As earlier promised, a somewhat delayed post on legal project management (LPM).
The recent Ark Group master class on LPM, by Steven B. Levy of Lexician and Patrick Lamb of the Valorem Law Group, was a good overview of the topic, with Steven drawing on his experiences at Microsoft and from his book, with Patrick providing a law firm perspective based on the approach in his daily practice. The session certainly reinforced the points in Steven’s book and provided useful context and comfort for implementing LPM. In addition to both the various theoretical and practical ideas presented, I hope to use ideas from that session to customize a number of checklists and templates.
In addition, LPM was also a topic at a recent meeting of a peer group of knowledge management lawyers. To their credit, colleagues and bloggers Mary Abraham and David Hobbie have nicely summarized those sessions on their foregoing blogs (check their various entries for October 15th).
At the risk of oversimplifying the topic, I had a number of take-away points from these sessions:
- LPM is not difficult: At the heart of LPM is good communication – communication within the internal team and communication with the client. You need agreement on the scope of the project (and what is not covered), along with some basic planning, monitoring, and follow-up.
- LPM is not a fad: Despite the sense that LPM seems a bit like the flavour of the month, most speakers at these sessions instead regard LPM as an ongoing evolution in law practice management. There is also the realization that lawyers have been doing LPM for some time (not always well) and that perhaps what is needed is to bring more discipline to existing practices, the same sort of discipline that other professionals bring to their large projects.
- LPM is a shared task/responsibility: You really sense the idea that LPM is a shared responsibility between the law firm and the client. There are opportunities here for mutual benefits. Lawyers can practice profitably and enjoyably by implementing LPM and still provide value (and savings) to the client at the same time as deepening their relationships with clients.
- LPM is not necessarily Lean Six Sigma (LSS): Although there are clear advantages in firms examining their processes for inefficiencies through LSS principles, basic LPM can be done without going into too much six sigma methodology. However, there is a nice interplay between the two. The experience of “mapping out” the stages of a lawsuit or a corporate deal and all of the tasks involved (and who will do what) will most certainly force questions on the need for certain steps and provide efficiencies and cost-savings at the same time as helping to define the scope of the project to be undertaken.
- LPM is not necessarily about technology: Likewise, most commentators agree that LPM is not necessarily about technology. Steven Levy repeatedly emphasized the importance of people skills and good communications. That said, technology does play a role, ranging from simple tools and templates in Microsoft Excel (for fee estimating, planning, and the like) to more complicated project management software such as Microsoft Project.
Both of the foregoing sessions offered a number of tips at how to approach LPM:
- Don’t be too ambitious with LPM unless there is a lot of internal support and management buy-in
- To the extent LPM is related to alternative fee arrangements, firms and clients must ensure that compensation models that reward efficiencies are in place and sustainable
- Recognize need for cultural change
- In addition to merely reviewing how the project went, post-action reviews provide an important opportunity for firms to deepen relationships with clients by showing a commitment to continuous, ongoing improvement.
There were several discussions among colleagues on the role that Knowledge Management (KM) departments can play in supporting LPM. The more obvious role is of course in providing the checklists and precedents on transactions in large projects to allow lawyers to more efficiently provide services. KM lawyers will also often be familiar with various technologies that support LPM and document workflow in addition to being effective trainers and champions of LPM. Having said that, for LPM to be effective, there needs to be input at many levels within the organization.