Three Things to Look for When Hiring an LPM
It seems that every firm is hiring or planning to hire a Legal Project Manager (LPM). As a result, a common question has been about the best background or skills for this position. The answers vary widely as firms are shaping their Legal Project Management (also LPM) programs in different ways, but there are a few key characteristics to look for when hiring a LPM.
1. Client Experience
Has the LPM candidate worked directly with clients? Does he or she have experience resolving client complaints? Has the candidate been in a position to influence an internal or external client to resolve a concern? If the answers are yes, then that's a great start.
Both internal clients (attorneys and staff) and external clients (firm's clients) can make for tough customers of the LPM office. Someone who has experience in a service or support role will be able to navigate the challenging role of encouraging behavior change. Client experience also means he or she will also be skilled at resolving conflict, which will be heavily leveraged in trying to build an LPM program or drive a matter or project toward execution.
2. Demonstrated Interest in Law
Contrary to some hiring requirements, I don't believe a JD is necessary for success. While it may help initially get a foot in the door with another attorney, I'm not convinced it's a must-have for any LPM.
What is required, however, is a genuine interest and engagement with law. A good marker of this may be whether the candidate has ever worked in the legal industry. Even minimal legal industry experience is valuable because a successful a LPM will be immersed in legal clients, matters and processes. Said another way, the learning curve will be even more painful if the candidate is clueless about law and law firms.
3. Excited by Data Analysis
The LPM needs to be comfortable working with data and completing substantial analysis given that he or she will be regularly reviewing profitabilty metrics, client surveys, RFPs and pricing detail. Decisions big and small require data to enable the firm, department and LPM to use facts to make good decisions. Corporations are run this way and market pressures will soon force law firms to make decisions in a business-like manner too. A candidate with experience in data analysis and other critical thinking activities is a good choice for the LPM role.
My Background as an LPM
To be clear about my bias, the skills above have helped me in my transition to an LPM. Without client experience, interest in the legal market or joy in data and analysis, I would have encountered challenges in my role. While I have my JD and an active attorney license, is it has only helped in establishing credibility with firm attorneys. Beyond that, my previous experiences have helped much more than the JD.
Before joining my current firm as an LPM, I worked for nearly five years at Thomson Reuters in operations management with various responsibilities including content writing, people management, strategic project leadership and resource management. Combining my interest and love of the law with process efficiency, analysis and project management has been a perfect fit. Luckily I was hired because you won't see "project manager" anywhere on my resume prior to joining my firm. Don't be frightened away from a non-traditional "PM" resume - there are many roles where managing projects and people are core functions but "PM" isn't in the title.