In the last decade, legal project management (LPM) has grown in popularity with law firms because of its ability to improve client service and efficiency. The demand from clients for increased involvement and transparency is being answered, at least in part, by the deployment of legal project managers within law firms. Clients have been quick to identify LPM as a key differentiator and are now beginning to request a review of legal project management strategies as a standard part of their RFP and firm selection process.
Recently, Rob MacAdam, director of legal solutions at HighQ, and Kate Bassett, global head of legal project management at Ashurst, discussed the current state of LPM, the role that technology plays, and what it's like to be a legal project manager.
Rob: I am very pleased to be joined by Kate Bassett from Ashurst, who is going to go into more detail about her role and the role of a legal project manager.
Kate: I'm Kate Bassett, the global head of legal project management at Ashurst. I lead a team of twelve legal project managers and legal process improvement managers based in London, Glasgow, Sydney and Melbourne. The team was established as part of Ashurst Advance four years ago and has three core objectives:
1) Improving the delivery of legal services for clients
2) Ensuring efficient legal service delivery processes are in place
3) Providing clients with project transparency
I have worked in the legal industry for many years now, starting off in strategic analysis and consulting and moving into business project management within law firms. Legal project management was a natural transition for me.
Legal project management (LPM) basics
Rob: Thank you, Kate. Let’s start with a high-level overview of legal project management. What does the role of a legal project manager looks like, and what are the common goals, frustrations and key responsibilities of legal project managers?
I am always amazed at the common misunderstanding of what LPM is. From my perspective, it is just the application of project management principles to legal projects. Is it more complex than that in reality?
Kate: Correct, legal project management is simply the application of project management methodologies and tools to legal matters. It is the project management tools and techniques that we all know, such as planning, scoping, budgeting, reporting and closing. The LPM profession has been formed as a result of clients' demand for more transparency in the way their legal work is being managed. Clients also want to be confident that all the unknowns and uncertainties of their legal matters are handled as efficiently as possible.
Rob: Funnily enough, lawyers fail to realise that they are actually already project managing in some shape or form don’t they?
Kate: Absolutely! Lawyers have been playing the role of the accidental project manager for many years without any formal training or project management experience. As clients have increasingly demanded better management of their legal matters, the lawyers have started to recognise that specialist legal project managers are needed to perform this role so that they can focus on what they know best—the law.
Rob: I remember when I was a lawyer, there was typically no timetable, no resource planning and sometimes the cost estimate was just plucked out of thin air!
Kate: Definitely! I think previously legal matters were shrouded in mystery for the client. You came to a lawyer usually in an urgent situation and you left it in their capable hands. You didn't know what happened beyond that apart from receiving the legal advice as the end product.
Now with so many law firms in the market providing more sophisticated services, there is a heightened sense of competition and clients can start asking: "Well, tell us how you are delivering that legal service to me, I want to see in detail exactly what your lawyers are working on." So law firms like Ashurst had to provide a response to this, be more transparent and put structure around client delivery.
Rob: A client once said, "Good project management is about having a clear project timeline, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and clear reporting lines showing who is doing what and where." Is that what legal project management is? Or is that oversimplified?
Kate: Well, that is a good start, but it isn't enough! Project management is about managing the project, it is not about the tools, templates, trackers and reports that you produce every week. It is about motivating and managing the team delivering the work and making sure all elements involved come together at the right time to deliver the project.
Sixty percent of a project manager’s job is talking to people and getting them to deliver the outputs that they need to. The rest of the time will be spent producing those reports and trackers to ensure transparency. A status report won't solve your project problems and deliver a successful project for you, the project team will.
How LPM improves transparency
Rob: One of the key benefits of legal project management is the transparency it offers to both parties, the client and the law firm. Clients are fully aware of what is being done and lawyers know exactly where they are in the project. By taking a disciplined approach, you can also increase the predictability of fees and costs. If you ask any partner or lawyer to give you a scientific idea of what a litigation of this size costs, they can't tell you most of the time can they?
Kate: Lawyers are not trained in that commercial way of thinking at law school. Their first thoughts are likely to be about the legal problem they face and how to solve it. They are not really excited about cost estimates, how they are going to resource the project and manage it. They need specialists for that. Unfortunately though, the legal project manager is still often brought in once the fee estimate has been agreed rather than helping to shape the fee estimate in detail.
Rob: Another point is about realisation. I was guilty of this as a lawyer—you start doing the work, you work really hard and you don't report to the client on what you are incurring in terms of fees or even changes in scope of work. What we have found is that being transparent about your spend increases your chances of realisation. Is that your experience, Kate?
Kate: Yes, in my experience lawyers tend to find being more transparent to clients about changes and the impacts that those changes might have on costs or progress difficult. However, as long as you can show that your assumptions and scope have changed for a reason and had a subsequent impact based on those reasons, most of the time the client will appreciate that this is the normal course of events and be more open to fee discussions.
The main point here is that legal project management can be used to minimise risk for law firms, clearly scoping, planning and costing matters minimises surprises for the client and subsequently the impact of the changes decreases for both the client and the law firm.
Winning business with LPM
Rob: I think the key differentiators nowadays between law firms are their use of legal technology and the application of legal project management, is this what you're doing now with Ashurst Advance?
Kate: Yes, Rob. The differentiator that clients are looking for is related to the delivery of the legal service that they are buying. Clients want evidence that the law firm is going to deliver that service efficiently, on time and to the agreed cost estimate. It is a given that the firm has the legal expertise.
Ashurst Advance is our NewLaw delivery platform created to meet our clients' demand for innovative and more cost-effective delivery of legal services. By combining Ashurst's legal subject matter experts with this delivery platform (low cost resourcing, legal project managers and legal technologists) in one fully integrated team, we can offer our clients legal excellence with efficient delivery.
HighQ for LPM
Rob: Kate, I thought it would be good if you share your experience on how Ashurst is using HighQ.
Kate: We use HighQ as an efficient communication and collaboration tool for matter teams and for client interactions.
HighQ is no longer just a data room, we use the data visualisation functionality to illustrate matter progress. We also use the task functionality to allocate and track work. And more recently, we have been experimenting with HighQ to manage specific legal workflows. The data collection and management functionality also provides us with the flexibility to collaboratively manage action logs and trackers that would have previously been managed in spreadsheets, an exercise that lawyers used to detest.
Clients are usually excited about it because it's an interactive portal where they can log on in real time and look at matter status, the project team can allocate tasks efficiently, and one of the biggest benefits to all parties is that it can reduce email traffic.
Legal project management is growing as both law firms and clients recognise the benefits the practice offers. LPM teams are using technology to take the benefits even further. For more information about LPM technology, visit HighQ.