The need for the Legal Project Manager

As I was writing on the need for a legal project manager (LPM) in every case, I bumped into an article that pointed out “pilots don’t run airlines.” Makes sense. To run a business or manage a project, one needs training. Training that even the smartest Ivy lawyer may not have. This is why sophisticated clients are demanding LPM. And that is what I call the “best practice.”

To understand the job of a LPM, we need to understand what a project is based on the Project Management Institute (PMI), a definition of a project “is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, or service or result” (P.M.B.O.K., 2017). The main components of a project are:

  1. Scope
    What is the desired product or results of the project?
  1. Schedule
    Dates for beginning, end, provisional milestones and deliveries.
  1. Required resources
    People, documents, materials, technology, etc.

Another concept that we need to understand is the project’s life cycle. The life cycle is a series of phases that the project goes through as it advances in the process to its completion. The five phases are:

1- Initiation

During this phase, the team is formed; the tasks are defined and assigned. If contracts are needed, a LPM can procure them, help negotiate and draft them, etc. The LPM will also be in charge of scheduling the meetings needed to discuss the strategy on the case, ensure that everyone will attend, and work on the agenda and the minutes.

2- Planning

Then we need to establish goals and our path to achieve those objectives. There are several ways to set the goals of a project: one of the most common practices is using the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measured, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals technique.

In this phase, the project manager can help you to define the scope of the project; the team will determine the cost, the resources available for this case, the time frame of the project, etc. Also, in this phase you will determine everyone’s roles and responsibilities. There are many types of templates and tools used in this phase: the scope statement, the Gantt chart, the risk management plan, and many others.

3- Execution

A lot is happening. Here is when deliverables are developed and completed. During this time, reports need to be submitted, meetings need to be had, development updates need to be provided. During this phase in an e-Discovery project, documents are reviewed, coded, produced. Here the project manager will help the firm to ensure that goals are being SMART. He/she will follow the status of all the different processes and moving parts make any changes to the plan if it needed, etc.

4- Monitoring

This phase is all about controlling the project, making sure that every process or task is completed. The project manager will ensure that everything that is happening is aligned with the project management plan. Here the project manager will use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine if the project is on track. Some of the KPIs used are: Project Objectives, Quality Deliverables, Effort, and Cost Tracking, Project Performance, these indicators can be used any time during the project to have a better idea of where the project stands at that point.

5- Closing

Important, too, is the closing of the project and the retrospective of lessons learned along the way. The project manager should create a checklist of the things that couldn't be accomplished. A retrospective or lessons learned event should take place to ensure the team understands what was done right and what was done wrong. A final project budget report should be completed at this time as well.

These five phases in the life cycle are the road map of any project:

Why do we need LPMs?

The simple answer is because data has grown too big. Ultimately, the complexity of a task dictates whether a specialized PM is needed for the job. Today, with the Digital Revolution, Big Data, and the explosion of AI, it is safe to say that most cases, due diligence work and investigations, and certainly M&A deals, are in need of the special skills a LPM brings to the table.

That begs the question, what exactly does the job require the LPM to bring to the table other than specialized LPM training? It actually requires quite a bit. The LPM needs to be bring a large tool box of skills, attributes, and gifts. It requires bringing the skills of organization, planning, math, articulation and communication. It requires having special attributes: positivism, logic, creativity, determination, and perseverance. And it requires the amazing gift of remaining cool under pressure. Pressure from clients and lawyers, from the budget and the clock. Those of us who have the privilege to report to our clients on budgets met and deadlines kept know how crucial a great LPM is to success.

Do you have one or more formally trained LPMs that service your organization and/or your clients? If you do not, give us a call and let's start the process of training people from your team on LPM, or getting you one that fits your needs. You will soon wonder how you ever did your job without one.