Legal Project Management – Part 2

In my previous post on Steven Levy’s book Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks, and Maintain Sanity, I outlined his basic themes. In this post, I summarize his LPM framework and suggest some questions that General Counsels and other law department leaders should consider regarding LPM.

In Levy’s framework, LPM consists of four stages:

- Initiation

- Planning

- Execution

- Delivery and evaluation

In my experience, most legal projects spend a little time in the initiation phase, race headlong through planning, are executed and delivered extremely well, and only rarely are subjected to an after-action evaluation. As Levy points out, clients are often primarily focused on outcomes, while attorneys are generally focused on delivering quality work. These objectives are not necessarily in full-blown conflict, but better conversations at the initiation and planning stages can help identify any mismatches of expectations. And while scheduling is critical, he also points out that “Project managers just starting out often fall into the trap of believing that the schedule is the project….The map is not the terrain. But it’s a very prominent map.” He adds that “Building better relationships with clients via improved communication is one of the fastest ways of seeing value from your work in Legal Project Management.”

General Counsels and other law department leaders may want to consider the following regarding LPM:

- Should we “build or buy” LPM expertise? Is it something we rely on our law firms to provide on major projects, or should LPM be a core internal competency? If it needs to be internal, should every in-house lawyer know something about it, should we have a few lawyers who are extensively trained in LPM and specialize in that field, or should we source project management expertise from elsewhere in the company?

- What personality and professional traits are characteristic of the most effective project managers?

- If we need LPM training, where should we get it – on-line, in person one-time coursework, ongoing coaching, or through some other means?

- What types of matters are most likely to benefit from rigorous LPM? Is it limited to our regularized or repetitive work such as immigration applications, certain types of contracts and the like? Or can our major litigation and M&A projects benefit as well?

- How can we use LPM to enhance our role as legal risk managers? (Levy has some interesting ideas on creating “risk worksheets” to go along with resource and schedule documentation.)

- What kinds of progress reporting can add value to our law department projects – rather than simply becoming a check-the-box, black hole kind of exercise?

- Can LPM help us structure relationships with outside counsel that will support the transition of more of our outside counsel spend away from the traditional billable hour model to value-based fee arrangements that work well for both the law firm and the client?

I invite your thoughts and comments on whether you think LPM may – or may not – be of value to your law department.

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2 Responses to Legal Project Management – Part 2

  1. Nice summary of Steven Levy’s book. What I like about his approach is that it is practical and adapted to the legal environment. I think it is also valuable to those lawyers just now jumping onto the LPM bandwagon and trying to cut through all jargon and puffery. Really, LPM is about learning to better pre-plan your legal matters and manage them more effectively to deliver what you said you were going to deliver for the amount you said it would cost. Traditional project-management practices from other industries have much to teach the legal world, but you are not going to transplant the practices, documentation, and world-views of project management from one industry, whether it is the more “waterfall” style of construction or the more “agile” style of software design, and have it take root in law firm soils without a lot adaptations being made.

    I’m glad that the first widely circulated book on Legal Project Management took this approach and it really is the first resource I direct lawyers interested in the subject to.

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Jim and Paul. I really appreciate them.

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