It is clear that it is no longer sustainable for law firms to have an ‘open clock running’ on legal work for clients. Clients are demanding greater transparency, increased value for money and clear evidence of efficiency and best practice in the way that their legal work is performed. Law firms are responding to these challenges by developing and implementing a number of different strategies. These include cost reduction, process efficiency, merger activity, new product development and a focus on deeper, more strategic client relationships. The desire to implement these strategies creates the commercial drivers for legal project management (LPM).
In simple terms, legal project management is the application of project management techniques to the execution of legal matters.
A project is defined as:
- Time-bound and has a customer
- A complex effort with inter-related tasks
- A non-repetitive undertaking
- Has specific objectives
- Has time and cost constraints
- Needs a temporary organisation of diverse resources
- Clear beginning and end states
- A specific cycle of initiation, definition, planning, execution and close
This sounds like the perfect description of a legal matter at the most complex end of the spectrum….the sort of transaction for which clients are increasingly demanding greater value, transparency and increased certainty.
Project management methodologies aim to manage the three main issues law firm clients often complain about:
- time overruns
- cost overruns
- failure to meet client expectations
Applying project management techniques to matters allows the law firm to gain a deeper understanding of the composition of a matter. This in turn allows them to disaggregate the transaction and apply the most appropriate solution to each component. This may be a specific sourcing or process based solutions involving subject matter experts, legal process outsourcing (LPO), information technology, and so on. As such they are critical to enabling firms to manage the utilisation of their fee earners and critically to predict and manage profitability. As such project management should be at the heart of the effective delivery of even the most complex legal transactions.
However, while a firm might be managing their projects perfectly, how effective are the business processes that underlay the actual execution of the legal work? Clearly, project managing an inefficient process isn’t ideal. So while the skill of the project/matter manager is to:
- configure the matter appropriately
- ensure that each phase or element of work is planned, resourced and sourced appropriately
- run and coordinate the disaggregated elements of the matter concurrently
- manage quality and deliverables
It is also critical that the law firm understands which elements of the legal transactions can and should be managed as process and potentially subject to alternative sourcing and continuous improvement.