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Woldow and Richardson on Adopting Legal Project Management

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Pamela Woldow and Doug Richardson, both partners at Edge International, discuss the law firm manager's role in the evolution of legal-project management (LPM) in an article appearing in the July/August issue of Legal Management, a journal published by the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA). The article is titled Adopting Legal Project Management: Why LPM is Here to Stay and the Law Firm Manager's Role in its Evolution.

The article begins by noting the how the LPM trend has moved beyond large, early-adopter firms, and is beginning to take root in smaller firms. The authors summarize the main reasons for increased adoption of LPM, discussing the normal suspects: economic pressures leading to increased demand for alternative fee arrangements, clients becoming more disciplined in procurement of legal services through the use of RFPs, etc.

Next, the article attempts to define LPM. According to Woldow and Richardson:

Stripped to its essence, LPM is a logical sequence of activities in which a law firm and its clients first agree on objectives and the scope and value of service. The firm--collaboratively with the client--then prepares an action plan and budget, develops critical work paths and performance metrics, tries to anticipate and limit unpleasant surprises, carefully monitors progress . . . and then translates lessons learned into ever greater inefficiencies. [1]

They go on to discuss how various LPM methodologies borrow from "industrial project management systems" listing process-improvement methodologies like Six Sigma, Kaizen, and Lean, but strangely do not mention any project-management standards. I find this misleading. While project management and process improvement will become necessary competencies for law firms as clients increasingly demand greater predictability and efficiency from their legal-service providers, both disciplines are novel enough to the legal industry that mixing the two causes confusion. 

I think attempts to implement process improvement and project management in law firms should be approached as separate programs. They require different competencies and serve different, albeit complementary, purposes. Project management is focused on helping you work more effectively, whereas process improvement helps you work more efficiently. As Steven Levy has succinctly put it, "process improvement is about doing things right, and LPM about doing the right things."[2]

The authors go on to break LPM down into "five cascading steps," which should look familiar to any project manager: (1) working with the client to set objectives and scope, (2) building the project plan, (3) executing the plan, (4) monitoring progress, and (5) conducting a "post project review."  

The meat of the article is the discussion of the key role legal administrators play "in guiding tactical approaches for rolling out and then socializing LPM." This is where things get interesting. I was glad to see a discussion of the difference between horizontal and vertical approaches to rolling out LPM at a law firm. This is an important distinction, but not one given a lot of coverage in material I've read on LPM. The authors define the horizontal approach as "broad scale immersion into LPM basics that crosses practice lines and disciplines"[3] and the vertical approach as one focused on specific practice areas or clients,"which builds on developing training and implementation efforts keyed to the actual people who will be teamed on projects.[4]

They note that they've seen a move towards vertical approaches in the last year. That doesn't surprise me. As firms first began to become aware of legal-project management and when clients started asking about it, many sought to implement legal-project management at the firm by conducting workshops with a broad swath of legal and legal-support staff across many practice areas in the firm. It is unlikely that such efforts would lead to drastic or long-lasting improvements. Deeper and more focused training is necessary. You don't change a firm's culture overnight. Firms that started down the LPM road are understanding this and are investing in more focused, vertical efforts. Firms that are just beginning to implement LPM have the benefit of lessons learned from the first movers. 

Addressing the inevitable push-back that legal administrators will face from lawyers in the firm, the authors underscore the importance of getting buy-in and long-term support from senior management. They also counsel that "a certain percentage of firm lawyers will simply never get with the program" and recommend that legal administrators identify a target cohort of first adopters and practitioners who are asking for training in LPM and supporting them as "vocal LPM champions."[5]

The authors then discuss what needs to be done to implement LPM and list eight action steps for legal administrators tasked with LPM implementation at their firm. The advice is good and includes tips for assembling the right team and properly allocating resources, setting priorities, and developing schedules and metrics for tracking progress. In short, the implementation of LPM is itself an exercise in project management.

The article ends with an important reminder that LPM is not merely a software tool. Project management software is, "the tail on the dog, not the dog."[6]  Good advice that is often given but seldom heeded. 

This article provides good, concise advice to legal administrators tasked with helping to implement legal-project management at their firms. The article is available as a free download from the Association of Legal Administrators Web site at:

[1] Pamela Woldow & Douglas Richardson, Adopting Legal Project Management: Why LPM is Here to Stay and the Law Firm Manager's Role in its Evolution, Legal Management, July/August, 2011, at 34, (last visited 8/25/2011).

[2] Steven B. Levy, Process Improvement and Legal Project Management, Lexician (Tuesday, September 21, 2010, 00:00 AM),

[3] Woldow, supra note 1 at 34.

[4] Id. at 35.

[5] Id. at 36.

[6] Id. at 39.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on August 26, 2011 6:51 AM.

PMI's Legal Project Management Community of Practice's New Public Forums was the previous entry in this blog.

LPM at ILTA: An Interview With Kim Craig and Rick Kathuria is the next entry in this blog.

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