Clients are now demanding greater efficiency and transparency from law firms in order to justify their legal expenditure. This has led to international law firm, Baker McKenzie, developing a highly qualified Legal Project Management (LPM) team. We met with the London Head of Legal Project Management for Baker McKenzie, Kevin O’Sullivan, to find out a little more about this function and what a career in legal project management at the firm entails.
Thinking of a career in Legal Project Management? Read on for everything you need to know…
What is Legal Project Management and how did it come about?
“The key driver has undoubtedly been our clients. There is a recognition of the changing nature of how law firms deliver legal services and the need to become more efficient. In addition, recognising the benefits of a well-organised professional legal project management service generates additional demand. Clients like the structure, transparency of process, and better, more frequent communication.”
Why do you need Legal Project Management?
“Every matter or project has a great deal of ‘process,’ almost as much as legal matters. The LPM team work hand-in-hand with our lawyers to help manage the process with project management experts. Efficiency is a driver. Teaming up expert lawyers with professional “in-process allows us to control matters more efficiently. Putting clear and manageable protocols in place while remaining flexible to any change is key.” Unlike more traditional project management, legal project management can often be more fluid and less sequential, therefore flexibility is a fundamental requirement.”
What problem is Legal Project Management going to solve?
“Legal project management helps to improve communication. Therefore, a Legal Project Manager holds themselves accountable for the following:
- Risk management
- Communicating this to the client
Lawyers are experts in their chosen legal field and they play to their strengths. Similarly, legal project managers are also experts in their field. Bringing both together is a very powerful combination. For example, having a LPM ensures the correct level of expertise is applied to a particular matter which in turn ensures the correct rate; it’s about the coordination and management of many strands of activity.”
“Remaining flexible to any change is key”
Who bears the cost of Legal Project Management?
“From our experience it is clear that LPM, when done well, can add significant value both to the law firm itself, and most importantly to our clients. Depending on the matter being supported, legal project managers are often paid for by clients, with many clients recognising the value these individuals provide. The cost savings of having a qualified legal project manager execute certain tasks instead of an associate for example, are obvious. Indeed, many clients are now beginning to specifically request LPM expertise as part of the panel process, and often state their willingness to pay for the service at a certain rate.”
What are the biggest challenges facing legal project management right now?
“Generally, the biggest challenge lies in finding the right calibre of candidates. In some respects, this is actually a very positive development, as it (a) recognises the growing importance of LPM within the practice of law and requests from lawyers for additional support, and (b), the recognition that this is a specific and necessary skillset within a law firm.”
What is the difference between LPM and process improvement?
“Traditionally, LPM has meant stabilising the process of delivering a matter. Legal process improvement looks to improve the efficiency of delivering that matter, and that lean six sigma approaches would lead to reduced variability in delivering that matter. At Baker McKenzie, the elements of LPM and legal process improvement often blend together as we seek to improve how we deliver matters on an ongoing basis or, as a minimum, how we deliver a future similar matter even more effectively and efficiently.”
“Enjoy a good balance of work”
Is LPM a new concept within the legal industry or the formalisation of an existing process?
“It is certainly true that the visibility of LPM within the legal profession has increased dramatically since the term was first used in 2010. Indeed Baker McKenzie pioneered our first project manager as early as January 2010. Although many of the approaches being discussed are not new – such as good client management, good communication, providing appropriate status etc., many of the approaches/ techniques now being adopted by legal project managers ARE different. The increased use of technology in delivering legal matters and the complexity involved in certain matters, and also an increasing nature of peerto-peer discussions with our client operations teams which were perhaps not as prevalent in the past.”
What qualifications are required for somebody considering a career within LPM?
“You definitely need to have a strong pedigree in project management, ideally within a flexible environment where you have autonomy and the opportunity to be innovative. Having a formal qualification like
Prince2 or PMP, for example, will give you the fundamental tools to manage a project from start to finish but remaining flexible within those frameworks is critical.
Do you need to have industry specific experience even though you may be a qualified Project Manager?
“No. Working in an industry that is client-led in a partnership framework would, of course, give you an understanding of the typical challenges of working for a law firm but we are looking for lasting change and successful change managers. You do not need to have legal industry experience.”
What is the career path for someone in Legal Project Management?
“There is real opportunity to develop a career at Baker McKenzie in Legal Project Management whether you are at the beginning or mid-way through your career. Most project managers begin their careers as co-ordinators, supporting at task level. You can then progress to LPM and then Senior LPM, managing high value matters with multiple jurisdictions and, on occasion, an international remit. These opportunities can then result in the opportunity to become a local or regional Head of LPM role, setting and implementing the project management strategy and promoting the capabilities of the LPM team to the firm and its clients. Occasionally, within law firms, you may see trainees or paralegals transition to a legal project management role.”
What constitutes success in this position?
“Success for us is:
- Delivering with excellence
- Managing expectations
- Taking a task and refining it
- No surprises for the client or the teams
- Better efficiency in the way the matter is deployed which leads to better visibility for the team and strong wins keeping the LPM brand strong
Better adherence to budget and timescales can have the positive result of not having everybody working through the night to get things done.”
Is the Legal Project Management function silo’d or do you have a pool system?
“We have a firm-wide remit. Some project managers have a natural bias towards a particular practice area in which case, we’re happy for them to take on those projects subject to resource.”
Is it important that Legal Project Managers are fee earners?
“It is important that the LPM contribution is recognised and adds value. Whether that requires a LPM to be an actual fee earner or not varies from firm to firm. The LPM function provides a sophisticated service which supports the legal work stream and is bespoke to that client, delivering amongst other things savings in time and cost
What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in Legal Project Management?
- “An inbuilt flexibility coupled with a structured professional approach to project management and the ability to relate to a diverse client and stakeholder group
- An empathetic approach, as LPM is still relatively new
- Somebody who is prepared to challenge the status quo and offer creative solutions. It is the soft skills that LPMs acquire that make them successful
- Varied and excellent communication skills are vital”
Why would Baker McKenzie be a good firm to develop a career in Legal Project Management?
“Since the introduction of our first legal project manager in 2010, we have been one of the pioneering firms in this area. We have strong executive sponsorship, increasing traction within the firm, and a growing team of more than 35 LPMs across our global organisation.
In addition, LPM is clearly positioned as being an integral part of delivering our broader firm strategy and has a role to play in driving our innovation agenda. It really is an exciting time to be a legal project manager at Baker McKenzie!”
“For people who like to stretch and challenge themselves”
What kind of people succeed in this firm?
- “People who enjoy a good balance of work and who like to stretch and challenge themselves”
- “People who have a strong client focus”
- "Those that like to review their work and implement new learnings”
- “People with strong organisational skills and a global outlook”
Sarah Lawrence has over 15 years’ experience in the recruitment industry. Sarah is an experienced Consultant and In House Recruitment Manager. Working Nationally and Internationally with large matrix organisations Sarah’s ability to influence and partner complex recruitment functions ensures both candidate and client needs are met.
For more information and resources related to a career in Legal Project Management, please contact Origin Legal on +44 (0)1206 233 500 or email [email protected].
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