LPM, Part 1: The Basics of Legal Project Management

In the old days, and as recently as a generation ago, being a lawyer was relatively straightforward. Practices were small, if not completely solo affairs. The totality of legal knowledge, and the ecosystem of government regulation, was a fraction of the size it is today. Legal research was time-consuming, but had not yet become the daunting process it is today. Over the course of the past twenty years or so, these once immutable facts have changed. Technology has leapt ahead. Competition has become more fierce. Change has come to the practice of law, and new tools have been developed to take advantage of that change. Legal project management (LPM) is one such tool.

What Is LPM?

Every project has time, budget, and performance requirements. The best way to manage those requirements is to plan and organize projects in a systematic way. LPM codifies these time, budget, and performance needs for both law firms and their clients, with two overarching goals. The first goal of LPM is to improve the efficiency of legal work. The second goal is to manage uncertainty. The practice of law can sometimes be a slog, and often operates with a very high degree of variance. A systematic approach to legal projects can provide clients peace of mind when confronting these inefficiencies and uncertainties. Laws change, techniques change, and client needs change. LPM is there to manage these changes that traditional lawyering is not always so effective at managing.

High-quality legal project management gives clients the best and most efficient value, with predictable results. To do this, law firms and other legal service providers must communicate effectively, have a thorough understanding of client needs, and ensure that client interests and firm interests are in sync.

But LPM doesn’t just benefit clients while creating “more work” for law firms and legal services providers. It’s no great secret that any business that has a clear and detailed set of best practices will have a leg up on the competition. Best practices defined by LPM systems can help foster a strong culture in a firm, keeping everyone on the same page so that they easily understand their role within a given project. If the basic organizational aspects of a matter are streamlined by a firm-wide systematic approach, then that frees up all firm assets to conduct the real work that will resolve the matter in the client’s best interest. And what’s good for the client is good for the firm.

Why LPM?

In a world where the billable hour is disappearing, the goal of LPM is to maximize the efficacy of a client’s budget, establish consistent best practices, and generally to reduce overhead without reducing the quality of legal outcomes.

It’s no secret that corporations are always looking for innovative ways to cut costs without losing value. LPM has risen to prominence in recent years because of industry-wide changes to pricing and billing models. The power of clients to pick and choose from an array of legal services options has shifted the nexus of power within legal. In the old days, a handful of lawyers served as gatekeepers to the vastness of legal knowledge. Those days are gone. Now, clients want the benefits of legal expertise, without all the mysticism and opacity of the past. The rise of the internet and other forms of technology has opened the doors once guarded by the legal gatekeepers. Now, providers of legal services jockey for market share every day. The law firms who merge the latest and greatest technology tools with a more open and communicative approach will rise to the top.

The latest state-of-the-art tech tools are built with LPM users in mind. College students now take courses on project management, and apply what they learn to the practice of law. Every day, more and more large, mid-size, and small firms implement some form of LPM. To stay competitive in this marketplace, it’s absolutely critical for your firm to embrace LPM.

Next Monday, we will begin to drill down into the core concepts of LPM and how to implement them in your firm. Stay tuned.

This is Part 1 of an ongoing series about Legal Project Management (LPM). Jump to part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8.

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