Here at Totum, we are seeing a marked rise in project management conversations and roles. Some of our law firm clients were early adopters in this area (hardly pioneers in the world at large but advanced in their thinking for their sector for sure); other clients - about one a week at the moment - are looking at hiring their first project manager as their pilot or catalyst; and many of course haven't got such a role, nor have they started thinking about it. Informing people about the development of these roles in the legal sector is an important part of what we do.

One man who has worked in this area longer than most and whose knowledge helps many people is Antony Smith, Director of Legal Project Management Ltd. He has kindly written this guest blog for us.

Maturity models

 

Project Management Maturity (PMM) models are used to assess and express the project management competence of organisations. Research shows there is a direct correlation between project management maturity, organisational project delivery capability and, ultimately, the overall success of organisations. This general rule applies to the legal sector just like any other.

The PMM model used by Price Waterhouse Cooper in its surveys of the project management profession is set out below (there are other similar models relating to project maturity and project delivery capability). It consists of five levels:

Level 1 – Sporadic

Sporadic use of project management, no formal PM training and little organisational support.

Level 2 – Initial

A formal project management methodology is launched, but basic processes are not followed uniformly.

Level 3 – Implement

A project management methodology is developed further with most projects run according to organisational project standards, but the focus is very much on individual project delivery.

Level 4 – Monitor

An integrated project lifecycle is developed and applied with projects supporting organisational strategic objectives and project benefits are tracked.

Level 5 – Optimise

Regular analysis and renewal of project management methodology takes place with processes for continuous improvement. 

Law firm project maturity

 

Whenever I have presented this and similar models to legal business support professionals (who are usually from larger law firms), they tend to say their law firm is somewhere around the middle level of project maturity and competence. However, most of those same people admit openly having received no formal project management training. This is somewhat surprising, given that many senior support professionals in law firms are tasked with delivering a wide range of projects. And it is indicative of Level 1 on the PMM scale, not somewhere in the middle.

The impression I have is that the vast majority of law firms throughout the country are at Level 1 or 2 of the PWC PMM model. Some of the larger City law firms are beyond that (some of them perhaps significantly beyond) with the ‘national’ and some of the larger regional firms not too far behind.  Overall, though, I think that most law firms are still quite immature in terms of their overall project management maturity. 

A discernible change

 

Slowly but surely, law firms have been appreciating the benefits of applying project management principles throughout their business. This appreciation has now moved beyond business support projects to include delivery of legal services – the very essence of what law firms do. 

More commercial and governmental clients now expect their legal advisors to apply project management principles to help with the delivery of legal services. It is increasingly common for law firms to have to convince potential clients about their legal project management methodology and skills as part of tender processes. Several years ago I began to notice that project management skills of lawyers were becoming a litmus test indicator of competence for many clients.

Since then the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has gone on to refer to project management competencies in its Competence Statement for Solicitors. In other words, solicitors now have to display competence in project management skills in order to convince the SRA about their competence to practice as solicitors. 

Supplementing existing skills

 

It is fair to say that practising lawyers have received even less formal project management training than their business support colleagues. There has been increased interest in project management training for lawyers over the past few years, but I think people need to be careful here. The purpose of project management training for lawyers should be to enhance their competence to practice as lawyers, not turn them into professional project managers per se. The same can also be said for staff involved in law firm business support. 

Professional project managers in law firms

 

Larger law firms have long since employed dedicated professional project managers, most usually in the area of IT. Over the past few years the numbers of professional project managers employed in the legal sector appears to have grown.

In larger firms it has become increasingly common to see professional project managers work alongside colleagues throughout the firm and, indeed, working alongside lawyers as part of the legal service delivery team on client matters. 

Many people who hold the title of ‘Legal Project Manager’ do not have a legal background as such.  They are recruited by law firms for their expertise as project managers. As part of their role they are tasked with promoting a more overt project based culture amongst the firm’s legal teams. There are also increasing numbers of legal project managers who, like me, have a background in both law and project management. 

As you might expect, I am biased in that I believe legal project managers with dual backgrounds are able to make a more effective contribution to law firms in the short term. In reality, though, the absence of a legal background is not a bar to becoming an effective legal project manager. 

A summary of project management trends in the legal services industry

 

As I see them, project management trends in the legal services industry can be summarised as follows:

  • Applying project management methods to strategic projects outside IT is growing, especially in the larger firms. For a long time, the only place where project management skills were found in law firms was in the firm’s IT department. This is much less the case now, although IT is still the area where project management skills are most often deployed in law firms.
  • Applying project management skills to help manage legal matters has taken root. Evidence for this is in the increasing number of legal project managers employed full-time by the larger law firms (particularly those in the City of London) and the increasingly attractive salaries on offer for these roles. Law firms, and their clients, are now beginning to truly value legal project management.
  • Smaller firms are also appreciating the benefits that good project management can bring but, given their resources, they are less able to justify the cost of employing professional project managers full-time. Nevertheless, there is a discernible trickle-down effect from the larger firms. In the SME law firm sector, consultancy project management is growing.

Still a long way to go

 

The list of drivers behind the increasing adoption of project management methods and skills in the legal services industry is long. For shorthand, many of these drivers can be filed under the well-known general heading of ‘needing to do more with less’. As everyone involved in legal service delivery is aware, the pressure on legal service organisations of all kinds to be ever more efficient and cost effective shows no sign of abating.

For these reasons I expect the growth of project management in law firms to continue. It follows that individual law firms, and the legal sector as a whole, will undoubtedly improve upon current levels of project management maturity and project delivery capability.

To read more about Antony, who blogs regularly about project management and law, visit http://legalprojectmanagement.co.uk/

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