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LPM, Part 2: Order Out of Chaos

In last week’s post, we discussed the burgeoning changes to the legal industry. The emergence of new methods, such as LPM, has been spurred by these changes. But what is Legal Project Management?

The Big Picture

Legal professionals perform many tasks. From discovery to litigation, each task performed is essential to resolving a matter, and it is important that each team member finish their tasks. The end product delivered to the client is the sum of all those different tasks. But LPM is not about completing those tasks. LPM is about facilitating those tasks. LPM is the strategy; not the tactics. Ultimately, it is the method by which you bring costs down, in less time, with superior, more predictable results. That means developing a plan, and executing it.

Too often, legal services providers focus on the work of lawyering at the expense of seeing the bigger picture. What is the value you’re providing your client? What are your client’s business goals? Are you and your team performing as effectively as possible? How do you know? These questions aren’t always asked. Or if they are asked, the answers aren’t always satisfactory, or even helpful.

The Legal Project Manager

It helps to have a person asking the questions who also has the control and resources necessary to answer them. Enter the Legal Project Manager. Now, your firm or legal department may not have one designated person whose title is “project manager”. That’s not a bad thing. This is one of many ways in which LPM exists as a distinct form of project management. Legal professionals often have their own – sometimes informal, occasionally fluid – hierarchies. Because of this, it is always a good idea to make sure that everyone on a project understands what their role is, once that role is assigned. A project manager can be anyone: a VP, GC, CFO, or some other agent with delegated authority for seeing the project through. This person should be someone with access to company knowledge and resources, and someone who is an effective communicator.

Communication, Communication, Communication

Good LPM, just like project management in other fields, makes an initial assumption that at first seems counter-intuitive. Good LPM assumes there will be communication problems. That way, team members on a project, both in the legal department and in the client’s office, can get out in front of communication problems.

There is a tired, oft-used quote in the business world: Make the implicit explicit. The reason that quote is such a well-worn cliche is because it’s the truth. A project manager has to be able to communicate the overall strategy of a project to everyone on their team. This doesn’t mean they micromanage. In fact, the reverse is often true. The project manager keeps the big picture in mind, emphasizes transparency, and makes sure nothing gets lost in translation. The cornerstone of any effective strategy is communication. Communication between your team members. Communication between you and your client. Here are a few questions a project manager should always have in mind, and should always make sure their team members have in mind as well:

  • What are our client’s business goals? How is this legal work addressing those goals?
  • Is our time-keeping strategy effective?
  • Is our technology making workflow more efficient?
  • Do team members know how to properly leverage our technology?
  • What is our budget, and how do we stay on target? What kind of AFA do we have with the client?
  • What are the client’s interests, and the interests of other stakeholders?
  • Where are our risks coming from? How much risk are we able to tolerate on this matter?
  • Who is our point of contact at the client company? Do they have an open line of communication with us?

Again, a project manager needs to emphasize strategy over tactics. If someone on the team has an idea for using your software to speed up the discovery process, let them run with it. Your job is not to establish a rigid procedure. It’s to establish a clear strategy that every team member can follow while they perform the tasks they’re best at.

“Plans are Useless; Planning, Indispensable”

Yet another oft-repeated quote makes the point pretty clear: You can’t control every tiny aspect of a project. But you can develop a consistent strategy, communicate that strategy to everyone involved in a project, and conduct a review once a project is completed. Next week, we will begin to unpack, one by one, the five major phases of any LPM scheme. These are:

  1. Design and Definition
  2. Planning (part 1, and part 2 here)
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring and Measurement
  5. Review

Stay tuned.

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

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