Lawyers as Project Management Professionals;
Who Owns Legal Project Management, and What Training/Certification Do They Need.

by Nathan Bowie, Thomson Reuters Engage

I’ve just had the opportunity to moderate two panel discussions on Legal Project Management here at LegalTech. In both cases, I was very fortunate to have such personable and knowledgeable panelists, and I’d like to take a moment to thank them publicly.

On Monday, January 30, Colleen Nihill, Firm Wide Director of Project Management at Dechert, and Curt Selman, Director of Finance at Martin Clearwater & Bell joined me in the Leveraging Legal Technology track on the subject of Profitability through Legal Project Management. The following day, Jay Nogle, Chief Information Officer of Greenberg Traurig and Thomas Wisinski, Chief Knowledge Officer of Haynes and Boone helped the attendees at the CIO / CTO Forum navigate the ins and outs of Legal Project Management.

Their perspectives and their firm’s varied approaches to LPM made for two lively and informative discussions that I hope were as valuable to the audiences as they were to me. Thank you all very, very much.

Although the subject of each session was different, there were some common themes. Two that resonated with me (and I hope with the attendees) were: 1) who within the law firm owns the LPM process, and 2) will attorneys become project managers?

To answer the first, we need look no further than the titles of the four panelists: Director of Project Management; Director of Finance; Chief Information Officer; and Chief Knowledge Officer. It is clear that each firm has to decide where LPM will live, and who will drive it. In some firms, entire departments are being created that focus entirely on managing legal matters to achieve project management and financial goals. In other firms, the Finance department takes the lead working with attorneys to bring in their matters on time and on budget. At still other firms, IT is seen as the natural repository for hosting the tools and processes that make up LPM. After all, IT has been using project management in one form or another for years for their own initiatives. Lastly, one of the key benefits of LPM is that it helps the firm develop skills to gather valuable data and improves processes over time. This can be seen as the natural province of the Knowledge Manager.

To add to the subject, some firms are hiring dedicated practice managers who are charged with assisting attorneys in setting matter budgets and managing their matters and resources to achieve success. Finally, there are many firms where individual attorneys and practice group leaders are driving the move to Legal Project Management. After all, they are the ones on the front lines dealing with clients, and most directly feel the pressure to accurately price matters and manage to a budget.

The lawyer then becomes the one constant regardless of whether they manage the matter themselves, or whether they are managed as part of a process. If the lawyers do not fully buy in, Legal Project Management cannot succeed.

Which leads us to the second question: will attorneys become project managers? More specifically, one audience member asked if attorneys will actually seek Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute.

As an acquaintance of mine was quick to point out, no self-respecting lawyer is going to put letters after his name that resemble the word pimp. John Q, Smith, Esq., PIMP just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

All levity aside, that may change, and it may change sooner than many of us are willing to believe. As Colleen Nihill pointed out, Dechert is already developing internal programs to train attorneys in the basics of project management. A small, but growing number of consultants such as the LawVision Group are providing boot camps and project management training for law firms and other professional service organizations. In fact the Project Management Institute itself has created a working group called the PMI Legal Project Management Community of Practice. Perhaps it won’t be long until the PMI offers a specialty certification in Legal Project Management for attorneys and other practitioners.

Ultimately, as Jay Nogle observed, the market will drive any move toward attorneys seeking formal certification in Legal Project Management. If clients see value, and more importantly, if RFPs begin to require that certain members of matter teams be LPM certified, you can bet that lawyers will line up in droves for the right to put the appropriate series of letters after their names.

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