Old dogs really can learn new tricks.
In 2018, my legal practice longevity reaches 40 years. I remember my first business card of
which I was so proud. I was a “Counselor at Law.” Being called a trusted advisor was a great
Somewhere along the way, the profession of law became the “calculus of law”. Value as a
professional began to be measured by time spent more than outcomes achieved. Clients
wanted solutions. Law firms wanted larger and larger quantities of hours billed.
The incentive to spend more time in order to bill more money became an implicit bias in every
client engagement. More subconscious than conscious, the “heavy pencil” was an insider’s
reference to the billing practices of attorneys who enjoyed financially successful compensation
Long before the Great Recession of 2008, clients grew weary of the “45 day surprise”. Billing
statements that reflected monies owed for hours spent which were neither expected nor
necessary in the client’s eyes, caused many billing disputes and not a few broken attorney/client
relationships. The distrust between clients and attorneys grew proportionate to the scrutiny of
legal fee invoices.
In the mid-90’s, clients began requesting fee budgets for legal matters and lawyers began to
project the time to be spent and the fees to be billed in litigation, transactions and most business
law engagements. However, what lawyers viewed as non-binding estimates “depending” on
developments in the engagements over which the lawyer had no control, clients viewed as
commitments. The trust continued to erode.
Globalization taught businesses how to deliver “more for less”. Lawyers continued to equate
more with more. The disconnect between efficiency and productivity grew larger. To lawyers,
productivity meant more time spent. To clients, productivity meant greater efficiency.
The early adopters in applying project management to law were in house attorneys who learned
from their operations colleagues. The Association of Corporate Counsel published articles on
LPM in legal departments in 2005. The same year, Seyfarth Shaw began making headlines
when its partners were trained in Six Sigma statistical process control methods.
As illogical as it seemed, lawyers were being schooled in operations management methods like
Lean, project management and Six Sigma. Not noted for our love of innovation and change,
lawyers are still awakening to the applicability of efficiency measures in the delivery of legal
Probably, the single factor above others that makes LPM increasingly critical today is the rise of
the fixed fee, the “not to exceed” or the capped budget. When the risk of loss on the
performance of legal matters is borne by the lawyer rather than the client, missing budget
“estimates” costs real money and law firm profitability suffers. Until lawyers can manage matters
to the budget, the financial risks of the practice of law place law firms in peril. Protecting a
client’s concern about costs does not mean the law firm must sacrifice profitability.
Enter project management. I remember it well. It was March 2008. We were on the stern of a
sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. A long time friend (in fact my college roommate) had gone
into computer science and production management and I had pursued a legal career. When he
explained to my understanding how managing projects at the task level could provide
predictable pricing, profitable outcomes and satisfied customers through process improvement,
it was a Eureka moment for me.
Ten years later, LPM is clearly the missing link in law firm success, valued client relationships
and financially predictable legal project outcomes for both lawyers and clients.
More lawyers (in house and outside, small law, big law and non-profit law) now realize that
constrained budgets and the global mandate of “better, faster, cheaper” can be addressed with
Most importantly, the professional role of counselor at law is furthered by the many practices of
LPM which encourage planning, communication, matter execution and risk management. LPM
reaffirms the partnership of lawyer and client engaged together to understand and promote
client needs and expectations.
A full cycle of professional development is what encourages me most about what I have learned
in bringing legal project management to lawyers and clients alike. It has been a great journey.
LPM Alignment exists to align legal project management with the way lawyers really work. Alignment is our secret sauce, and it's the difference between LPM success (and profit) and failure. We provide training and the only globally-recognized certification in LPM to individual legal professionals, firms, practice groups, and in-house counsel. Visit LPM Alignment to learn more, or contact us.
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