Project management is important in a number of different industries—especially those in which multiple players are trying to get complex tasks accomplished. Project Management Institute (PMI) broadly defines project management as utilizing “specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques” in order to complete work. When implemented properly, project management makes things more efficient and effective. Law firms and legal organizations have unique project management needs.
At Rize Technologies, we provide comprehensive IT support for law firms. Legal project management requires having the right technology and systems in place. Our team works closely with law firms large and small to help ensure that they have the tools, knowledge, and resources to manage projects and complete legal work more effectively. In this article, you will find the ultimate guide to legal project management (LPM).
What is Legal Project Management(LPM)?
Legal project management (LPM) is a specialized subset of more generalized project management. The American Bar Association (ABA) describes LPM as a systematic approach to legal practice that is designed to ensure that a law firm is “performing legal work more efficiently” and “managing uncertainty” effectively. While many of the general principles of project management also apply to the legal industry, law firms also have some specialized needs.
Understanding the Evolution of LPM
The modern evolution of legal project management can be dated back to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 and 2008. There were two different things that were happening at that time that influenced the evolution of LPM.
First, corporate clients were cutting back on legal spending dramatically. As corporations began to emerge from the Financial Crisis, there was a strong push for more cost-effective, efficient legal services. As reported by the ABA Journal in an article from that time, large corporate clients were simply looking to cut back on legal spending. Small businesses and individuals were doing the same.
Beyond the desire for more efficient legal services from clients, the period also saw the development of a lot of new consumer and business technology. Smartphones, web conferencing services, and dedicated project management tools were being rolled out. When utilized effectively as part of a well-structured LPM system, these new technologies can allow lawyers and law firms to complete tasks and accomplish legal work more efficiently.
What are the Key Principles (Building Blocks) of Legal Project Management?
A law firm’s LPM system can be structured in many different ways. The simple reality is that different law firms have different needs. Law firm size, practice area, and many other factors can affect the design of legal project management. That being said, all successful LPM systems share common characteristics. The following three principles are critically important in legal project management:
- Planning: Planning is essential. It is always better to plan a little more on the front-end than to be stuck doing damage control.
- Communication: Communication is central to project management. All of the key stakeholders—from attorneys to paralegals to clients to opposing parties—should be kept in the loop.
- Measurement: Metrics matter. If you cannot measure the effectiveness and efficiency of legal work, it is difficult to tell if your LPM system is actually producing the desired results.
The bottom line is that LPM is extraordinarily important for law firms in today’s hyper-competitive, cost-conscious, and technology-rich environment. With the right project management system, law firms large and small can go a long way towards getting legal work done faster, better, and more efficiently. Project management frees up attorneys to do what they do best — practice the law.
Defining Key Terms: What is a Project and Who is a Project Manager?
When thinking of legal project management, it is useful to define some key terms. In the context of LPM, a ‘project’ is broadly defined as a specific endeavor that has a beginning, middle, and end. It is not necessarily one particular piece of legal work. For example, a legal motion drafted for a client may be part of a project, but it may not be the entire project. However, representation for the negotiation of a corporate merger may be a ‘project.’ A project manager is the individual—or sometimes individuals—who has been empowered to take the lead on a particular project. They may be a senior partner, a junior partner, or another attorney. It all depends on the specific situation.
What are the Steps of Legal Project Management?
Understanding the importance of legal projectment management, attorneys and law firm staff also need to know how to set up an effective LPM system. While there are always some variations in LPM from firm-to-firm, the following five steps are generally part of any well-developed LPM system:
- Define Objectives and Scope of the Project: Legal project management helps to ensure that the right amount of work is done on the front-end of a major legal project. Step one is defining the objectives and the scope of the project. Among other things, this means getting to know a client, their business, their goals, and any key factors that could impact the delivery of legal work.
- Plan Out the Project: Step two in LPM is planning out how the legal work for a specific project will actually be carried out. You will need to define the different phases of the project, create basic timelines/deadlines for work, put together a team to get the work done, ensure that everything is budgeted properly, and set up a system to facilitate ongoing communication between the key players.
- Execute (Perform Legal Work): With a major legal project, planning is critically important. Still, the most important step of any legal project management system is step three: The execution of legal work. It is imperative that work is completed in a diligent, timely manner with careful attention to the small details. LPM facilitates better legal work—but the best project management system in the world will not make up for subpar legal practice.
- Consistently Monitor and Measure Progress: You do not want to find out that there is an issue with a legal project at the last possible minute. For this reason, it is crucial that legal project management includes a comprehensive plan for the monitoring and measuring of progress on legal work. By carefully monitoring and measuring progress, your law firm will be in the best position to proactively address any problems.
- Review What Went Right and What Can be Improved: Finally, it is always a best practice to take some time to review a major legal project. You will want to know what went right, what was done well, and what can be improved on future projects. Learning from past projects helps law firms hone their craft and deliver better, more cost effective legal work.
What Does it Mean to Implement a Legal Project Management Strategy?
For attorneys, legal staff, and law firms, it is important to understand what it actually means to implement a project management strategy. LPM strategies always start with creating a process to better understand the client—you need to know their needs, their goals, and the context within which they are working. As an example, imagine that your law firm is representing a business in a commercial dispute. What matters to the company? Do they want to minimize legal costs? Try to preserve a relationship? Fight aggressively? LPM strategies are about clarifying client needs.
Once the scope of the legal project and the clients needs are fully understood and internalized, legal project management is about crafting a clear and comprehensive strategy for when, how, and by whom the legal work will get done. There should be a core document that defines the objectives and expectations of the project. The client should know exactly what they are going to get. The law firm—and all individual attorneys and legal staff—should know exactly what they are expected to deliver.
Once there is a comprehensive plan in place, legal work will actually start. During this phase of the process, an LPM strategy should help to ensure that staff and resources are available to get the work done in a timely manner. An LPM strategy should also ensure that ongoing communication occurs between all interested parties so that problems can be addressed, everyone is on the same page, and the clients’ expectations are met.
Know the Benefits of Legal Project Management
A well-crafted LPM strategy can deliver a lot of benefits for law firms. Here are three key advantages for law firms that have the right legal project management strategy in place:
- Save Time and Money: LPM is about efficiency. Project management can help law firms save time and money by reducing inefficiencies. As an example, LPM can limit the risk that work gets duplicated or that attorneys have to spend extra time talking about the same issue over and over again. Law firms could end up “writing off” legal work that never needed to be done in the first place.
- Reduce Serious Problems: When everyone is not on the same page, law firms can run into some major problems. Miscommunication could lead to work getting missed. When this happens, there could be a crisis and the entire team of attorneys and legal staff could end up getting stressed out and burned out. This is a major concern for law firms. A recent survey cited by Bloomberg Law found that nearly half of attorneys feel burned out and are considering changing jobs.
- Improve Client Relationship: For law firms, a positive relationship with clients can make a big difference. It improves a firm’s reputation and increases the chances that a client will pay their bills without conflict.
LPM versus LPI: What is the Difference?
Legal project management (LPM) is sometimes confused with legal project improvement (LPI). Although the terms are relatively similar, LPM and LPI refer to two distinct things. LPM is a broad term that refers to planning, implementation, and execution of a legal project with a defined beginning, middle, and end. In contrast, legal project improvement (LPI) refers to the more specific strategies that can be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of legal practice.
What Should My Law Firm Know About Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFA)?
The rise of LPM has also seen a corresponding rise in something called alternative fee arrangements or AFAs. An AFA is loosely defined as any type of arrangement whereby a client pays an attorney or a law firm for legal work other than a traditional hourly billing rate. There is no question that the billable hour remains a core part of the legal industry.
However, some clients are interested in finding alternative arrangements that they believe will provide them a greater return on their investment (ROI). An alternative fee arrangement could be the answer for some law firms. As part of developing an LPM strategy for a particular legal project, it is important to pay close attention to the billing arrangement.
Can LPM be Scaled?
As noted previously, effective legal project management is governed by general principles but is also customized to meet the specific needs of a law firm and a particular legal project. With this, there are often concerns about the scalability of LPM. Will law firms have to start from scratch each and every time they start working on a new project? The good news is that LPM can absolutely be scaled. A flexible, common-sense, and well-designed approach to legal projects is consistently effective. Big firms, mid-sized boutique law firms, and small law firms can develop replicable and scalable project management systems that help them get projects done.
Rize Technologies Provides High Level IT Support to Law FIrms
At Rize Technologies, we are proud to provide top quality, reliable IT support and tech services to law firms. The right legal technology can make a big difference in legal project management (LPM). We are focused on helping our clients be more efficient. Contact us today to learn more about what our IT support team can do for your law firm.