1. A brief definition of Legal Project Management
In the last Legal Evolution/1 article, I made brief reference to “Legal Project Management” and promised to explore the overall topic further.
Legal Project Management, commonly abbreviated as “LPM”, is based on the conclusion that legal matters share a set of commonalities with “normal” projects, which encompass
- the creation of a unique product or result,
- having a finite beginning and end, and
- being handled through an organised process of initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling the process.
However, legal project management is distinguished from normal project management by its specific terminology tailored to the legal sector (“clients” instead of “customer”, etc.), the regulatory context resembled in professional standards and prescriptive rules and regulations affecting, e.g. data disclosure, handling of conflicts of interest, etc., costing models and specific technology offerings (legal tech), which assist client and practice management.
The International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) has devised a very concise definition of LPM. To the IILPM, LPM is the “application of project management principles and practices to enhance the delivery of legal services”. Based on an international study of practitioners in 9 countries by the IILPM in 2016, it found that when referring to the term “LPM”, it also covered the application of technology enablement (legal tech), process improvement, and leadership skills.
Figure 1 Overview of IILPM LPM Framework (source: IILPM)
2. A new beginning or just a refinement of today’s processes?
So, is LPM a legal innovation, that is a new beginning, or simply an approach to refine and further improve legal matter management?
Figure 2 Comparing Legal Project Management and ‘traditional’ Legal Matter Management (source: unknown)
The assessment of a potential future matter’s nature and corresponding planning of the actual matter delivery receives much more emphasis in LPM than bin traditional matter management. “Scoping”, the dentification of what the legal matter is to encompass (and what not) and what it is to accomplish (definition of success), lays the foundation to avoid later misunderstandings and assist with managing expectations from the outset.
Focusing on communication with clients, colleagues and stakeholders as such by ways of improving communications processes and techniques and application of contemporary management and leadership techniques, results in more insights into the matter’s ‘wellbeing’ and thus control of its fate. Templates, guides and checklists, as well as legal technology, such as document management analysis tools, support this approach.
Contrary to most existing legal matter management processes, LPM stresses the importance of continuous learning and improvement. Feedback subsequent to the completion of a matter, proactively solicited from all stakeholders, and active implementation of lessons learnt represent another important aspect and constitutes the ‘foresight’ philosophy in LPM.
In summary, LPM is a new way of handling matters as it significantly shifts the focus towards management and control of matters and a new quality of client communication. However, it achieves the goals of enhancing legal client service delivery by extending and expanding the existing core steps of legal matter management, i.e. ‘Assess’, ‘Plan’, ‘Execute’ and ‘Close’.
3. A practical application – Agile techniques like Standups and Kanban Boards
After reading the first paragraphs, many readers will say: so what? Let’s look at a practical LPM technique that everyone can immediately apply. One should always bear in mind that LPM offers a toolkit and no one is forced to implement each and every aspect in his or her in-house environment.
Here is the situation:
Teams, whether in in-house legal departments or law firms, often suspect that there may be duplicate work or opportunities where pre-existing work results could be reused by other team members, to save time and ensure consistency. However, they are struggling to identify them due to a siloed approach where each team member is buried in piles of work and not necessarily aware of what the others are doing.
Those situations inevitably form I-shaped competencies, where each team member possesses a specific expertise profile, e.g. employment law, but won’t be able to relate to other sets of expertise, e.g. legal M&A. So, how does one develop more cross-functional skills, so-called ‘T-shaped competences’, in areas of high demand to enable several team members to work on those urgent, important matters, and also better relate their own work to the bigger picture?
How about introducing daily ‘Standups’, an Agile technique, where the entire team meets each morning for a very short period, e.g. 10 or 15 minutes, ideally always at the same time and in the same venue. The objective of daily Standups is not to solve problems or resolve issues, but to provide a status and progress update to the team.
During Standups, team members literally stand and report to each other by answering three questions only:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What are my tasks for today?
- What’s in my way? – Is there a particular task where I seek or require help, or which is dependent on another person or event
The short duration forces all participants to be concise and on the point. Each team member is asked to prepare like one would for a meeting, e.g. by writing down all tasks. Arriving unprepared is inconsiderate to fellow team members. Additionally, one should contemplating creating own individual ‘Kanban Boards’, another Agile technique, where one visualises his or her workflow by writing down his or her tasks on post-its and sorted them according to their status of completion (NB: teams as a whole can work with Kanban Boards, too).
Figure 3 Kanban Board (source: John E. Grant, Using Kanban to become a more agile attorney)
If an issue is flagged during the Standup, e.g. in response to the third question, the respective team members are meant to arrange a separate meeting to resolve it and thus avoiding wasting everyone else’s time.
In coaching assignments, I have recommended using Standups in smaller groups (up to eight members), which makes it a compelling proposition for smaller law firms and in-house departments and or within a practice area (in larger law firms). I have seen immediate success, for example, with debt collection firms who struggled to form efficient teams working on a bank’s debt book.
There is a very insightful summary of the most common mistakes made in relation to Standups, should you be interested in applying them.
In summary, what can you gain from introducing the Standup technique?
- Standups will increase the team efficiency by
- flagging and addressing potential issues earlier, avoiding individual paralysis or ‘reinventing the wheel’, and
- balancing capacities individual capacities and growing T-shaped competencies, preventing over and under-utilisation of individual team members.
- Sharing the daily work pipeline offers an opportunity to better understand the bigger picture of the department, corporate business or law firm. Learning and tapping into synergies and overall tailoring deliverables more towards business needs will be inevitable.
- Standups provide an opportunity to grow as a team since team members will communicate better and accomplish a better understanding of the work and challenges fellow team members may face.