The first program to certify legal project managers

The first program to certify legal project managers

About 36 hours ago, we announced the first formal certification program for legal project managers in a press release on Business Wire. Our announcement has already generated some buzz. It was picked up by Forbes.com and discussed by Paul Easton in the Legal Project Management blog. I was also interviewed yesterday by Leigh Kamping-Carder from Law 360.  Her article may appear as early as tomorrow.

Of course, the world already has a number of widely respected project management certification programs, notably the five credentials offered by the Project Management Institute. What's new is that our certification program is the first to be specifically designed to meet the unique needs of busy lawyers. While the general concepts of project management are similar in every profession, legal action items must be adapted to fit the nature of legal services and relationships, including opposing counsel whose "scorched earth" tactics may purposely create roadblocks to efficiency, regulatory developments, and court calendars and client schedules that are outside lawyers' control. 

Certification has become standard in many fields, because it offers benefits to both buyers and sellers. Buyers can be assured that the firms they are working with have familiarity and experience with best practices. Sellers can develop that experience more quickly and efficiently, and at the same time demonstrate it in an easy and credible manner. 

The problem of certifying legal project management competence has been in the back of my mind for a while now, in part because my company has been creating training and certification programs for more than 25 years, long before we started working with lawyers. If you have ever flown on an airplane, you've dealt indirectly with one of the systems we trained and certified.  About a decade ago, when the FAA introduced a new computer interface that enabled air traffic controllers to track and monitor the position of every US flight in real time (the Traffic Situation Display), they hired our company (then named Brattle Systems) to train and certify each air traffic controller before they were permitted to use this critical tool. More recently, we developed a certification program for internal business development coaches at a 1,500-lawyer firm.

The problem of legal project management certification came to the front of my mind a few months ago when I gave a speech at the retreat of an 800-lawyer firm. When I spoke with several senior partners afterward, I was surprised by their level of interest in becoming certified. So I decided to devote some time and resources to designing a program to meet their needs. 

The program we designed requires a minimum commitment of 40 hours and is built around two self-paced modules that can be completed in one to six months. The first is a customized review of the project management principles that are most critical in the legal environment. The second applies these principles to a case study from each lawyer's practice.

This month, the program is being fine-tuned by the LegalBizDev Certification Advisory Board, a group of lawyers and project managers from large firms. On December 1, we will begin training a small number of lawyers in our first certification group. 

This program is not for everyone. Some consultants argue that every lawyer and staff member needs project management training. I disagree. Think about the phrase: project management.  Training in how to manage must start at the top. At least for now, law firms need to get some traction, have some success with project management, and build momentum among senior partners. For most lawyers, we believe that the best way to achieve that is not by being certified, but rather through our just in time, just enough training and coaching.

Nevertheless, in every firm there are a small number of lawyers who do need a solid foundation in project management principles to help them lead large teams and/or influence other partners.  Those are our people, the ideal candidates for our certification program. 

We will be explaining all the details of the program on our web page after its formal launch on December 1.  If you can't wait that long, or you may be interested in joining that first group, contact Elisabeth Westner at ewestner@legalbizdev.com or 800-49-TRAIN.