Archive for September, 2011
In legal knowledge management and IT circles, the concept of Legal Project Management as a discipline has been a hot topic for the last two years. In marketing circles, … not so much. Amidst client development programs, service offering launches and the support and evaluation of new business opportunities, few law firm marketers seem to be thinking about how firm processes and technologies can reshape the fundamental value proposition of a firm.
But lawyers and marketing professionals who are thinking about how to reposition their firms to thrive in the future should consider the role Legal Project Management can play in that effort. Differentiating a law firm is harder now than ever before. The market is converging. The gap between the top firms and the rest of the playing field is widening. The firms at the top are getting the choice matters and are cherry picking the talent. There are few areas in which the rest of the field can still compete…. with one exception.
Firms of any size have the opportunity to demonstrate their unique value to clients by working more efficiently. Legal Project Management (LPM) principles provide the framework around which to do this.
LPM applies traditional project management concepts to the control and management of legal cases or matters. As explained by Jim Hassett in the July/August issue of Managing Partner (subscription required), there are eight elements of LPM:
- Setting the objective and defining the scope
- Identifying and scheduling activities
- Assigning tasks and managing the team
- Planning and managing the budget
- Assessing risks to the budget and schedule
- Managing quality
- Managing client communication and expectations
- Negotiating changes with clients
These elements are inherently part of any case or matter. The difference with LPM is that these steps are managed in an ongoing and consistent way. From a marketing standpoint, that translates into the following opportunities:
- Enhanced Client Communication. Survey after survey reveal that client communication (or lack of it) is a primary driver of corporate decision making when it comes to hiring a law firm. With LPM, law firms have the tools they need to stay responsive and address issues in a proactive way with clients. LPM provides the tools for planning and managing a budget. It allows you to better manage quality. It also allows you to address unanticipated changes that invariably occur during the course of most matters.
- Demonstrate ROI. The consistency that LPM brings to the table means there is an opportunity to demonstrate a quantifiable return on investment to clients — something very few firms have mastered successfully. Consider having the ability to conduct a post-matter client debrief in which you can evaluate the actual costs incurred against the original estimated budget, and then using that hard data to discuss ways in which you and the client might be able to improve management of a particular type of matter in the future.
- Alternative Fee Arrangements. As we all know, everyone wants AFAs, but few people know how to put them together confidently. Fewer still know how to do so profitably. LPM provides the tools to effectively looking at the true cost of a matter, and the tools for better managing the matter during the project.
LPM as a discipline has the opportunity to make a lasting impact on how lawyers do business. But we all know change is slow to come, particularly if left up to the lawyers alone. Marketing professionals should get involved with their knowledge managers, IT and pricing colleagues to help drive this change.
Having recently returned from ILTA, I was struck this year by the inertia I felt from many of the attendees. This is not a criticism of the conference itself. ILTA continues to provide high quality programming and the event is always run seamlessly. This year, though, participants, seemed… tired.
My focus for the show was on Legal Project Management. I wanted to learn more about what firms are doing and what success they were having. I talked to at least a half dozen AmLaw 100 firms, as well as a handful of vendors playing in the space. I quickly learned that few firms are making significant headway in this space. The universal frustration: the Lawyers.
It seems that project management is much simpler than change management. Unfortunately, in the legal profession, you can’t achieve the former without the latter. Unless there is a partner driving the change, there is little energy around trying to formalize the management of legal matters to create true businesses processes that can be used for creating best practices and alternative fee arrangements.
This brings me back to the Intelligent Change post, which concisely defines the problem — Change is hard, especially for lawyers; There are other more pressing problems (e.g. cash flow); and, it’s hard (what worth doing isn’t?)– but makes an even more valid point. Just do something. Some thing.
It is not necessary to develop a strategy — whether for legal project management or something else — that solves all of the world’s problems. Build version 1.0 and maximize that to the hilt. Then move on to version 2.0 or even 1.5. In the end making any forward progress is better than standing still.