It’s not enough for lawyers to have substantive legal knowledge; clients expect business acumen, predictability and efficiency from their law firms through Legal Project Management (LPM), according to a panel led by Susan Lambreth of LawVision Group LLC at the 24th Annual Marketing Partner Forum in January. The panel agreed that these approaches and best practices can often be the differentiator for law firms in getting new business.

Titled “Learning from Failure and Success: Mastering Legal Project Management and Preventing Unsuccessful Client Engagements,” the panel offered comprehensive advice to master LPM to help law firms meet client expectations and deliver the best legal service possible, as well as how to grow and improve from failure or build upon short-term success.

What Is Legal Project Management?

Project management is used in almost every industry, and law firms that incorporate these principles are experiencing tremendous success, not only for their clients but also for their own profit.

According to Lambreth, LPM is:

  • A process for defining, planning, executing and evaluating matters/projects
  • A more proactive, disciplined approach to the management of legal matters which includes application of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to achieve project objectives
  • Underlying principle: effective communication and setting and meeting of expectations

What Are the Benefits of Legal Project Management?

In addition to greater client satisfaction, LPM benefits to the law firm include enhanced risk management, increased revenues from clients, greater consistency across offices and improved teamwork. Clients whose law firms use LPM receive a better-managed approach to legal work and budgets, stronger communication, greater efficiencies and predictability, and improved quality of work with consistency. This all leads to enhanced relationships and trust on both sides.

Defining a Matter’s Scope of Work

The panelists agreed that one of the pillars of LPM is a defined scope of work (SOW). A defined SOW is necessary at the start of the engagement to set expectations on both sides. It provides the reason and direction for the project, sets boundaries, and reduces confusion.

The panelists shared a list of key elements that a SOW should include:

  • Objectives
  • Success factors, which can include minimizing business interruptions, avoiding negative PR, etc.
  • Key deliverables, which should identify specific elements, such as a project plan, letters of intent, drafts, complaints, deposition transcripts, status reports, budgets and important documents.
  • Definitions of in-scope versus out-of-scope – defining these parameters leads to fewer write-offs and increased profitability. You can’t manage inevitable scope changes if you did not clearly detail the scoping in advance with client agreement.
  • Key milestones/dates
  • Budget
  • Fee arrangement, including any bonuses and penalties
  • Resources and staffing
  • Project risks
  • Assumptions and constraints

Perspectives from the Panelists

Panelist William B. Sailer, Sr. Vice President and Legal Counsel for Qualcomm, Inc., provided the in-house perspective, acknowledging that sometimes matters take longer, cost more or otherwise fail to meet client expectations. Law firms often find themselves having to ask – and answer – difficult questions about what went wrong. A critical aspect of LPM comes after the project, when both parties evaluate and debrief the matter to review lessons learned, both internally and externally.

Panelist Nola M. Vanhoy, Sr. Director, Legal Technology Innovation with Alston & Bird LLP, emphasized the acute need for technology to support LPM to help with efficiency. Her firm has paired financial analysts with the technology department for training, and uses project management software for monitoring and budgeting. She echoed the importance of a post-project debrief and leveraging metrics and data to analyze facts, workflow and noteworthy changes in the scope for internal use. A comprehensive report affects the ability to price similar future projects.

Among the most common causes of insurance claims are mistakes and failure to communicate, document and explain risks to clients, noted panelist Daniel A. Winkler, Director, Claims Legal Support with Westfield Group. LPM helps avoid these risks.

A detailed SOW combined with technology and clear communication and expectation setting will help law firms have better client relationships and increased profitability, as well as an improved understanding of a client matter, from planning to execution to post-project review.

Have your own thoughts or best practices to share regarding LPM? I want to hear from you. Add a comment below or contact me, Vivian Hood, at vhood@jaffepr.com.