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Different Things to Different People: What Does Legal Project Management Mean?

December 02, 2019

legal tech lpm

My last post focused on a case study of how a crisis with one client matter led to the implementation of good LPM practice across the client’s entire portfolio of matters. This case study demonstrated that clients and law firms want essentially the same thing–transparency, justification, and consistent processes. In this post, I’ll explore how the term “Legal Project Management” (LPM) can mean different things to different people within a law firm practice. The complicated part is that there is no right answer–the different interpretations of LPM are all valid and plausible.

The problem Elevate initially sought to address when Cael Project was first developed five years ago was the strict monitoring of financial progress for hourly matters against a detailed planned estimate, all within an overall fee budget envelope. These Matter Plans expected timecards to come in from the billing system with appropriate Phase and Task codes, so that time was correctly allocated against the right Task buckets in the Matter Plan. There was an assumption that lawyers would understand the importance of following scope and diligently recording their time on each Task in the Matter Plan. It was further assumed that lawyers would assist the matter manager in indicating their actual (subjective) progress against their tasks by incrementing a slider up to 100% as they completed each one.

As it turns out, this is not how customers usually use Cael Project.

How a prospective customer views LPM is often indicated by who within the firm is the primary party responsible for LPM. Ideally, the primary party is the team responsible for Practice Management at the firm. Often, that isn’t the case.

Sometimes, customers contact us via their IT departments, looking for an IT solution to their firm’s needs. Sometimes, the Finance team makes contact, looking for tools to monitor a matter’s financials with greater granularity than presently takes place. Other times, a task force from the Managing Partner’s office may reach out, looking for a tool that offers executive-level summaries of the performance of the firm’s practice groups. It could also be the Pricing team that reaches out, looking for modelingtools to determine the consequences of different pricing and role arrangements. Rarely, the Knowledge Management and Learning and Development groups have seen evidence of excessive write-offs and poor leverage of non-partner time on matters, and are looking for solutions to quantify where there are gaps in the firm’s skills. All of these contacts came from teams with a legitimate interest in “Legal Project Management.”

One group of individuals not likely to actively participate in LPM are lawyers, despite the likelihood that they need tools to ensure that their work and deliverables actually take place within the scope and timelines allocated for the work! In many firms, there is only a cursory take-up of LPM practices, and this is likely happening because LPM implementation programs are not addressing the question that many lawyers have: “What’s in it for me?”

We’ve dealt with this problem by fielding many requests for enhancements to Cael Project. These enhancements include adding use of checklists, emailed status reports, and alerts that inform end-users of the status of their Tasks on each matter. Lawyers asked for simplification and a reduction in the amount of detail shown to them, and we responded by improving Cael Project and making the UI much easier to use.

In my next post, I’ll review the root requirements that our newer customers have been requesting. We have been approached by many new customers about addressing the broad spectrum of requirements in implementing LPM at their firms. This kind of needs assessment will continue to provide us with detailed feedback on how to improve Cael Project even more.

“The term “Legal Project Management” (LPM) can mean different things to different people within a law firm practice. The complicated part is that there is no right answer–the different interpretations of LPM are all valid and plausible.”

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