Legal Project Management (or LPM) is becoming essential for law firms. For good reason. Firms often run countless numbers of complex matters at once. Keeping track of all this; the wins, the losses, whether something is over or under budget; is impossible without good project management. However, LPM’s are often held back by an inability to scale what they do. Without scale, firms can never truly benefit from the oversight and control project management can bring to their firm.
So, how can the legal industry tackle this problem? In this four part series, we’ll be looking at the state of LPM right now. In our previous blog we broke down why LPM is important, and how firms are currently failing to implement it. This blog will be looking at The myths law firms need to overcome to scale LPM. We’ll identify what LPM at scale really is, and what it isn’t.
So what is LPM at scale?
At its most simple, scaling up LPM is about making it part and parcel of service delivery. As we explored in last week’s blog, good LPM can make projects more cost effective. Project Managers work to ensure clients enjoy work delivered on time and on budget. In turn, this leads to better client retention. Additionally LPMs can identify work which is prime for commoditisation or automation. Work which has a high labour cost, but low recovery rate. For LPM to truly reach this potential, it must become an essential component of service delivery.
In order to achieve this firms must face and overcome the myths surrounding legal project management. These myths are currently holding back firms from truly reaping the benefits good LPM provides. How? By embracing the standardisation of project management. Each and every matter must have a project manager. This means that law firms must look at how to scale project management effectively. Because each firm works differently, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, this does not mean that each matter within a firm must be handled differently. Effective project management may change between institutions, but it is standardised across matters.
Myth 1: LPM is expensive
So what are these LPM myths? First, firms must overcome the belief that LPM is only designed for the most valuable matters. This myth retains such power because of the current cost of LPM. This high cost, in turn, exists because firms have failed to standardise project management and often do not use technology to support it effectively.
Clearly, if project managers need to create bespoke monitoring plans for each new matter, and then go about collecting the relevant information to provide oversight, costs will run out of hand. When a firm sets a standard for how projects are managed, tools like Clocktimizer can automatically collect the relevant information for oversight and put it in one place. The role of the LPM is then optimised. Project managers can intervene where necessary, and focus on cost saving exercises rather than data collection and administration. A far more cost effective use of their time.
Myth 2: LPM means high staff costs
The next myth that pervades law firms is that to effectively implement project management, you need to throw staff at the problem. The difficulty in addressing this myth is that firms must accept that not every matter is unique. Matters taken as a whole are generally formed of smaller, repetitive tasks. While they compile together to tackle a unique client with unique problems, the individual tasks themselves overlap. This sort of work is ripe for automation and the same can be said for project management. Each project many be different to the last, but the tasks that form project management as a whole can be repetitive.
So what can be automated in project management to reduce staff costs? Data collection and analysis. Currently, firms keep track of the progress on a project by identifying what work has been done, and what work has yet to be done. This is time consuming for a human to do, and until now most firms have used employees to complete the task. However, tools like Clocktimizer can automatically track the work assigned to a matter through time cards. This can then be analysed for the project managers and assembled into neat dashboards to help keep track of progress.
Communication between teams is another resource sink hole for law firms. Nowadays, replying to emails could be a full time job. How can you keep track of which conversation thread is the most recent? Remember which document is the most up to date (and whether you remembered to reply to the client query!)? Instead of hiring more project managers to keep track of this information, use tools like Slack or HighQ to bring project management into one environment. This will reduce cost and improve the transparency of your project management processes.
Myth 3: LPM isn’t valuable
The final, and most pervasive LPM myth, is that it isn’t valuable to scale LPM across a whole firm. This is likely as a result of a compound of factors. As previously mentioned, the high cost, and bespoke nature of legal project management has made it an unattractive prospect for law firms. This has been a justifiable cost to bear for high value matters or clients, but unsustainable for low cost, high volume matters. However, this simply isn’t the case when LPM is appropriately implemented and supported.
The evidence for this comes from the legal industry itself. The 2019 Citi Hildebrand Report on the legal market surveyed firms who had implemented new project management initiatives.
Collectively, law firms’ project management and pricing efforts appear to be paying off: the vast majority of law firms we surveyed reported that both initiatives have had a positive impact on both realization and margins.Citi Hildebrand Report 2019
In a move towards fixed price fee structures, project management improves profitability in the easiest way. By reducing the cost of working on the matter. As such, firms which automate and standardise project management can reap this benefit across the whole firm. This in turn makes a firm more attractive to clients. In a survey of 200 General Counsel, responsiveness and price were two of the top reasons why external counsel were chosen. Both of these are directly improved by project management.
So how do you scale effectively?
So, the first two sections of this series addressed why law firms must scale, and the myths they must overcome to do so. In our next blog, we will share real tips from Legal Projects Managers for scaling up. Finally, in part four we will share a case study on effective legal project management.