Legal project management is not just for law firms. With more and more frequency and in more and more companies and other organizations, law departments are coming to understand the benefits provided by legal project management (LPM) and are integrating LPM principles into their service delivery models.

This isn’t surprising. Never before has there been so much pressure on in-house counsel to reduce the cost of legal services — and eliminating inefficiencies is a clear course to achieve that end. At the same time, cost pressures are driving law departments to internalize more legal work, increase internal staffing, move to alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), and become much more active in their management of outside counsel. All of these goals can be advanced through the use of legal project management.

The challenges faced by corporate general counsel to improve the management of internal and external legal services are considerable:

• Striking the right balance between inside and outside legal services and identifying the best service delivery model for each.

• Helping already overburdened legal staff do more with less.

• Defining and articulating the law department’s value to executive management of the enterprise.

• Achieving more effective outside counsel management, and with it, a reduction in external legal expense.

• Justifying to senior management the need to increase the company’s legal spend on issues such as changes in regulatory compliance, SEC investigations and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

What is Lpm? A Brief Primer

Legal project management is a disciplined, rational, task management approach to any project, based on clear prioritization, effective communication and systematic implementation. It provides a new and better way of handling cases and matters in order to be more efficient, deliver greater value to your client and reduce the legal expense of your organization. Done right, LPM not only leads to greater efficiency, it will improve the quality of the services being delivered.

To understand the LPM process, it is helpful to consider the four project stages outlined below:

Stage 1: Laying the Foundation

• Understand the context of the case or matter (past and present).

• Define legal and business issues and goals.

• Identify primary project team members.

• Identify range of interests.

• Define success criteria.

• Define scope of project.

• Assess risks, time and budget constraints.

Stage 2: Formulating the Project Plan

• Define tasks.

• Set deadlines.

• Identify entire project team and other resources.

• Develop work plan with schedule and budget.

• Establish reporting, communication and change strategies.

Stage 3: Implementation

• Execute the plan and deliver the services.

• Track and monitor, make adjustments to work plan as necessary.

Stage 4: Retrospective Analysis

• Debrief with team and client.

• Identify successes and shortcomings.

• Refine process for future projects.

From initiation through implementation, the LPM process includes tools and techniques from traditional project management that are used in every major corporation in the world. The key is to adapt those tools and techniques for the less predictable and repeatable processes of law practice. Process mapping techniques such as Gantt charts, flow charts and work breakdown structures can be used to define the nature and scope of work, as well as determine an optimum allocation of resources and costs. Checklists that lay out steps of the process can be helpful in LPM implementation, especially when a law department initially undertakes to integrate LPM into its practice.

Specialty software programs exist for traditional project management practice, but those programs do not readily accommodate the distinctly different legal project management. However, in most cases, the basic tools you need can be developed within a law department’s existing technology infrastructure. New and sophisticated software is not required to set up an LPM framework.

The Value Triple Play

The employment of legal project management provides three significant benefits to in-house legal departments:

• LPM enables in-house legal staff to do more and better work because cases are better managed and approached more systematically than in the past.

• It helps legal staff better understand business projects, align with business needs and priorities, and improve overall communication and collaboration with in-house clients.

• It improves a law department’s ability to manage the cost and quality of services being delivered by outside counsel.

Law departments that have implemented legal project management are better able to set and adhere to schedules and deadlines. LPM provides supervising lawyers with the ability to monitor the efficiency of legal work, including the ability to zero in on the performance of individual lawyers, practice teams, or whole legal departments or law firms. Overall, department leaders see greater control and consistency of work product.

The systematic, process-oriented approach of LPM lends itself to the generation of meaningful metrics by which to measure effectiveness of both inside and outside practitioners. It improves a department’s ability to leverage work through the enhanced utilization of technology — both to track matters and to provide tools and resources that can be used to manage the legal work itself.

LPM results in the establishment of department-wide processes and standards for handling matters and cases. It also helps to maximize in-house counsels’ understanding and integration into business issues and projects, leading to better lawyering, improved services and a happier client. When executive management sees lawyers finding more efficient ways to deliver services, the perception of the law department’s value to the organization is heightened.

Using a LPM framework to establish clear expectations for outside counsel efficiency and budget predictability will open the dialogue on the central issue of costs. This may lead to the development of an alternative fee program, as well as improving the effectiveness of budgets for matters still being handled on an hourly basis. In either case, legal project management will enhance the law department’s ability to monitor and control external legal expense and the performance of outside counsel.

Finally, LPM improves collaboration and communication among all stakeholders: in-house counsel, outside counsel, and business managers and executives. It leads to a reduced duplication of effort and facilitates shared learning. And, done right, it enables a much more proactive form of service delivery, replacing the reactive or event-driven services of the past.

putting lpm to work

When your law department is ready to put project management to work, you should start with what you know. Your legal staff probably already is utilizing some legal project management techniques without even realizing it. You should discuss your collective knowledge of project management techniques and target matters that most easily lend themselves to such an approach.

Don’t forget to involve others in your company who can assist with understanding project management and incorporating it into the department’s daily affairs. People such as financial analysts and managers, IT staff and paralegals should be called upon to assist in the development of LPM checklists, forms and templates.

As you embark upon these next steps, remember that learning how to use LPM effectively takes time, practice and some patience. However, it is not a complex process and should quickly deliver results that persuade even the most skeptical member of your legal service delivery team. You will also send a message to your organization’s leaders that you are committed to continually improving your law department performance.  •