Mythbuster: Everyone Needs a Legal Project Manager
By Josh Kubicki and Kim Craig, Co-Founders, Bold Duck Studio
More and more firms are scrambling to develop their Legal Project Management (“LPM”) programs. There is a weekly flood of new LPM postings searching for just the right person to add to their firm's team. But when we ask these firms why they are looking to fill that role, the response often is, “The client said we need a legal project manager,” or “We received an RFP that asked about our project management capabilities,” or even, “Our competitors have an LPM program so we need to catch up or we’ll lose clients.” Yet many of these firms also admit they never asked their clients “What problem will LPM solve?” If nothing else, they’re confident it will make them more efficient.
We think this is a puzzling response: Why do firms think hiring a project manager will make them more efficient? With the rise of fixed fees and set budgets, does the client really care about a law firm’s efficiencies as long as they deliver on time, with expected quality and outcomes? Do they need a project manager at all?
What is LPM?
Formal project management is a methodology focused on planning and managing the triple constraint, also known as the Iron Triangle: Scope, Schedule, and Budget. The ultimate purpose is to lead a team toward project goals while meeting the customer’s definition of quality. Project management started to get traction in the legal industry after the 2008 economic downturn when corporate law departments felt immense pressure from their CFOs and business leaders to create predictable, reliable annual budgets. Some early adopter firms began to adopt proven methodologies used in other verticals to estimate and manage budgets, and employed project managers and consultants to teach their lawyers the ins and outs of creating reliable budgets they could deliver on.
More than a decade later, hundreds of individuals across the industry hold the title “Legal Project Manager.” But just because there’s a bigger supply of talent does not mean that the profession has matured. One of the most common mistakes firms make is misconstruing LPM as a means to gain efficiencies – primarily for the purpose of ensuring they are profitable on fixed fee matters.
Process Engineering Versus LPM
Instead of trying to bend the discipline of project management to achieve process improvement, why not use the methodology meant for that purpose? There are continuous improvement frameworks, tools, and techniques like Lean Six Sigma that were specifically created to identify and remove process waste such as rework, unnecessary approvals, over producing work product. The focus is on streamlining a process aligned with client-defined value. While process improvement originated in the manufacturing world, it is just as applicable in professional services like the legal industry and requires a completely different skillset than project management. It requires knowledge of tools and methods used to reengineer service delivery and operating models to improve cost, quality, and outcomes.
It is easy to see why project management and process improvement disciplines are often confused to the untrained eye. The experience of the lawyer might feel the same. Afterall, a project plan and a process map both deconstruct the legal work into discrete tasks, defined roles, estimated cycle times and defined deliverables which break apart the artisan craft of practicing law. They both shine a light on what work is projected to be completed and when. Further confusing things is how LPMs are utilized within some firms. Often they fill in the gaps for missing or lacking resources, talent, and processes. The legal teams they work with are delighted to have this “free” resource to keep things on track, deal with the minutiae, address operational problems and client challenges, so they misconstrue this as creating efficiencies. Gaining the true benefits of efficiency requires experience and training in process improvement. Adding an LPM into an existing poor process does not magically fix the process; it just makes a poor process better organized.
For example, if the processes, systems, and resources involved in onboarding a new business, law firm or client are not streamlined and optimally integrated, putting a project manager at the helm does not eliminate inefficiencies. A project manager’s core function is to ensure that a team progresses through the work according to the plan, not to re-engineer the process itself. Good project managers will ensure that a project plan avoids redundancies and rework (which are inefficiencies) but their job is not to redesign existing processes.
Failing with LPM
Most firms can find an easy way to “check the LPM boxes.” There are many resumes out there and if that’s not the route you want to go, promote from within and slap a new title on a former practicing lawyer or another smart business person. But even with those boxes checked, the firm often still falls short. They fail to properly define the role, invest in educational programs, provide proper authority and, most importantly, these LPMs are not allowed to practice at the top of their profession. This is further aggravated by an on-demand model that lacks any strategic guidance from Practice Groups or leadership for prioritization. LPMs are expected to approve every type of request and have no authority to push back to ensure the firm is getting the highest return on investment for this ever-increasingly expensive resource. Thus they end up chasing impossible deadlines and uncompleted follow through tasks.
This is definitely not what the client meant when they asked the firm for an LPM. At the end of the day, it isn’t about a defined role. Project management should be an enterprise capability, not an exercise in cat herding.
Some LPMs encourage the client to put pressure on the legal team to deliver on their commitments: To provide timely, accurate status reports, populate client site extranets, use client-approved templates and so on. The client is leveraged as a secret weapon. No matter the size of the LPM team, there aren’t enough hours in a day to make sure every task for every matter, deadline and deliverable does not fall through the cracks. If that’s how your firm is using their project managers, there’s a bigger issue at hand. Every legal team should have the discipline, the respect for their clients, and the pride in their service to WANT to deliver on what they promised.
Do You Need an LPM, or Something Else?
When suggesting your firms employ a project manager, ask yourself why you feel that role is necessary. If it’s to address broken processes, that’s not the job of a project manager. Instead, ask for an experienced efficiency expert. If it’s to get the legal team to do their jobs, look elsewhere for legal services. If it’s to truly benefit from an experienced, project manager who has the expertise to plan and manage complex matters, with many moving parts and diverse workstreams so that the lawyers can do what they do best and practice at the top of their license, have that conversation with your firm. Make sure the LPMs are assigned to the right matters, have requisite authority, and industry expertise. If you find that diamond in the rough, consider yourself lucky, embrace that expert and welcome them to the table. Even consider paying for that resource’s time: They might be the most valuable member of the team.
Josh Kubicki is Co-founder and Design Principal for Bold Duck Studio, a strategic design company that helps future-proof B2B services. He is a former Chief Strategy Officer in BigLaw, has worked in Verizon’s general counsel office and helped launch and advise dozens of legal startups.
Over the last 20 years, Josh has merged his experience in design thinking, Lean Six Sigma, and strategy execution to build services and products for business and legal teams. He excels at creating design-driven growth and development strategies and pin-pointing organizations’ competitive advantages. He is a lawyer by training and an intrapreneur by experience.
Kim Craig is Co-founder and Lean Principal for Bold Duck Studio, a strategic design company that helps future-proof B2B services. She is the former head of an AmLaw 100 Client Solutions Team comprised of more than 30 legal project managers, legal solution architects, lean six sigma experts, and data analysts. Kim has worked with legal teams around the globe redesigning their service delivery models to enhance their value proposition, achieve better outcomes, create brand differentiation, and deliver greater client experiences.
She is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt through Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and a certified Project Management Professional through PMI.
Harnessing the Power of Benchmarking Data with Smarter Law Solutions Consultations
By Blake Garcia, Senior Manager of Legal Benchmarking Services, ACC
ACC members have made it clear that in order for their legal departments to operate most efficiently and stay ahead of the curve, they need to be able to compare their practices against those of their peers. In fact, benchmarking data is the single most desired resource among members. ACC has answered this call by releasing pilot reports in 2018 and following up with a full suite of benchmarking reports in 2019. Each of these reports contains more than 100 metrics covering the most requested financial and operational areas like staffing, spending, workload, law firm and fee structure usage, and technology adoption. All reports are available at www.acc.com/benchmarking-reports
Once a legal department acquires one of our benchmarking reports, the next questions we are often asked are, “Now what do I do with all of this data?” and “How do I use it to support improvements in my legal department?”
ACC Research has partnered with Smarter Law Solutions
to offer a free benchmarking consultation for all ACC members including legal operations section members. Our benchmarking reports help legal departments to establish where
they currently are relative to their peers, but Smarter Law analysis takes the next key steps by showing what
these results mean and how
they can be improved in tangible, practical ways.
Specifically, Smarter Law utilizes ACC Benchmarking
to provide analysis of the “bottom line” of this triangle between Headcount and Cost, namely the Make vs. Buy balance between in-house and private practice resources and the appropriate size of the legal department and spend for the size and sector of your business.
The consultation involves a 45-minute phone briefing and delivers a high-level report of the next steps to take in optimizing department cost, headcount, and legal coverage. You do not need to acquire an ACC benchmarking report to qualify. Sign up for a free consultation by visiting www.acc.com/smarterlaw
. To learn more about ACC’s full range of benchmarking offerings, visit www.acc.com/benchmarking
. For questions, email email@example.com
Blake Garcia, Ph.D., is Senior Manager of Legal Benchmarking Services at the ACC and is responsible for the management and growth of ACC’s research and benchmarking department. He has spent the past four years expanding ACC’s research capacity from a small member surveying unit to a multifaceted and full-service data hub to help corporate legal executives make more informed decisions. Blake has published peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals applying statistical and experimental methodologies and has taught college courses on quantitative research in the social sciences. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Texas A&M University and a B.A. in international politics from Penn State University.
Meet the Chairs of the Internal Resource Management and Process, Project & Knowledge Management IGs
Staci Van Der Snick-Novack
Internal Resource Management IG Chair
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
My family and I fostered dogs that came from high kill shelters for 6 years. At one point during our fostering, we had 10 dogs in our house! This included a momma dog giving birth to 5 puppies. Lots of fun!
What is one thing you’re excited about in your role as Chair of this group?
I have received such wonderful information/resources from this group. I am excited and honored to lead a group that can make such a difference in the lives of legal ops professionals across the United States. I love meeting new people and gathering new ideas on how to improve my department and am look forward to hearing what everyone has to offer.
What are the topic(s) coming up for the Internal Resource Management Group?
In August, we'll address Business Case for Professional Development, and in September we'll cover Contract Management.
Marianne Troscinski Process, Project & Knowledge Management IG
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
I’ve fostered 15 children and I was a US Congressional Intern.
Why did you volunteer to chair this IG?
I volunteered because I have a strong interest in Project/Process management and I find leading the group is a great way to learn and grow. I am proud of the camaraderie in this group. People share, help, and teach each other without holding back!
What topic(s) are coming up for Process, Project & Process management in the near future?
In August our topic will be Reviewing PPM tools. On September 10, Greg Stern and Mao Robles will be presenting a "Deep Dive into Knowledge Management Tools," covering how to build tools, how to use them, and how to encourage adoption.
Upcoming Events in August and September
View all upcoming ACC events here
Date: August 13 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Process & Project Management Toolkit Resources
Interest Group: Process, Project & Knowledge Management
Date: August 15 at 1:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Metrics - How Did you Get Started
Interest Group: Metrics & Analytics
Date: August 21 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Information Governance: Where to Start When Establishing a New IG Program
Interest Group: Information Governance & eDiscovery
Date: August 27 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Technology Toolkit Inventory
Interest Group: Tools & Technology
Date: September 5 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT)
Topic: Optimizing Internal Resources - Paralegal Development
Interest Group: Internal Resource Management
Date: September 10 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Deep dive into KM tools. Building KM Tools
Interest Group: Process, Project & Knowledge Management
Date: September 12 at 2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Best Practices for Managing Outside Counsel
Interest Group: External Resource Management
Date: September 18 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Records Retention Enforcement: Best Practices & Lessons Learned
Interest Group: Information Governance & Discovery
Highlights from the ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements Page
The latest report by Investec on the legal tech and NewLaw (LTN) market has found that consolidation and investment in the sector continues at a robust level, with 24 M&A deals across the first half of 2019, and £358m ($448m) invested in LTN companies by a variety of funds and other businesses. [Artificial Lawyer]
Rather than wait for it, Microsoft’s legal team has decided to create what it needs, starting now. [Jason Moyse, Legal Evolution blog]
Everything is up for grabs at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries – well, certainly from an external law firm perspective. The Israel-based company – the largest manufacturer of generic drugs globally – recently announced that all existing law firm relationships were under review... While, conceptually, that may not seem like anything groundbreaking in and of itself, Teva has taken things further than usual – going as far as warning existing firms that it is more than conceivable that they won’t continue to be instructed. [Legal500]
As the litigation funding industry continues to flourish, consumer litigation finance is the subject of increasing legislative and regulatory action at the state and federal level. And some commercial litigation funders worry they could be swept up in the backlash. [ALM]
How to Get More Involved in the ACC Legal Ops Community
There are many ways to get involved with and contribute to the ACC Legal Operations community and raise your professional profile. We would love to hear your ideas, learn and collaborate together!
- Post your queries, requests for referrals, tips for colleagues and share homegrown resources in the Member Forum.
- Join the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model 2.0 working group. Things are evolving fast and we are excited to take the acclaimed model to the next step. The Interest Groups are already making updates, and we are seeking volunteers to join the team to update Change, IP, Contracts, Financial & Compliance Management.
- Participate in or start a Regional Group to build relationships through in-person interaction.
- Champion the Legal Operations function - the ACC Legal Operations LinkedIn Showcase page offers peers, in-house counsel and others in the legal ecosystem leading practices shared among our members. Help show off the value of legal ops professionals - follow it to get updates, share and tweet articles (#ACCLegalOps).
- Let us know if you would like to be featured in or author an article in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, the ACC Docket and the LinkedIn Legal Ops showcase page (a package deal!).
- Be an Ambassador – many GCs are curious about the rise of legal ops, and we are communicating best practices at ACC Chapter events. We even have a “Legal Ops 101” deck you can use as a template.
Email us to get involved - with offers to share your know-how, suggestions or any questions! LawDepartmentOps@ACC.com.
Not a Member of ACC Legal Ops? Join Now!
Join now to get access to resources, participate in any of the Interest Groups, and use the online Member Forum for ad hoc benchmarking and referrals. The ACC Legal Ops section is active throughout the year, adding resources, conducting benchmarking studies, and providing webinars by legal operations professionals, for legal ops professionals.
For more information, visit www.acc.com/legalops or contact LawDepartmentOps@acc.com.