Newsletter – December 2023

Spotlight on… enhancing your skills with legal project management

My experience shows that many Costs Lawyers make excellent legal project managers. Being able to apply legal project management (LPM) techniques, methods and tools often seems to be a natural extension to the role of a Costs Lawyer.

In this post I will explain what legal project management is by way of some Q&A, and then provide a couple of illustrative examples of how Costs Lawyers have applied legal project management as part of their practice.

What is project management?
Project management is using knowledge, skills and techniques to deliver projects efficiently and effectively. Project managers will often phrase this as delivering to time, cost, quality and benefit.

What are projects?
The classic definition is that projects are temporary group activities designed to produce a unique product, service, or result. Bearing this in mind, it’s obvious that all legal matters can be thought of as projects. As they are projects, they should be capable of being managed properly.

What is legal project management (LPM)?
At its simplest, LPM is the application of project management to the delivery of legal services. Applying project management principles, tools and techniques to legal services helps legal service teams improve the management of matter cost, pricing, risk, resources, and client communications.

Is there a difference between legal project management and project management applied in other sectors?
The core principles of project management are common to all sectors and industries. However different industry sectors will have different project management needs.

For project management to be applied effectively, its principles and techniques need to be adapted to cater for the specific needs of each sector. Hence, when applying project management to help with legal matter management there is, I would suggest, compared to other sectors:

  • lighter touch project documentation as a whole;
  • greater emphasis on project communications (including the mode, frequency and type of communications used);
  • an awareness that legal mater scoping can be as much ‘art’ as ‘science’, especially in light of client requirements; and
  • a lot of sensitivity concerning team member roles, responsibilities, and team dynamics; practicing lawyers are always responsible for providing legal advice to clients, but legal project managers must be ready to assume responsibility for all operational aspects of legal service delivery.

Clearly, while legal project managers need to know about project management tools and techniques and how to adapt them to legal service needs, they must also have excellent communication skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence.

What are the core techniques and principles of project management?
Essentially there are two broad approaches to project management.

The first is known as the predictive approach. This is where a lot of time is spent at the project’s outset to plan the project in as much detail as possible. Project managers gather as much information as they can about the project and then predict what is going to happen to deliver successful project outcomes. This approach requires a lot of advanced planning.

The second approach is known as adaptive project management. Here the idea is that it is often simply not possible to plan events in detail at the outset. So predictive approaches, also commonly referred to as agile approaches, place greater emphasis on flexibility where planning is done incrementally, covering shorter phases of work which are time boxed.

In practice, legal project managers often apply a hybrid approach, whereby they will create a high-level overall plan (predictive) and then look to break the project down into smaller phases and plan and monitor each phase in greater detail closer to phase commencement (adaptive).

What are the most common tools and documents used in project management?
Project managers must create a project definition document (sometimes also referred to as a project initiation document or project charter) for each matter. This document seeks to capture things such as high-level client objectives, matter scope, legal project team roles and responsibilities, matter risks (from an operational point of view) and matter cost.

Project managers must also be able to create a project schedule, which sets out all the work and tasks to be done and who will be doing them. Personally, I remain a big fan of Gantt charts, which are a graphical representation of project tasks set against a calendar timeline. Gantt charts help with project planning and with tracking project progress over time.

Matter status update reports are also very common. The reports should capture all the essential information all key stakeholders need to know. Matter status reports should be sent out consistently and regularly in accordance with a communications plan (yes, project managers should plan their communications).

Perhaps most importantly, project managers should use end of matter (or even better, end of phase) close reports. Project managers should conduct short project reviews at the end of each phase or matter and assess what worked well and what did not work so well. Using this information is probably the easiest and most effective way of helping project teams get better at what they do.

Is there a relationship between legal project management and legal process improvement?
Many legal project managers become involved in legal process improvement projects (indeed, they often run them). This is unsurprising, as there is a clear relationship between legal project management and legal process improvement.

While it is possible to deliver legal service work in the absence of good supporting processes, their absence (or, alternatively, the existence of poor supporting processes) makes life much harder for all concerned. Legal project managers are well-placed to spot where poor supporting processes are, quite literally, letting the team down. Naturally, they therefore want to improve these processes.

To increase the likelihood of successful outcomes, process improvement initiatives should be run as projects, and this is why we often see legal project managers running legal process improvement projects.

How have Costs Lawyers used legal project management?
I have seen Costs Lawyers use their newly acquired legal project management skills in a multitude of ways. I will give a flavour of how LPM is applied in practice with reference to some Costs Lawyers who have completed my course and are now certified by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) as Legal Project Practitioners (LPPs).

Example 1
Legal project management can be applied to any practice area, but my experience shows it is most often applied in the context of dispute resolution. The need to manage large and complex commercial litigation matters properly is obvious. But managing a variety of smaller litigation matters properly is also required to ensure law firm profitability and client satisfaction.

Recently (June 2023) Kingsley Napley launched its new legal project management service, run by the firm’s costs team. The costs team had been providing legal project management services to their colleagues and clients for quite some time before the official launch. They have been quietly building up their LPM experience and expertise on a case-by-case basis and now they are confident they have the skills, processes, and tools in place to scale up their LPM work.

All the Kingsley Napley LPM team members are Costs Lawyers and IILPM certified Legal Project Practitioners. They work closely with several teams in the firm, especially those within the dispute resolution and regulatory departments. The Kingsley Napley LPM team places a lot of emphasis on legal project communications. They constantly monitor matter progress and provide updates to their colleagues and clients about progress made including, of course, the likely cost implications of current and future work done on the matter. Some senior lawyers in the firm have said they simply could not have managed some of their more complex matters without the help and assistance of the Kingsley Napley costs and LPM team.

I have trained costs teams in other large and medium sized law firms, and they have a similar story to tell. Using their legal project management skills, the Costs Lawyers in these firms work more closely with their colleagues in dispute resolution than they did before, and they have become more involved in assisting with matter management using their legal project management skills.

Example 2
Of course, not all Costs Lawyers work in large law firms. Many, if not most, Costs Lawyers work in small independent specialist practices made up of costs specialists.

Independent Costs Lawyers can use their legal project management skills to offer a more holistic ‘wrap-around’ service to their clients. One such Costs Lawyer that I have worked with is a sole practitioner at Chantry Costs.

This Costs Lawyer is also an IILPM certified Legal Project Practitioner and, like the costs team at Kingsley Napley, she has been quietly building her legal project management expertise and experience for several years now. She offers the full range of Costs Lawyer services, including costs recovery, costs budgeting and management and costs advocacy. Costs related training and consulting services are also offered, including help and advice to clients about matter planning, fee optimisation and matter tracking and reporting.

A big focus for Chantry Costs has been to get lawyers to change their approach to cases. This involves encouraging them to think about what they need to do before they start substantive work on matters, rather than just getting on with it and trying to work out next steps as they go along.

Interestingly, Chantry Costs has found it important to try and change the legal practitioner mindset when talking to clients, especially at matter start. Because they are worried about potential fees, practitioners often shy away from having frank conversations with clients at matter start. This can often be self-defeating, as talking to clients and understanding their needs and requirements early helps lawyers scope and price with greater confidence.

As I said at the beginning of this article, many Costs Lawyers make excellent legal project managers. By adding legal project management skills to their core costs skills, Costs Lawyers can provide an enhanced service to their clients and advance their own personal careers.

Antony Smith
Founder, Legal Project Management Limited

Antony is a former practising solicitor (England and Wales) with considerable experience in legal operations (including legal project management, legal process improvement and legal IT). He has been running his training company, Legal Project Management Limited, for over 11 years. In 2014 Antony was asked to do a series of half day seminars about legal project management by the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL). The seminars were well received and so began his work with Costs Lawyers. Antony’s legal project management training courses are approved and accredited by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) and he has trained and certified hundreds of legal service professionals as legal project managers, including many Costs Lawyers. Antony has also contributed to Dr Mark Friston’s 3rd and 4th editions of Friston on Costs – Chapter 41: Legal Project Management. Visit or contact [email protected].

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