This is a live post from a private large law firm practice management meeting. This session is “Legal Project Management (LPM) Overview: Consultants Who Train Lawyers in LPM” presented by Susan Lambreth of Hildebrandt Baker Robins.

Definition: a pro-active, disciplined approach to managing legal matters. It’s important to de-mystify LPM for lawyers. Lambreth regularly meets lawyers who use Excel and other tools to manage teams. So PM is often an extension of what many lawyers have been doing already.

Need to distinguish between process improvement and LPM. Ideally, firms would improve processes before focusing on project management. But in reality, many firms have gotten on the LPM bandwagon first. Hypothesis is that LPM is less culturally challenging than is process improvement. But LPM does not in and of itself lead to efficient execution of matters – to achieve this require legal process improvement.

Trends driving LPM:
– Shift in power from suppliers to buyers. General counsels face huge cost pressures.
– Clients expect lower costs each year, not higher as in the past.
– Procurement officers now involved in buying outside counsel services.
– These same trends also drive demand for alternative fee arrangements (AFA).
– On the law firm side, productivity (billable hours) and realization rates have dropped.
– The only factor supporting increased profits was rate increases. Now the market does not support rate increases.
– Further, firms are now competing on price. Example: a large NYC firm underbid a much smaller Alabama firms last week.
– Clients are segmenting types of work, dis-aggregating work (unbundling). Clients have said to firms “you unbundle or we will do it for you” For example, in an M&A deal, clients will want due diligence broken off from the rest of the work.
– There is an evolving view that the amount of truly “strategic” work is shrinking relative to operational and routine work. But profit opportunities in the latter two is high if a firm is properly leveraged and managed.
– Though some lawyers view LPM as a fad (think TQM), the better view is that LPM is natural evolution from firm management to practice group management to matter management. Also, project management has been around many industries for decades so is not faddish.

Some “hidden benefits” of LPM include better professional development and increased importance of knowledge management (KM).

Hildebrandt Baker Robbins LPM Framework (TM): Initiating, Planning, Executing, Closing, Lessons Learned.

Key Themes: better communication with client upfront to set expectations, clarify project details and define parameters. Develop detailed budgets and work plans, including detailed work schedules and communication plans. More active management of matter throughout its life.

Tools include basic budgeting tools and historic analysis of billing data.

Lesson learned:
– Need to de-mystify LPM
– Don’t be too ambitious to start unless there is a lot of internal support (e.g., available help)
– Don’t try to train associates without partner buy-in
– Resolve compensation issue (drive for billable hours)
– Recognize the magnitude of cultural change required