It’s been an eventful year for the legal profession, although scores of law firm lawyers and in-house counsel wish it hadn’t been. For many lawyers, Legal Project Management (LPM) — the drive to make the cost of legal services more predictable and their delivery more efficient – remains at center stage as an economic imperative, compelling fundamental change within a population averse to change. But, the change will come as repeated surveys show that 77 to 85% of law firm managing partners believe that LPM will become a permanent fixture in the legal profession.
The transition to new ways of scoping, planning and managing engagements remains a work in progress – one still in its formative stages. LPM is a Big Gulp: a changed model for service delivery implies a changed approach to performance metrics, to both law firm and law department management, and to law firm-client relationships. To those pleased with and accustomed to Ye Olde Order, these are uncomfortable developments, and some of those lawyers (notably, boomer-generation lawyers) are being dragged kicking and screaming into the new paradigm – even as that paradigm continues to evolve.
My Edge colleague Doug Richardson and I have spent much of 2010 on the front lines in the LPM Wars, and in coming blog posts I will be highlighting the important lessons that are emerging from attempts of both law firms and law departments to get their arms around effective LPM implementation.
This much is clear: there is no single recipe, cook book or set of universal best practices for rolling out and initiating LPM within a firm or law department.
LPM initiatives have included:
- Awareness programs
- Full-immersion, full-firm training
- Practice group-specific pilot programs
- Client-team workshops
- Separate partner and associate training
- Programs in which law firms and select clients dive into LPM together.
How well each approach works depends on whether the strategic goal is primarily to build the buzz about LPM, familiarize all firm or department lawyers with LPM’s basic topography, develop fundamental hands-on LPM skills, or identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks and budget-busters.
LPM has been accepted by first-adopter (and first-follower) firm leaders, embraced by Chief Marketing Officers who appreciate LPM’s business development potential, and gratefully received by associates who finally know where they stand in the overall scheme of their work.
Because the most visible LPM implementation efforts have come from large law firms and law departments, we also must be mindful that LPM’s allure and utility vary with different types and sizes of clients and law firms. As one sole practitioner has reminded us, “What is critical to understand is that there is a rapidly-enlarging array of ‘alternative’ practice platforms emerging. No single one of them is necessarily going to emerge as the dominant form.” Fortunately, LPM has proved fully scalable to address matters, clients and firms of all sizes.
In the interests of better predictability and cost management, many clients are pressing their outside law firms for the fixed-fee and value-based billing arrangements that respond so well to LPM. But not all clients are demanding change, abandoning the billable hour or turning law firm-client relationships into bidding contests. Although almost all law departments face budget squeezes, not all chief legal officers are yet prepared to implement LPM internally. As one General Counsel said, “economic conditions have given the client unprecedented clout in demanding accountability. Our problem is that some of us are no more experienced in wielding that clout than law firms are in responding to it.”
In 2011 and beyond At the Intersection will continue to track the morphing of the legal profession and deliver dispatches from the front as lawyers in all settings confront the challenges of change. As everyone positions themselves for the “interesting times” to come, we wish you especially Happy Holidays and a particularly Happy New Year.
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