Until 2008, large law firms experienced ever-increasing demand and hourly rates. Success was easy – just avoid big blunders. That’s not true today. Clients now have market power and want better value. Today, to keep and win business, firms must deliver value.

Legal project management (LPM) stands out as a great way to deliver value. It supports lower cost service delivery, better cost predictability, and clearer client communication. Many firms have LPM initiatives but making it work beyond a small group requires systematic change management.

Gowlings has committed to that work. It is a firm of 750 legal professionals with seven offices across Canada and three overseas offices. The firm has launched Gowlings Practical, “a program that brings a simple yet effective project management approach to the way we provide legal services”. Many Gowlings partners today support LPM – gettting there, of course took hard work.

The Practical program started with partners Karyn Bradley, Office Managing Partner in Toronto, and Mark Tamminga, Leader, Innovation Initiatives since 2012. I’ve known Mark for years. We had lunch at ILTA in 2012 to discuss changes in the legal market. LPM was a big topic. He explained that once he finished some 2012 knowledge management projects, he and Karyn would turn to LPM in 2013. My LPM news was that in June, I had started working with Elevate Services, a legal services outsourcing company. My role was as a subject matter expert to develop Cael LPM(TM) software.

We agreed that LPM had to be simple or lawyers would never use it. Simple means an approach lawyers could use without much training or too much extra effort. That includes software that demands as few extra steps as possible. I told him that was the design philosophy behind Cael LPM – “just enough LPM”.

One year later, Gowlings became a Cael LPM pilot customer. I participated in the Gowlings Practical kick-off on a consulting basis. We all understood that this was much more than just software deployment. The whole program revolved around gaining lawyer buy-in to the idea of LPM and commitment to actually doing it. A case study published in late 2013 has details (see LPO Handbook). Key highlights of the adoption plan include:

  • Senior management support, including participation in LPM workshop and regular communications by and to opinion leaders
  • Simple documentation explaining how Gowlings Practical works
  • Workshops with partners and associates
  • Close coordination with Finance, IT, and Marketing
  • Continuous improvements to and upgrades of the software


In February, the firm notched up Gowlings Practical.  It hired Rick Kathuria as National Director, Project Management and Legal Logistics.The hire alone is a big move. Even bigger is the Globe and Mail ad that Gowlings ran to announce Practical and Rick’s arrival (PDF here).

Beyond the expense of the ad, promoting LPM in mainstream media commits the firm publicly. The ad itself made news in the Financial Post last Thursday. In National law firms vie for project management chiefs, the Post observed that the Gowlings announcement “is indistinguishable from the treatment given to the arrival of prominent lateral transfers at law firms.”

This is the second time in as many months that I see a firm use public communications to reinforce internal initiatives. In January, I wrote Clifford Chance Adopts Continuous Improvement Program. In it, I observed that publishing a white paper about a new program makes it much harder for partners to backtrack. (A side note here is that my former colleague and Elevate’s founder, Liam Brown, was involved in both programs).

When I talked to Mark last week, he said that Rick is already helping by making the “simple enough” LPM approach even simpler.  Rick has suggested some changes that simplified the tool further and distilled what had been a five-step program to four:

  1. Scoping: understanding client objectives and assumptions
  2. Planning and pricing
  3. Monitor and manage
  4. Debrief: Lessons learned and project template library update


Mark reports this simplification resonates well with lawyers. With a foundation of software, training, and management support, Gowlings has now started applying Practical to live matters.

In the future, Mark expects to enhance LPM. He envisions using Cael LPM as a working environment where lawyers can discuss the matter, store and access documents, and train juniors. Social media features such as discussion threads will make it easier to centralize communications, find information and bring new players onto teams midway through matters as required.

Mark and Gowlings innovated in the past in transforming a high volume collections practice into a law factory with innovative technology and staffing. Gowlings is on its way to a broader transformation that will see multiple matters across practices effectively use LPM to deliver value to their clients.