is what you are searching for, then it may be time to incorporate legal project management into your strategic plan and business practice. It might not be the “silver bullet” you are looking for, but, if implemented correctly, legal project management will assuredly increase the value of the legal services you provide, giving your firm a competitive edge.