The Legal Project Management Boomlet: Law Firms

Today, the peculiar challenges faced by law firms aiming to benefit from more project management discipline. We saw Wednesday that some experienced people are offering fine legal project management training, and a credential to go along with it. So imagine for a moment the newly-minted law firm project manager, Sarah, fresh off a two-day seminar, waving her Certificate of Legal Project Management as she enters a conference room for the kickoff project meeting: She spies the client relationship partner sitting across the table. "The first thing we should clarify is the lines of communication with our client, MegaCorp. I need everything to go through me. What is their GC's name, again?" (Sound of crickets chirping). Unfair? Maybe. Far-fetched? Possibly. But Sarah doesn't have it easy from the get-go, whether she is a paralegal, associate or even a junior partner. I offered a short list yesterday of the five things needed for a successful project; let's modify them to give Sarah a fighting chance on client projects: 1. The GC and the client partner define the project clearly. 2. The client partner selects a project manager who fits (with the GC's assent). 3. The client partner and the project manager select the project team. 4. They (and law firm department heads) support the entire project team. 5. Firm senior management backs up the project manager when she (or project team members) are needed right now on something else by a client with a larger spend but a less-important project. Ah, number 5. You see what I did there. Any successful project would not be whipsawed by the law firm's crisis-du-jour. But "crisis-du-jour" is one way to describe "law firm management." This was fine during the heyday of the Billable Hour, when throwing bodies at projects was more than getting things done. It was the key to getting us paid. Yet experts in project management outside the legal arena will tell you that a project that needs more bodies on a knee-jerk basis is a project in trouble. And some of these same experts even believe that the way to get a wayward project back on track is to make the project team smaller. If law firms want to get better at managing projects, they will have to get better at managing people. Cue the crickets… On Monday, a few lessons learned about Legal Project Management. What's really going on isn't about projects at all.

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