Legal Project Management is A Force For Change

Legal Project Management: A Force for Change

By Julius Reeves of legal sector recruiters, Totum Partners, and who focuses on emerging business services roles in law.

Julius Reeves, Totum

Project management has seen significant growth in the legal sector in just a few years. But as with anything that catches on quickly, law firms sometimes ask us whether it is now a permanent feature of law or another ‘latest trend’ that will settle or maybe even peter out in time.

In our view, however, this is one skill-set that is here to stay. Clients are becoming increasingly demanding in terms of their expectations of the firms they engage for legal services. New and changing requirements in terms of price and level of service naturally leads to a need for firmer control in terms of how legal matters are managed. This is especially the case with cross-border matters, which tend to be highly complex, requiring the management/coordination of many strands and resources across multiple jurisdictions.

These factors mean that legal project management (LPM) is moving from being an innovation to an essential skill for today’s law firms.

Demand for legal project managers

We have seen a steady call for legal project managers (LPMs). Firms vary in their requirements but placements tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • A first LPM in the firm/region – the demand here tends to be for a very experienced individual who can manage the change piece required to bring fee earners (at all levels but with a significant emphasis on partners), on board.
  • Growing a team of LPMs, often to allow the capability to spread to further practice areas once the capability has proven successful in the firm’s main / pilot practice areas.
  • Backfilling roles where LPMs have moved on.

Given the nature of the role, LPMs are typically located where their fee earner stakeholder group is.  This tends to mean London, where larger firms are headquartered and which have an LPM capability.

But this is not always the case. Firms have teams / individuals all over the UK.  And, as the need for a LPM capability grows to more medium sized and smaller firms, we’ll probably see more demand outside of London.

Within firms themselves, LPMs may sit in a central team (sometimes alongside legal process improvement professionals). Others are embedded into practice groups. But either way, LPMs tend to be recruited to deal with larger practice areas – so Corporate, Finance and Disputes. This isn’t a definitive list, however, and as firms grow their capability, they are looking to recruit LPMs for their other practice areas (e.g. IP).

What skills are required?

Skill requirements depend completely on the firm concerned. That is why we work very closely with firms to understand business needs so that we can source the right skills for often unique objectives.

But in general, firms fall into two camps. Some prefer candidates who are lawyers by background as they place greater emphasis on understanding the way in which lawyers work, believing that this allows their project management capability to be more effective.

Others prefer to recruit experienced project managers believing the project management experience and skills to be of paramount importance for their firm and the ability to understand the way in which legal matters work / are run, can be learned ‘on the job’.

What is common for all firms, however, is that they seek experience of working either in a law firm or professional services firm. Yes, firms may say they are open to background but when it comes down to it, an understanding of how a partnership works and its culture, etc, is extremely important. An individual with experience will tend to be hired over someone without it.

As LPM is still a relatively new function, this means there is significant competition for good candidates. In response, firms either increase the salary banding to tempt experienced LPMs or they will consider candidates with a consultancy background. Such candidates can be attractive as their work typically means they are client-facing, with the right kind of commercial thinking, and the ability to work independently, learning quickly and using their initiative. These skills are in high demand on the job.

Law firms rarely go beyond this, however, as they think professional services experience is vital if LPMs are to successfully engage partner stakeholders.

This is also why it is vital at interview stage that candidates can demonstrate an understanding of law firm / partnership culture. How will you get buy-in from fee-earners?  How will you convince your stakeholders to use LPM tools and techniques? How will you champion LPM in the firm?

Beyond understanding of legal firms/partnerships, a project management qualification such as Prince2 is often assumed (by firms and candidates alike) to be required. In reality, this may not necessarily be that important. Prince2 methodology doesn’t always translate effectively to working in a partnership on legal matters.

As more legal focussed qualifications are rolled out more widely, such as LPM certification with the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM), this may become a more desirable feature on a candidate’s CV. We are also seeing increased interest in candidates with experience of working with Lean Six Sigma tools and Agile methodologies but, again, none of these are necessarily essential to becoming an LPM.

On the LPM job: A focus on process / continuous improvement

As an LPM, you are there to ensure that matters run as efficiently as possible – you cannot do this unless you are continuously improving and streamlining processes. You will need:

  • To deliver training – its’ not just down to you to understand how to run a matter. Your fee earners will need to be trained on how to utilise LPM in their daily work.
  • A passion for the legal sector – to be an LPM, you have to fully immerse yourself in the ways of the sector and the culture.  You can’t do that if you don’t love it, for all its idiosyncrasies
  • Finally, strong change management skills and tenacity.

As a relatively new function in the legal sector – albeit growing fast – legal project management offers LPMs the opportunity to make a real impact and influence lasting change. With involvement with stakeholders and functions across the firm it can also be a rewarding experience in developing new and integrated processes / approaches, building relationships, and growing both individual and firm-wide skills and capabilities.

LPM isn’t just here to stay, it is on a growth trajectory that is helping to fast change and improve the whole legal business model.

If you are interested in legal tech and related innovation or business improvement roles, please check out Totum, or have a look at the new Artificial Lawyer JOBS page for a range roles, from marketing to legal engineering to project managers.

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