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
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
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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