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Rinesh Pankhania

Senior Legal Project Manager, Pinsent Masons Vario

Quotation Marks
"...over the last few years, we have seen these professionals increasingly working with both in-house legal departments and private practice. "

Legal project management: another buzzword?

Legal project management: another buzzword?


Rinesh Pankhania considers how legal project management can provide better value for clients and increase profitability

A new report from Thomson Reuters, "Secrets to successful matters", looks at how both in-house legal teams and their law firms can improve working relationships and boost success. This report is fascinating, and points to a number of ways to maximise these working relationships.

The research questioned both GCs and their legal counsel to get an idea of the main frustrations, on both ends of the relationship, and what works well. One of the headline findings in this report was the importance of project management, and the quality of communication throughout the matter. This can have a huge bearing on how the client ultimately rates the success of the project.

Lawyers felt that eight out of ten clients could improve their project management skills; while seven out of ten advisors do not feel the client works with them completely as a collaborative business partner

This report underlines the importance of project management in the overall success of a GC and external lawyer relationship. While legal project management as a specific discipline is still a relatively new concept, it’s certainly one worth exploring as legal budgets become increasingly stretched, and GCs are expected to have more strategic oversight across the whole business.

There are a couple of ways to embrace project management disciplines. An effective way of managing this, which is relatively cheap and easily accessible, is for lawyers to undertake specific training to learn the techniques and management skills. However, making this training ‘stick’ can be time-consuming and difficult.

We are also seeing more lawyers looking to external project managers for support. Ten years ago, we didn’t really see any project management professionals working with legal teams. Yet over the last few years, we have seen these professionals increasingly working with both in-house legal departments and private practice. That helps manage inflows and outflows of work, improve efficiency and enhance communication between different departments.

For example, tracking billable hours, monitoring progress, team management, and reporting. This has relieved senior lawyers to focus more on leadership, strategy and providing sound legal advice. It also creates a much more smooth and flowing relationship – assisting communication.

Outsourcing a legal project manager can also offer the advantage of an unbiased perspective on the project's status. External project managers can provide a bird's-eye view, anticipate major obstacles, and appropriately assign task responsibilities to team members. Moreover, they are adept at identifying potential stumbling blocks that might otherwise be missed, preventing unforeseen drains on time and resources.

Doing the groundwork

So where do you begin? With project management, it’s often about investing time to organise the team and identify priorities. This is often where people can fall at the first hurdle. It is human nature to want to jump straight into the ‘doing’ box, but doing the groundwork really does build a strong foundation for a successful legal project.

Firstly, assessing the roles and responsibilities of everyone in the team is essential, and can help with quick decision-making. In addition to this, it is a good idea to iron out early on in the process how often, and in which circumstances, everyone will communicate. How updates will be delivered and how often is key, as are decisions around how to integrate all stakeholders into the process appropriately. As the Thomson Reuters report shows, communication is key, and assuming these important conversations will just happen, or a natural hierarchy will fall into place, can often create headaches and conflicting expectations further down the line.

The next key consideration is risk: where bottlenecks could occur, if the timeframe is realistic and more generally assessing what could hold the project back. Increasing efficiencies is of course, a cornerstone of effective and successful legal project management, so this is also a big consideration at the start of any project – is there wiggle room and is there a way to improve efficiency without unbalancing the benefit-cost ratio?

We also regularly consider how technology can be best utilised to improve processes. This does not necessarily entail investing in new technology, but making sure that existing technology is being understood and used to its full potential. Most businesses use Microsoft Office, for example, and this technology has lots of useful features which often go ignored and unused – or teams will invest in separate, and expensive, technology solutions, to solve a problem when the solution was already under their noses.

LPM: a case study

To best understand how legal project management works on a day-to-day basis, it’s often easiest to look at its application to a specific project. Take disclosure, for example. Many lawyers will agree that “cases are won and lost on disclosure”. But the disclosure process has become cumbersome due to the sheer amount of electronic data involved. It takes up a large portion of litigation costs, due to the time, programs and expertise needed. This is even before it has got to the review stage.

But e-disclosure is still a necessary burden, and teams will be looking at ways they can improve processes, reduce costs and increase value for clients. It’s always hard to predict if a dispute teams will be busier through the economic downturn, or struggle through as clients rethink legal action.

Therefore, we’ve seen increasing demand for legal project managers to handle complex e-disclosure processes, given the resource it takes up in a disputes team. At Vario, we’ve combined the centralised Pinsent Masons E-Disclosure and LPM teams to create a specialist and all-encompassing service. This assists lawyers with strategic E-Data advice; applying the most up to date techniques and methodology based on best practice, and tools to deliver E-Data strategy efficiently and cost effectively. This is done by delivering the methodology in a structured and risk-free manner through project management during the complex stage of discovery.

This collaborative way of working ensures e-disclosure is managed in a consistent, standardised way, with clear and concise reporting to both clients and internal teams. Legal project managers can manage communications with the clients, helping them understand what data is required, how it will be stored and manage any queries or concerns.

From an internal perspective, legal project managers working in the combined offering can identify issues in e-discovery software, ensure exercises are completed on time and lawyers are aware of where the disclosure is up to. They will check the e-disclosure strategy set by the lawyer is met, and any ‘waste’ is reviewed and eliminated before it ends up on the lawyers ‘desk’ for review.

Legal project managers will also make sure the documentation sourced complies with regulations. For example, in the UK, under the CPR rules and new PD 57AD. Legal project managers will also track progress with compliance on each step of e-disclosure and ensure complications in sourcing documents are resolved, so the disputes team isn’t bogged down by the day-to-day issues.

By providing operational and process management of review teams as well as managing the technical and analytical output, efficiency and reduced costs are maximised. This creates more time for lawyers to concentrate on the strategic decisions around e-disclosure. And this is a good example of how legal project management can practically assist legal teams, and boost working relationships.

Now is certainly the time to be thinking about these issues – the Reuters report showed that GCs “still experience the same set of frustrations with their outside counsel time and time again, especially around issues of cost control, responsiveness, outcome quality, and perhaps most importantly, how well the work of outside counsel aligns to the client’s business.” Taking the leap to embrace a new way of working can be a dynamic and proactive way to break a cycle of inefficiency and create real, measurable change.