Legal project management (LPM) has received an unexpected boost from people working from home as a result of Covid- 19 but law firms are keen on formal standards for it, according to a study.
The lack of training standards for LPM – the practice of having a manager shepherd project work involving lawyers, technologists and other professional services on behalf of law firms – has led a number of law firms to take matters into their own hands.
Also, a small number of firms are sceptical about the benefits of LPM, seeing it as an unnecessary overhead which will be passed on to clients and increase the overall cost of doing business.
The coronavirus has ”turbocharged” a process already underway, the report commissioned by legal training specialists Kinch Robinson found.
Written by management consultants OMC Partners, the report concluded that client needs were becoming more complex and their legal spend budgets were under greater scrutiny. LPM could help law firms achieve superior budgeting and scoping, its proponents urged.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 had added to lawyers’ pressures to minimise its effects on client profitability.
“LPM, deployed effectively, has the potential to help you address these competing tensions and develop your response to minimise [its] impact”, the report said.
It was based on a qualitative survey of LPM professionals at large law firms such as Baker McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Fieldfisher, Addleshaw Goddard, CMS, Lewis Silkin, Pinsent Masons, Ashurst and DLA Piper.
More than three-quarters of respondents complained of a lack of common standards for managing legal matters. Almost as many were developing their own templates and standards but for the most part were not collaborating.
Bucking this trend, a consortium of six firms in Bristol met regularly to “disseminate know-how” on LPM.
The report noted that respondents also wanted to see recognised LPM qualifications and a defined career path to ensure an ongoing supply of qualified staff. There was currently a shortage of suitably experienced candidates, they told researchers.
Law firms were increasingly training their own LPMs, including several developing apprenticeship schemes.
One global firm was introducing a training contract for lawyers with a focus on project management to create trainees who were “commercially and tech savvy business advisers”.
The report also said several leading law firms were collaborating with a major shared client to develop “a fit-for-purpose tailored LPM programme”.
While many clients, particularly those in financial services expected LPM to be employed, few law firms remained suspicious, the report found: “A small minority of clients still refuse the involvement of LPMs, viewing them as just another overhead,” it said.
In other findings, the report cited a case study by Barclays, which found that when its 15-strong panel of law firms used LPM, there was a 25% efficiency gain through clearer scoping and budgeting.
Elsewhere, the report said the way one firm tried to improve its LPM efficiency was to use crowdsourcing of ideas. The best ideas were then trialled with clients and, if successful after evaluation, were adopted firm-wide.
Kinch Robinson director Doug Robinson said: “The input was gathered before the March lockdown, so it’s fascinating to see how law firms are responding to the current challenges.
“Of course, managing cash is the number one priority for any business, particularly in times of crisis, but investing in solutions that deliver excellent client service and protect law firm margins makes sense.
“When times are hard, firms that offer practical help to their clients to manage remote teams, make legal budgets go further and deliver projects on time will strengthen relationships and win more work.”
Matthew Peacock, managing director at OMC, added: “Clients – general counsel in particular – are looking to their law firms to toss them Covid-19 life rafts, not tell them how to swim better. Those days are gone.
“LPM helps firms deliver these critical projects to clients, often on a global basis, whilst most team members are working from home.
“Many leading firms are actually ‘doubling down’ on their investments in LPM and legal operations, and the law firm winners and losers are already emerging.”