During the recent CFO-COO Forum in New York, a discussion was held on instituting project management solutions within law firms. Moderated by Terrence Herlihy, solutions architect at DTI, the panelists of the session “Enhancing Project Management Capabilities at the Partner Level” were careful to note that despite some challenges they encountered with their own firms, the effort was worth the time and energy.

Tracie Crook, COO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, noted the success of implementing project management processes at the firm, despite some resistance among attorneys. But coming from a corporate background to the legal business, Crook found that while project management was viewed as a tool, taking the “service delivery” approach was more effective.

“In service delivery, what we have done, we’ve encompassed everything from start to end and [we have] a team that works in a matrixed way,” Crook said.

With a dedicated team – which includes both lawyers and non-lawyers with Six Sigma training – they work with attorneys to make sure they have been trained in project management, pricing and other “innovative solutions” to better serve clients. The team replicates best practices that are measured against key performance indicators to track adoption of these methods. While there have been challenges in “uptake” among attorneys, Crook noted that offices with dedicated project management teams often perform better.

Herlihy added that in his experience, initiating project management “champions,” particularly Six Sigma practitioners, “went over like a lead balloon.” But as Crook noted, buy-in is strongest at the behest of the client.

“How we’ve been able to make the traction that we have – one of our number one clients demanded that all of their matters be project managed – and so, we had to change and make sure that every one of our litigation files are [project managed], which that facilitated buy-in, as well,” Crook noted. Another strategy was to include Six Sigma practitioners in client meetings to clearly explain how projects and matters were being managed.

Robert “Skipp” Swayze, CFO at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, added that the trick to selling project management comes down to “behavioral economics.”

“Part of my experience is that recognizing law firms are really an exercise in behavioral economics – you [incentivize] the behavior you want and you penalize the behavior you don’t want,” he quipped. “Part of selling project management is hitting them in the pocketbook.”

Like tech adoption, he noted, there will be early-adopters who are excited to engage project management, and it’s best to reward these people in the firm. Swayze explained that these people also can act as “beta-testers” and offer feedback on what works and what doesn’t. As project management is deployed, he added, “Putting project management as part of the client experience is, I think, a key component.”

Instituting project management is most effective when you change the culture of the firm described Lauri Walker, COO of Nixon Peabody. The firm put paralegals and other team members through legal project management training, hired a director of pricing and engaged a partner compensation model. She also noted the value of having project management advocates in the firm.

“We have taken every opportunity at leadership meetings, at annual partner meetings, to have the partners who are really doing [project management] successfully give their testimonial so it’s a good selling point in how it’s actually helped grow their practice and made them much more efficient and profitable,” Walker said. She also added that they have looked at specific cases and leveraged financial analysts to demonstrate the value of project management, particularly in ongoing or repetitive legal matters.

Swayze also was keen to point out that these skills can be used to explore and engage other opportunities and businesses, including e-discovery, which can be sold to clients or other firms.

While project management may be a challenge for some, Swayze noted that if attorneys are capable of bringing a case to trial and winning, they are capable of understanding the value of project management.