This article is the first of a three-part series on legal project management. To receive the next two parts, sign up to our newsletter.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could always delight clients? Consistently deliver on time and on budget, stress less and enjoy a much better work-life balance?

Legal Project Management (LPM) is a new approach to legal work that can help you achieve all that.

As a leading global expert in Legal Project Management, I have worked with thousands of lawyers over the last decade to raise awareness and develop capabilities in LPM.

And although LPM is now being successfully used in some practice areas by global and national firms, it still isn’t used across all practice areas or matter. And most small to mid-size firms are struggling to implement LPM into their own practices.

Here is why adopting LPM can sometimes be harder than it should be – and what you can do about it:

Why is LPM so critical?

Client expectations are always changing, but the GFC triggered revolutionary, not evolutionary, change in the legal industry.  

With less legal work, lower budgets, an increased move towards in-house counsel and a much faster pace of business, law firms have come under intense pressure to provide greater transparency and more predictable legal outcomes.

One of the key findings from the 2012 ALM Legal Intelligence survey was that “Partners most willing to adopt LPM should lead efforts in an incremental manner. The quicker there are demonstrable positive benefits, the faster other partners will take notice.”

Chief Legal Officers were also asked in the survey what service improvements and innovations they would most like to see from their outside counsel. The top three responses were:

  • Improved budget forecasting (57%)
  • Greater cost reduction (52%)
  • More efficient project management (52%)

All of which can be achieved through the tools and techniques of LPM.

But lawyers are resistant to change

Implementing LPM isn’t always easy despite its obvious advantages, because the legal services industry is plagued by ‘change resistance’.

Not only has the legal industry been the same for centuries, lawyers are – by their very nature – change resistant.

Various studies (Herding Cats; The Lawyer Personality Revealed, Richards 2002 and The ‘Lawyer Personality’ and the five factor model; implications from personality neuroscience, Deveson, 2012) have shown that lawyers tend to have certain personality traits and preferences that make them much more resistant to change than the general public:

  • A preference for lone working rather than team work – 57% of lawyers were more introverted than extroverted (Richards, 2002) compared with 75% of people in the general population who were more extroverted than introverted. They also have a much higher preference for autonomy scoring in the 89th percentile (Richards, 2002) which limits their desire for team-based activities.
  • A tendency towards perfectionism and self-doubt –  On average lawyers are more excitable, self-critical and moody than the general population (Deveson, 2012). This manifests itself into perfectionistic behaviour which can sometimes inhibit any willingness to adopt new competencies due to anxiety around not being perfect and not doing it right first time.
  • A higher than average tendency to be sceptical – Lawyers surveyed in major firms score in the 90th percentile for scepticism (Richards, 2002) and are much more sceptical that the average population; this can make it difficult for them to acknowledge the expertise of others and thus inhibit their willingness to adopt new skills.
  • A high degree of urgency – Lawyers are more inclined towards a sense of urgency scoring in the 71st percentile (Richards, 2002) which inhibits their ability to undertake the planning activities which are necessary as part of Legal Project Management.

Richard Susskind, renowned academic, thought leader and author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services has written much on the topic of change within the industry and alludes to these personality traits.

Having worked with lawyers at all levels over the past 10 years, I have seen for myself many of these observations in practice – and encountered the obstacles that they cause. I have seen groups of lawyers talk themselves out of doing something really critical, simply because they did not think they would do it perfectly.

Yet almost all global and many large national law firms now have dedicated positions for Legal Project Managers. Or have embedded the capability requirements into senior legal support roles.

In Australia, the UK and Europe, Practice Support Lawyers and business services professionals with project management expertise are transitioning into Legal Project Managers. Even Senior Associates are making the leap.

But mid-tier to smaller firms often do not have the funding for dedicated roles and lack access to LPM frameworks and quality training. In-house teams expect external counsel to have these skills.

There can also be a lack of understanding of the types of changes that will be required after training, to ensure that LPM is integrated. It is important to emphasise that LPM is not about cost cutting but working differently to deliver higher quality and better value, whilst improving processes and maintaining quality.

How a change management program helps

An effective change management program is crucial to successfully introduce LPM into everyday working. Remember that a small shift to the right level can achieve exponential gains.

The major components are:

  1. Create the burning platform – change or die!
  2. Encourage a Growth Mindset
  3. Use Motivational Interviewing Techniques
  4. Spend wisely on genuine experts
  5. Provide training and coaching
  6. Reinforce and Reward
  7. Make it mandatory to work in the new way

Is there a change model that works with lawyers?

The most effective change model for lawyers is a five-step process from awareness to adoption, in a relapse and training cycle:

  • Awareness: Kick off and communicate benefits
  • Commitment: Engage team members and concerns
  • Knowledge: Training delivered by an expert
  • Capability: Expert coaching and regular reviews
  • Adoption: Processes and precedents; reinforce and reward

Expert LPM training and support is key

Of course, the best way to embed LPM in all sizes of firms and in-house legal teams is to undertake internal training and coaching programs with a true LPM expert.

As a project management expert, lecturer, author and trainer, I know exactly how to shortcut the competency building process, selecting and tailoring the LPM disciples and tools that will work for your practice and preferred way of working.

Successful LPM: Competency Development Framework

My LPM Competency Development Framework details the specific techniques to achieve each individual and organisational level:

Awareness: Introduction to LPM concepts and frameworks, including the benefits of adoption

CPD Sessions
eLearning Induction

Commitment: Understanding and addressing concerns, establishing change leadership approach

Partner coaching
Team based coaching

Knowledge: Detailed understanding of specific LPM disciplines and the underlying tools and techniques

Training workshops
Topic specific and active based learning

Capability:  Coaching in the selection and application of LPM tools and techniques for different practice areas

On the job coaching
Access to experts Advanced training workshops

Adoption: Creation of LPM precedents for repeated use and continuous improvement

On the job coaching
Access to expertsCommunity of Practice

FREE LPM Competency Framework download

Download my FREE Legal Project Management Competency Framework as a first step to LPM success, which maps out the LPM capabilities and skills required by lawyers at different levels of experience and seniority.

And don’t miss my next two upcoming newsletter articles – Legal Project Management and Legal Portfolio Management – which will provide an overview as well as practical tips to bring these key disciplines into your practice. You can sign up to the newsletter here.

With the right help, you will not only be able to introduce the LPM concept, but successfully change the way you work. The leading lawyers who are doing it well are exceeding client expectations, improving efficiency and enjoying game-changing outcomes.

About Therese Linton, Principal and Founder, Basalt Group

Therese is a global leader in the field of LPM and project management capability building.Her book Legal Project Management can be purchased from LexisNexis and Booktopia. For the past 10 years she has been developing legal project management competency frameworks for major commercial firms, the Law Society of NSW and the College of Law, delivering successful outcomes through face to face training programs and workshops. New developments include the upcoming launch of LPM online education and certification programs.