Legal Business

How to define legal project management


When I give speeches, I usually include a slide that defines legal project management.  But until recently, I had not been satisfied with my own slide.  Legal project management is an emerging area, and no one can be sure what it will look like in a few years.  Which makes it hard to define the term in the meantime.

In April 2009, when Paul Easton started the first blog in this area, his first substantive post was titled "Defining legal project management."  It included an interesting discussion of how the term differs from case management and this definition: "the application of widely accepted project management standards, such as those promulgated by the Project Management Institute, to legal matters."

In the Three Geeks post which I discussed last week, Steven Levy offered a similarly straightforward definition: "Legal Project Management is the application of the principles of project management to legal cases or matters." 

Those definitions are certainly accurate and may in the end prove to be the best approach.  But given the ambivalence of many lawyers to this new field, at least for now I prefer a definition that goes beyond the basics and includes intent.  For example, consider the results-oriented definition that Barbara Boake and Rick Kathuria offer in their new book Project Management for Lawyers: "Legal project management provides a structured approach to planning, pricing and managing legal work that will bring a law firm's service delivery model in line with the changing expectations of its clients."  (I will review Project Management for Lawyers in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, here's a preview: Buy this book.  Right after you buy mine.)

This is similar to the definition we use at LegalBizDev: Legal project management adapts proven management techniques to the legal profession to increase client value while protecting law firm profitability. 

We see it as an umbrella term, which embraces a very wide range of management techniques. 

For example, personal time management is barely mentioned in the traditional Project Management Institute curriculum, or in most project management texts.  But for some lawyers, it is a vitally important skill which can increase value and profitability.  So the topic is discussed in my book and we focus on it in some of our training programs.

Like the authors of Project Management for Lawyers, we believe that "Project management is a tool box - choose only what you need to most effectively manage [each] project" (p. 14).  In our view, even the holy grail of five project management processes - initiate, plan, execute, monitor and control, close - may be ignored in some training programs.  The key to success, we believe, is to find the low hanging fruit, the management tactics that are most likely to help each individual to increase value and/or profitability.

Admittedly, since our definition is based on intent, it could have a limited shelf-life.  If the legal environment changes and less emphasis is placed on value and profitability, our definition may need to change.  But for now, we believe it is important to state not just what legal project management is, but also what it does: increase client value while protecting law firm profitability. 

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