Is Your Lack of Legal Project Management Resources Compromising Firm Performance?

Posted on October 13, 2020 by Susan Lambreth

At the recent meeting of the LawVision LPM Roundtable, fifty of the leading firms across the US, Canada, UK, and Australia raised a fundamental question: how do we provide sufficient legal project management resources to support our firms?

With law firm work now increasingly remote, it is not surprising that the demand for legal project management resources is greater than ever. The reasons for this are threefold:

  1. Clients are putting even more pressure on law firms for greater efficiency and spend predictability.
  2. Profit margins are being squeezed, making it even more critical to manage matters as projects.
  3. Law firm partners are even busier than before, ensuring that matters stay on budget, communication is clear and regular, and that remote teams have clear roles and responsibilities.

And how about those valuable partners?  Indeed, for some partners, the additional pressures of our new environment are almost overwhelming. These pressures include, but are not limited to:

  • Handling new and novel legal matters;
  • Operating under significant client-imposed time and resource constraints;
  • Continuing pressure for business development that must now be executed in a virtual environment;
  • Supporting financially distressed clients;
  • Servicing client work with entirely virtual teams; and
  • Training and developing next-generation talent without “face time.”  

Legal Project Management Resources Can Help

A Legal Project Manager (“LPM”) on a significant matter can significantly relieve pressure from the lead partner, allowing them to reclaim their valuable time. Indeed, a LPM helps ensure that:

  • Matters stay on budget;
  • The remote team has delineated roles and responsibilities; and
  • Communication occurs regularly and clearly.

Properly trained LPMs do this by:

  • Driving efficiencies in the matter teams they assist,
  • Enhancing the client’s experience with the firm via meeting client requirements and interacting with the client’s legal operations professionals with whom they typically share a common language;
  • Off-loading matter management responsibilities from the lawyers on the team to those who are trained in these skills; and
  • Serving as a valued timekeeper on the matter.

Who is Using LPMs?

Although most AmLaw 200 firms currently have professionals leading their legal project management programs, some firms have heads of legal project management that are mainly focused on developing firm-wide approaches or implementing legal project management technology solutions.  The challenge they regularly report is getting partner buy-in to use legal project management techniques or tools and building a program from scratch. At the same time, competitors pitch their legal project management capabilities to win work.

On the other hand, a growing number of firms have 20+ LPMs who are imbedded like internal consultants, helping matter teams improve their communication, performance metrics, client satisfaction, and more. These firms include Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Ropes & Gray, and WilmerHale. This group of progressive firms is joined by many other firms across the globe that have teams of 10+ LPMs. 

While these numbers seem high, at most, these firms have a LPM for roughly every 75 to 100 lawyers. Or, they deploy LPMs to help manage no more than 25% of total matters. In firms with larger teams of LPMs, the LPMs typically support approximately three to eight matters, depending on size. However, it is also common to find firms in which LPMs provide more limited guidance and oversight, for example, scoping, budgeting, and actual reporting on a much larger number of matters.

Even at the firms with large numbers of LPMs, the challenge is to scale the legal project management assistance and tools across a greater number of matters and lawyers. In some firms, this may include training lawyers to assume part-time LPM roles on some matter teams. In others, technology solutions can help firms scope, budget, monitor, or provide other support for numerous matters. 

What is the Bottom Line?

Firms that have measured the Return on Investment (ROI) for their legal project management teams have identified millions of dollars of payback. It is clear that these roles pay for themselves in terms of captured revenue, enhanced client relationships, reduction in write-downs/offs, and more.  

Consider the positive impact on your firm:

  • Enhanced profitability through a reduction of millions of dollars of annual write-downs resulting from duplicate work or unclear communication;
  • Improved responses to client reporting requirements by those who more fully understand those needs;
  • Wins on RFPs demanding LPMs who can help support client matters.  

Show Me the Resources

Do you want to increase your legal project management resources and impact? Creative firms have found a pathway to do so, even during these times of hiring freezes and budgetary cuts. With short training sessions, associates can learn to draft scope documents and budgets, develop communications plans, and do task tracking while keeping their timekeeper roles.

Some creative firms found a new role for legal secretaries or assistants to be trained as “legal project coordinators.”   Another trained secretaries in a mix of new skills, including legal project management and rebranded them as “client service specialists.”.   They can be taught the essential elements of legal project management in short sessions that give them the fundamental understanding and confidence in the tools they can use.   These individuals may be a great support to your current team. They may help you avoid layoffs of individuals whose current role is not needed but who have a valuable understanding of your firm culture and relationships across the firm.   Other firms are finding temporary support from outside resources – e.g., seconding a LPM who already has the skills to hit the ground running to support a distressed matter or to begin developing legal project management templates for your firm.

The key message?  Legal project management resources enhance firm performance.


About the Author:

Susan Lambreth has over 25 years of experience as a consultant to the legal profession. Susan assists firms in implementing effective legal project management initiatives and trains legal professionals in LPM skills. Along with a colleague, Ms. Lambreth co-created the first legal project management certification program in 2010 and launched the first online eLearning courses in legal project management (LPM LaunchPadTM course).  Susan has also helped implement effective practice group management at almost 100 firms, including nearly half of the largest firms in the U.S.  Ms. Lambreth is the author of three books on legal project management, as well as three on practice group management.

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