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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

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LPM - helping law firms achieve superior client experience, budgeting and scoping, or an unregulated overhead?

A recent survey found that, while Covid-19 has, in many instances, ”turbocharged” adoption of legal project management, it also reveals some scepticism. Aaran Scott, Senior Legal Project Manager, reviews the case.

Since 2016 we've been steadily building our legal project management capability to deliver an enhanced client experience, continually looking for ways to provide the most cost effective project management service for our clients. Our team of legal project managers are focused on delivering transparent projects without any 'nasty' surprises. We are achieving this through the development of collaborative project plans, by carefully managing project risks/issues, controlling scope change and providing regular status reports to our clients and third parties on progress, risks and financials.

While we know that pockets of scepticism exist, Clifford Chance does not consider our service as an "unnecessary overhead". Since March, when many of our offices and clients were having their first taste of working from home, we've seen a steep increase in activity levels, with April on track to be one of our team's most productive months of the financial year. We have designed a service that provides our clients with an enhanced matter management capability at a lower cost than the legal teams can provide by themselves. (See our previous blog post: Legal Project Management: Bringing co-ordination and assurance in challenging times.)

According to the article referencing the survey in LegalFutures, "…more than three-quarters of respondents complained of a lack of common standards for managing legal matters. Almost as many were developing their own templates and standards but for the most part were not collaborating."

The role of the legal project manager has been on the rise in recent years across most major cities. The service offering is also constantly evolving as law firms and clients began to understand the full potential of the legal project management capability. As the profession continues to mature, there will almost certainly be opportunities, not only for each law firm to define their own optimal ways of working, but also for project professionals to share experience in driving enhanced client service delivery, embracing technology to leverage project management capabilities and establishing industry standard skill frameworks and, ultimately, developing industry standard accreditations for our profession.

Our teams are already developing repeatable service delivery models for our priority work types. This is enabling our clients and legal teams to understand exactly where and how a legal project manager can add value on that specific project type, and how we would deploy legal technology during the project lifecycle. Since 2016, the LPM function has been establishing methodologies, tools, templates and approaches to managing our project lifecycles, and our team will recommend approaches based on our experiences of managing over 300 of the largest and most complex legal projects in the market. That said, our legal project managers tend to be deployed on our largest, cross border and most complex legal projects. These projects require, by their very nature, bespoke legal advice and tailored service delivery and we are always guided by the needs of our clients and legal teams to ensure the support we offer is tailored to the needs of each matter.

Aside from sharing insights and expertise internally, we always want to understand developments in the LPM marketplace to benchmark our position and identify any areas we might be missing. In March we hosted legal sector consultancy Law Vision's first legal project management training course in the UK following our participation in a similar session in New York last year. The course ran over two days and was attended by a mix of legal project managers (at all levels of experience and proficiency) and lawyers from five law firms, plus one client who joined for the panel session. Feedback from attendees was universally positive with even experienced LPMs welcoming the opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by listening to others and re-visiting best practice.

In addition our team regularly attends and contributes to round tables; from working with likeminded firms and the Association for Project Management to define industry standard competencies and skills, to being a long standing member of the Barclays Legal Project Management Consortium. Through these market events, we gain valuable insight, which we report back through our knowledge sharing session to ensure lesson and updates are effectively disseminated across our global network.
The report noted that law firms are increasingly training their own LPMs, with several developing apprenticeship schemes.

In June 2019, the London Best Delivery team partnered with apprenticeship specialists WhiteHat to create what we believe was the first legal project focused apprenticeship scheme. We definitely saw this as route in to a career in law for a cohort who haven't had this opportunity available to them before. It was also a win for us, as the curriculum was specifically developed to train them in the Clifford Chance way of doing project management and, over time, it will give us the opportunity to achieve a more balanced team, with increased execution capacity.

While the report noted that " … a small number of firms are sceptical about the benefits of LPM, seeing it as an unnecessary overhead which will be passed on to clients and increase the overall cost of doing business" it also cited a case study from Barclays, which found that, when its 15-strong panel of law firms used LPM, there was a 25% efficiency gain through clearer scoping and budgeting.

Effective scope management is crucial for any project. It is often where challenges and issues can emerge on large scale and complex legal projects. Very often new workstreams are added or the original scope evolves. In the project management world we call this scope creep and it can be very difficult to control when there are multiple offices, law firms and stakeholders involved, with large client teams giving instruction.

Unfortunately we've yet to find a fool proof solution for this recurrent problem and would be delighted to hear if anyone else has had more success in managing it. In the absence of a 'magic bullet', our approach includes a set of principles to manage scope closely and create transparency with our client.

Matthew Peacock, managing director at OMC Partners – the management consultancy who conducted the research and produced the report, believes that: “Clients – general counsel in particular – are looking to their law firms to toss them Covid-19 life rafts, not tell them how to swim better.... LPM helps firms deliver these critical projects to clients, often on a global basis, whilst most team members are working from home…..Many leading firms are actually ‘doubling down’ on their investments in LPM and legal operations, and the law firm winners and losers are already emerging.” Clifford Chance began its LPM programme in 2016 with just three team members in London. The function is now 40 strong across 10 countries and 12 offices, and the firm is continuing to invest. We are investing in our apprenticeship programme, developing an LPM competency framework, creating a project support centre of excellence based in Delhi and continuously seeking smarter ways to contribute to the effective and efficient delivery of legal services.

To find out more about Clifford Chance's Legal Project Management capabilities please contact Aaran Scott.