Allen--Brown

(L-R) Stephen Allen and Leslie Brown of Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells has become the latest Am Law 100 firm to invest in the field of legal project management, a practice that a growing number of law firms have used to lower costs, increase predictability and, most importantly, win clients.

And the team’s newest additions, despite no books of business among them, may soon find themselves close allies of top clients as project managers are increasingly part of high-level client negotiations and relationship management.

While legal project management varies from firm to firm, it involves breaking legal matters into steps, tracking their progress and using that data to give clients more sightlines into their work—and more predictability about its cost.

Project management has often been met with resistance by partners, and even firms that have been dedicated to it for years say it can be a long slog to widespread buy-in from attorneys.

But a handful of firms that have pioneered this work—Seyfarth Shaw, Bryan Cave and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz among them—say more and more clients are seeking them out because of their expertise in the area. And it is changing the nature of their client relationships.

Kim Craig, managing director of Lean Solutions at Seyfarth Shaw, says 80 percent of the bids for legal work that the firm responds to request some form of legal project management, something the firm has offered for more than a decade. For some clients, Seyfarth Shaw’s legal project managers, many without law degrees, have become a leader in the relationship.

“Legal project management is literally becoming table stakes,” said Craig, whose team includes 16 employees.

Responding to that demand, Hogan Lovells on Tuesday announced it hired Leslie Brown from Ogletree Deakins to head the firm’s legal project management team for the Americas. That follows the firm’s hire last month of Stephen Allen, a former director of delivery and quality at DLA Piper, who will now head legal services delivery at Hogan Lovells.

The firm has been implementing legal project management with a pilot program of about 40 attorneys. It is looking to grow its project management staff by at least five employees, Brown said. The practice is part of Hogan Lovells’ strategic plan, and its goal is to become a leader in the area, she said.

“We want to deliver really high quality work in an efficient manner and price that work appropriately so it’s still profitable for the firm,” Brown said.

The announcement of Brown’s hire comes nearly one year after a similar investment was made at Herbert Smith Freehills. In October, the firm announced the hire of four legal project managers, including Cathy Mattis, who heads the practice for the firm’s U.S., U.K., Europe, Middle East and Africa regions. That brought the legal project management team to 10.

In her year at the firm, Mattis said her team has developed a software program that allows clients to track the progress of legal matters in real-time. Lawyers from any firm the client works with—not just Herbert Smith—can access the program, which uses timelines and “process maps” to show how the work is being handled.

“If you can visually represent what we’re setting out to do—either with a timeline, a process map or data visualization–that enhanced understanding is actually winning us work,” Mattis said.

Those tools also make clients and partners less likely to leave the firm, said Bill Henderson, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law who studies change in the legal market.

By offering products clients can’t easily find elsewhere—and that partners couldn’t deliver at another firm—an advanced legal project management team helps a law firm provide unique value to clients. And it provides partners more than just a salary.

“These people are becoming as important as rainmakers because you actually have to deliver on the promise, and people like [Hogan Lovells’ Brown] will help deliver on that promise,” Henderson said.

David Rueff, a partner and legal project management officer at Baker Donelson, said the growing importance of legal project management was apparent in a recent pitch his firm delivered. After the firm got through the first round, the potential client requested the firm’s legal project managers to be present at the interview with its lawyers.

“They told us those were the most important people [to have at the meeting] because they knew the lawyers had the expertise,” said Rueff, whose firm won the work. “They wanted to know the law firm had an operations team in place.”

In March, Baker Donelson announced a partnership with a consultancy that will use the firm’s proprietary legal project management software, called BakerManage, to help in-house departments adopt its cost-saving strategies.

At St. Louis-based Bryan Cave, a team of 32 professionals—data scientists, legal project managers and MBAs—helps use legal project management techniques and software to develop custom legal products for clients.

For restaurant chain Red Robin, Bryan Cave created a program that routes contracts for sign-off based on the program’s understanding of the contract’s complexity. The program also tracks how long it takes for contracts to be signed and whether certain clauses are leading to a hold-up.

“So our legal project managers are being fed data that say where are the contracts being stuck; do we need to come up with terms more in-line with the market so it’s not keeping us stuck?” said Christian Zust, director of the firm’s client technology group.

“These are all things Red Robin didn’t have a window into before that they now have a whole heck of a lot of transparency into. And without the confluence of legal project managers, good lawyers, and a little bit of technology, none of that holistic solution would have been available.”

Seyfarth Shaw’s Craig said the firm’s Seyfarth Lean team has found its best reception from in-house departments that have a legal operations team focused on cost-reduction and transparency. In one example, she said a legal project manager that works with Sears Holdings Corp. has become a key point-person for the firm’s work with the retailer.

“It’s almost like our legal project manager has become the relationship legal project manager or the relationship business manager,” Craig said. “They go to her for everything.”

For Craig, who started at the firm as a secretary more than 30 years ago and now attends more than 75 client pitches a year, the relationship between in-house and law firm legal operations teams is poised to be the next big change to the firm’s business.

“Legal operations teams are definitely going to have broader and deeper relationships with law firms than the one-to-one, partner-client relationship that so many engagements have been based on in the past,” Craig said.