Last month, the Canadian magazine Lexpert ran
an article about legal project management that began by describing two partners
McKelvey who participated in our Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program.
The article went on to discuss other
project management initiatives at such firms as McCarthy Tetrault, Ogilvy
Renault (now part of the Norton Rose Group) and Osler and said that legal
project management has "the potential to cause a fundamental shift of the
tectonic plates of the traditional law firm business model."
However, perhaps in the interests of
journalistic balance, the article also interviewed skeptics. Keith Mitchell, chair of Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy, was quoted as saying
project management is just another
'flavour of the month' idea being pushed on law firms by consultants" and that
"prudent clients have always done this on large matters. It's just this
week it's suddenly being called project management.
I would certainly agree that clients
and their law firms have always used some elements of project management
informally. However, I would strongly disagree with the implication that
there is little room for improvement, or that the movement is just a fleeting
This is not a change being pushed by
consultants or law firms; it is one that is being demanded by clients. The Association of Corporate Counsel,
which describes itself as "the world's largest community of in-house counsel,
with more than 26,000 members in over 75 countries," has been instrumental in
promoting legal project management, and even offers a course entitled Project Management for the In-House Law Department.
The legal project management
movement aims to improve legal procedures by adapting tactics that have been
refined over several decades by professionals in engineering, manufacturing,
information technology and other professions.
I first became aware of its
importance several years ago, when I interviewed AmLaw 100 chairmen and senior
partners for the LegalBizDev
Survey of Alternative Fees. As the chairman of an 800 lawyer firm put
In the world of construction,
architects engineers and contractors have been working on a fixed price basis
for a long time. There is a body of learning about how to estimate,
contract, define scope, manage changes, allocate risk, and how to manage fee
disputes, delays and changes in scope that could be adapted to the legal
That adaptation is precisely what
lawyers do in our Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program. They review
the body of learning from other fields by completing selected readings from
seven key project management textbooks (including my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide), and
answering questions about how to adapt these principles to the legal
The precise way they apply the
principles, and the value they derive, depends on each person's practice. When
I wrote about the results from the first lawyers to complete this program, I
highlighted the work of Fraser MacFadyen, one of the Stewart
McKelvey lawyers who was also mentioned in the Lexpert
article. Fraser has developed a number of templates to improve
practice-wide procedures for handling certain types of secured financings,
including budget spreadsheets, working agendas and more. His
certification program has been completed, but he is continuing to work on
sustainable tactics to use these templates to maximize benefits to clients, and
to implement them throughout the firm.
I have also written about the results for other lawyers, but not for Daniela Bassan, the lawyer whose interview started the Lexpert
article. The reason for that information gap, in both my blog
post and in the Lexpert article, is that Daniela's certification has not yet
been completed, and we are both reluctant to say too much before it is. I
can tell you that Daniela is working on an internal training program for
Stewart McKelvey lawyers on how to apply project management principles to
e-discovery. But if you want more details than that, you will just have
to keep reading this blog until she completes certification.
Does this program produce
value? As you can see from the quotes on our web page, the participants certainly think
so. As Stacy Ballin,
the Litigation Group Business Partner at Squire Sanders put it:
These days, clients want to make
sure their firms deliver quality management of cases that drives a better value
for them, and firms want to improve the bottom line. This program will
help lawyers accomplish both.
Some lawyers are sure to remain
skeptical. That's what lawyers do.
In the Lexpert article, Mr. Mitchell
was also quoted as saying: "Certified project managers may look very good
on marketing brochures, but our clients haven't been asking us about
accreditations, they've been asking us for value."
I would certainly agree with the
first part of this statement. Certification DOES "look very good on
However, since I started the
program, the biggest surprise to me is the fact that nearly half of the lawyers
who have signed up for certification insist on remaining anonymous. They
believe the program will help them personally deliver greater value, but want
to do this in their own quiet way. The client is always right, so we will
never mention their names in print or in conversation.
But I must go on the record as
disagreeing with this philosophy of anonymity. Clients care about
improving project management, and some are starting to specifically ask about
it in their RFPs. It is always a good business practice to find out what
clients want, give it to them, and make sure everybody knows that you are
giving it to them. Publicizing certification is one way of doing that.
Mind you, certification is not the
only way to produce more value. For most lawyers, it's not even the best
way. The program requires a substantial time commitment, and is designed
for lawyers who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help
change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others.
We also offer a number of other
training and coaching programs that are designed to produce immediate and
practical results for time-pressed lawyers, including several types of "just-in-time training," and an Introduction to Legal Project Management course. In
our opinion, those less demanding programs are more than enough to meet the
needs of most lawyers.
If I were a client hiring a large
law firm to advise on a multi-million dollar matter, I would not care HOW they
had learned to be efficient and provide maximum value. But I would be
extremely interested in knowing that they were open to the idea that project
management is a "fundamental shift," as described in the Lexpert article, and
that they did not dismiss it out of hand as just another "flavor of the month."
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