This is the second article in a series of articles on Legal Project Management. In the first article, we looked at the what and why: Legal Project management allows to increase productivity and profitability, and is especially beneficial in law firms who use alternative fee arrangements like fixed or flat fees, cost limits, budget restraints / capped fees and contingency fees. “Such cases require management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than firms have practiced in the past” (Wikipedia). Because Legal Project Management is not typically part of the legal curriculum (yet), we will pay attention to some of its key principles and concepts in this article.

Legal Project Management requires a different approach to the mechanics and business of providing legal services. A useful analogy is to approach a legal project the way an architect or engineer would. Together with the client or clients, you determine what the goals and deliverables are, and how success will be measured. You work with a schedule that often has milestones. Communication with the client is ongoing, as are the evaluations of the progress that has been made. LPM typically also works with a predetermined budget that parties agree on.

In the previous article, we referred to the LPM methodology used by the American Law Firm Baker Donnely. They distinguish three different phases, and each of them has its own concepts and tools.

  • In phase 1, the tools are scope, stakeholder input, statement of work (SOW), budget, communication plan;
  • In phase 2, the tools are control scope, control budget, monitor schedule, regular team meetings, monitor tasks;
  • In phase 3,the tools are client evaluation, lessons learned, update resources, team closure meeting.

Let us have a closer look at these tools and concepts. Please note that the list below is far from exhaustive and is meant as a simplified introduction only.

One of the first things that parties have to agree upon is a project definition statement. “This is the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your project: a short statement summarizing the purpose, goals, and final deliverable(s).” (Elizabeth Harrin, quoted by Wrike).

A more extensive version of the project definition statement is often referred to as a Statement of Work (SoW). The Wikipedia defines a statement of work as “a document routinely employed in the field of project management. It defines project-specific activities, deliverables and timelines for a vendor providing services to the client. The SOW typically also includes detailed requirements and pricing, with standard regulatory and governance terms and conditions.”

Related to this, and sometimes part of it, is the Scope of the project that parties have to agree upon. The scope of a project explicitly determines what is and what is not included in the project. It typically consists of a breakdown of all the tasks to be done in order to deliver the objectives of the project, as well as a list of measurable success criteria.

Once we have an inventory of the tasks to be done, the Schedule determines when each task has to be accomlished, and who is responsible for it. Often the work is broken down in phases, and the successful completion of such a phase is a called a Milestone.

Once we know what all has to be done, we can calculate the costs involved. Planning, managing, and monitoring the Budget also is a key element of project management.

Throughout the whole process Stakeholder input is essential. If many stakeholders are involved, it can be useful to create an organizational chart that explains who is who and what their role is. In each phase of the project communication with the client, as well as ongoing evaluations of the progress made are essential. Often this is organized in a Communication plan.

Project Management typically also involves Risk Management. Parties anticipate where things could go wrong, what the possible outcomes and the possible alternatives are.

At the end of the project, parties sit down for a Client evaluation, i.e. an evaluation by the client of how the project was completed. Parties focus on what went right or wrong, and on where there is room for improvement.

Based on the client evaluation, the law firm then compiles a report of the Lessons learned and updates its resources accordingly.

As mentioned before, this is not a way of working law firms typically are used to. Using the LPM methodologies can contribute to increase efficiency, profitability and client satisfaction, but is only part of the solution. A survey in the context of the Legal Project Management Competency Framework (LPMCF) revealed that “legal project management encompassed not only project principles and practices, it extended to technology enablement, process improvement and people leadership (team dynamics). The integration of all four of these elements represents the core foundation of legal project management in practice.”