A group of large law firm knowledge management professionals of which I am a part recently conducted a survey of legal project management (LPM). Thirty firms participated; here are highlights I found interesting and some comments.

In 2010, only 40% of the firms had started an LPM initiative. By this year, 62% had and, counting firms that anticipate starting in the next 12 months, the percent goes up to 80%. Given where we were in 2008 – probably close to zero – this is impressive growth. But dig a little deeper and the picture is mixed. The survey has findings that point in both directions. (All stats below are for firms with an LPM initiative.)

Positive signs include:

  • Leadership supports LPM. My categorization of free-text answers to an open-ended question about the role firm leadership finds that in 75% of firms, leadership plays an important role. With that much senior support, new initiatives are more likely to succeed.
  • Three quarters of firms have “officially launched” LPM.
  • The drivers of LPM – specifically, 75% of the firms cite both client demand and the need to meet budgets and AFA – likely will not diminish anytime soon.
  • Though LPM may be nascent, it is already affecting how firms practice. About 40% of firms report that that LPM has catalyzed other changes such as using more technology, adopting Lean or Six Sigma techniques, or shifting to lower cost resources.

In contrast, there are negative signs:

  • Only 40% of firms have hired anyone into a new position to support their LPM. Given that many lawyers need to help to do LPM, this may not bode well.
  • Only one-third are marketing their LPM initiatives to clients. I would have guessed more would advertise LPM to clients. The explanation may lie two other findings: (1) only 40% of firms doing LPM report tangible successes to date and (2) almost all firms say that fewer than 25% of lawyer and fewer than 25% of new matters use LPM. I take heart from some comments saying it is still early days but these are troubling outcomes for LPM advocates.

Additional interesting findings:

  • Roll out strategies include a single practice, a small group of lawyers across practices, multiple practices and firmwide. I was surprised that almost one-third of the firms with an LPM initiative are rolling it out firm-wide.
  • Of the firms with an LPM initiative, KM plays a leading role in 20%, a participatory or advisory role in 65%, and no role in 15%.
  • Only 40% of firms hired a consultant to help with their LPM initiative.

On balance, I would say these findings are very encouraging for LPM believers. Both the introduction of technology and marketing in large law firms arguably took about a decade. So LPM is off to a fast start in comparison.