More law firms now understand the importance of the 5Ps: process, people, pricing, project and pipeline. An integrated approach to them has the power to transform the business model, provide consistency and deliver real competitive advantage.

It’s one thing, however, to grasp the strategic rationale. It’s quite another challenge to succeed with implementation. This is particularly the case in those areas of the 5Ps that are relatively new to the legal profession – for example, project management.

Recent articles have highlighted a burgeoning trend for project managers in law. But with little existing project management experience to call on from within, how are firms facing up to the recruitment challenge?

Project profitability

At Totum, we have seen an exponential rise in firms looking to recruit project managers. In fact, the numbers have quickly reached such a level, we recently launched a new team dedicated to supporting firms across emerging and specialist roles, including process and project management and risk.

Some firms are still at a relatively early stage of adding dedicated project managers to the management mix, and are making ad hoc appointments as and when required by a practice area or project. A number of firms have spent one or two years developing a small project management team, and are now working on building more substantial divisions. Others are seeing the potential of quickly ramping up in such skills – and are recruiting entire teams from scratch.

As these roles quickly evolve and deliver real added value through maximised profitability across workflows, we will find senior managers across the 5Ps increasingly working together to remodel the legal business. The impact of this will be nothing short of transformational.

Skill requirements are high, though. Law firms are typically looking for project managers with substantial experience of running or managing projects to work alongside lawyers, freeing up their time so that they can focus on the fee-earning aspects of a matter. Project managers in law need experience across the lifecycle of a project – from scoping, resourcing and budgeting, through to completion and sharing of knowledge post project completion.

They also need to be able to convey an understanding of the differences and challenges of legal project management within the context of how law firm partnerships work.

Success will require excellent communication skills, the ability to engage stakeholders and influence partners and senior lawyers. But Prince II qualifications are a nice-to-have rather than an essential prerequisite for getting hired by a law firm. It’s experience on the ground that’s key. These requirements are leading to some recruitment and retention challenges.

Overcoming the obstacles

For a start, as project management is new and has so quickly gained momentum in law, firms are finding they can’t source the project management skills and experience they require from within the profession. They need to look to outside industry – to broader professional services sectors at least.

We are talking to candidates who are interested in joining the legal sector. There is a huge attraction to working in a dynamic, growing industry that is fast changing and enjoys a wealth of highly intelligent people working on interesting and challenging cross-jurisdictional matters. The law firms hiring project managers are highly respected, and candidates see the potential to make a real impact with what is seen to be a blank slate.

However, these are also project managers who may have previously enjoyed significant responsibility and highly sophisticated work. They are typically used to working on a contract basis – commanding high rates (up to as much as £1,000 a day for the most senior project managers) and enjoying considerable flexibility.

By contrast, many law firms are currently seeking project managers to join on a 12-month full-time contract, with a view to them then going permanent, assuming all goes well. With that they are offering annual salaries that rarely match the day rates offered by other industry sectors.

Some candidates are still attracted to the roles for all of the reasons stated above. In addition, there are those who will accept the loss in pay in return for the stability and security of the long-term contract law firms can offer. But for others, it can be a sticking point. This means that finding good, qualified senior candidates can be difficult – particularly in the numbers that law firms currently require.

Territory on trial

Law firms may be able to attract strategically minded senior project managers to head up teams – enticed by the promise of being able to make a big difference at an early stage of this burgeoning trend.

Alternatively, instead of recruiting a dedicated project manager from outside law, firms may consider taking on a manager from a business development or learning and development background − someone who has project management experience and is now ready to take it to a more specialised level.

But however law firms choose to do it, we feel that offering a combination of salaried and daily rate roles would attract far more candidates. This would also give law firms more flexibility to try out different ways of working with project managers across different matters, to find out what works best for business growth.

This is still new territory. Project management is fast gaining traction in law firms, but it doesn’t sit alone. It must be integrated into the processes, people, pricing and pipeline that make up the other four Ps. This means firms need to think holistically, while also carefully considering the specific skills and capabilities that are needed to meet day-to-day requirements.

As more firms invest in project management teams, it seems to us that the firms with the most open-minded approach will be those that succeed in attracting as wide a pool of talent as possible − to cherry pick the very best to support business transformation in the legal sector.

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