Legal Project Management Revisited and Reframed

Friday, June 22, 2018 - 09:33

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) conducts a number of initiatives focused on pursuing solutions for key issues affecting legal departments. One of these is the Legal Project Management (LPM) initiative. Here, the initiative is discussed by several participants: Janelle Belling, managing director of Perkins Coie's E-Discovery Services & Strategy practice; Connie Brenton, chief of staff/senior director of Legal Operations at NetApp and president and CEO of CLOC; Patrick Ellis, legal counsel, Maven and BOOK by Cadillac at General Motors; Danny Kotlowitz, in-house counsel at Telstra; and Pratik Patel, vice president of Innovation and Products at Elevate.

 

CCBJ: What prompted the launching of CLOC’s LPM initiative?

Connie Brenton: A number of recent surveys have identified LPM as an area of interest, both on the law firm side and on the in-house counsel side. It's an area of low hanging fruit—there’s really no barrier to doing it, and it’s technically easy to implement if you have the tools.

Pratik Patel: The LPM acronym and the topic have been thrown around in the market. But when we started looking at how people define it, it was basically everything under the sun. So one objective of this initiative was to contain the definition of LPM and define the scope of project management for legal teams. We wanted to put a concrete definition around it and develop a simple framework that people can use to do internal or external projects. For any type of work that you may come across in a law department, is there a simple framework of four stages along the continuum of any piece of work? How do you intake and assess work? How do you plan that piece of work, create a charter for it? How do you go through the steps of executing and monitoring it? Then, how do you review it?

Danny Kotlowitz: The initiative is really around describing how legal project management works. It's a descriptor, setting down on paper how it works, which creates a benchmark that you can take back into your organization to compare what you're doing with others. And for those setting out for the first time to create a legal project management function, we wanted to provide a few steps as to how to actually do that, as well as some useful materials that might support that.

How did the various law departments and outside counsel involved with the initiative get connected to it?

Patrick Ellis: I began my career as a legal project manager at a law firm. The CLOC initiative was bringing a different perspective on legal project management, in that typically it is the law firm that is owning or driving the process. I think that's a good thing. But at the end of the day the biggest benefactor of legal project management is the client. And what CLOC proposed with the initiative was to take the client's perspective on LPM and then develop a framework and a set of tools that could be used for both clients and outside counsel. That was really the big appeal for me.

Janelle Belling: I first learned about CLOC and LPM in an article I read. The shift in the world of corporate legal operations was really interesting to me, as I've spent my entire professional career in the legal industry. I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved, and I was lucky enough to get connected to Connie Brenton. When I spoke with her, she shared a little bit about CLOC's goals and the LPM initiative. The energy and excitement around this were contagious, and I signed up without hesitation.

Kotlowitz: Our legal team is involved in CLOC and the opportunity came to us through that relationship. We got involved for several reasons. Our in-house legal team works on both its own projects and wider company projects, such as bringing a new product to market. In that context, lawyers will receive requests and be told there's a critical path and that they have to produce the following advice by such-and-such a time. Those dates sometimes change. Whatever the initiative is, whether it's bringing a product to market or a big piece of engineering in our telecommunications network, things are moving around. So there was a desire both in terms of managing our own legal projects and in having our in-house lawyers have greater literacy around project management generally, so that we're not just a blob on someone else's Gantt Chart. Those were really the motivations for us.

In addition, we had fairly mature legal project management abilities within our in-house legal team. We thought we could contribute to the initiative, with all the materials that we had created. And we were really interested to see what others were doing, and doing some benchmarking to compare our internal processes to best practice.

Tell us about the initiative’s LPM framework—what it is and how you developed it.

Patel: We have created a four-stage project management framework that you can apply to really anything that you're doing in the law department, whether it's a project or a matter. It looks at how you intake work, how you plan work, how you execute work and how you review work.

There are two deliverables that have come out of the initiative. The first is what we call an “LPM justification deck.” This is a deck that the general counsel can use with their legal team to explain, "What is this thing called LPM and why should we even be concerned about it?" It outlines what LPM is, what the benefits of LPM are, why a law department should consider doing it internally and with their outside counsel. It’s basically an executive summary to equip CLOC members with something that they can use to educate their stakeholders about LPM.

We also developed what we call “LPM for Legal Teams,” which is a playbook. This goes through the four fundamental stages of work. For each stage, it has a table that walks through the activities you need to do to complete that stage. It also covers “ARCI”—that is, who should be accountable, responsible, consulted and informed at that stage? It talks about the results that will help you define whether you've completed that stage or not, and then the success criteria for that stage.

Kotlowitz: What you'll see in the final product is quite a bit of content that reflects the cost-management aspect, particularly around the execution phase of a project. There's a range of checking and verification actions to help you make sure you're on the right path and that you're not wasting money on things that are not necessary. There's also a strong emphasis on having the right person do the right thing at the right time—having the lawyer at the right level, when to bring in external counsel, when to use in-house counsel, having in-house counsel involved at the strategic level and acting as the interface to internal clients. The framework helps you be honest about making sure that you've got the right people at the right level doing the right work at the right time.

Ellis: The work product that came out of the initiative considers many different perspectives. We had folks who are outside counsel, legal project managers, consultants, in-house counsel and legal operations professionals contributing to the initiative and work product. Having all that stakeholder input leads to balanced perspective and set of tools. As far as I know, this is the first really well-rounded example of legal project management work product that can be used by a number of different stakeholders. For that reason, I think that it would be especially helpful for folks in-house who are either trying to get their programs off the ground or trying to refine their programs.

Brenton: At one point early on, I was able to test the framework and actually leverage it on one of our litigation matters. We were right in the middle of a litigation that was getting complicated. We realized that the number of people, the number of issues and the complexity of the issues were all increasing, and that we needed to get our arms around it right then. We actually brought in an LPM expert from Elevate and followed the steps outlined by the initiative. We picked it up midstream, without much forethought. That goes to the fact that you can leverage the framework whenever it's convenient. It's probably better if you do plan things out from the beginning, but if you can’t, don't be afraid to start with the framework midstream.

Where can the framework be applied in a law department’s workloads?

Kotlowitz: We saw this as a tool that you could take back into the organization and use as a teaching piece, whether it's just a standard CLE presentation or 15-minute presentation. I think it will be good for legal teams to add examples to bring it to life—examples obviously aren't in the framework itself. You want the in-house lawyers to understand that before they dive in on a new matter, they need to have a quick think about it. How big is this thing going to be? Has it crossed the line into being something that actually requires active legal project management?

We do a variety of legal work at our company, not just large projects but also the day-to-day things that do not require legal project management. That's an important distinction. You don't want to create this whole project management edifice that requires filling out forms and doing planning and so on for a legal request that's going to take you 20 minutes to carry out. So one of the benefits we see from this initiative is being able to delineate what needs project management and what doesn't.

Brenton: We’ve used it primarily in litigation. But it could be used for anything that requires a clear definition of roles, and wherever you need a clear set of milestones and outputs—the rollout of a GDPR program, for example. Any time that those factors become relevant is a good time to implement LPM.

Patel: I agree. When you have projects that have multiple variables and multiple parties, where you're trying to manage both of those to deliver a particular outcome, the significance of LPM is higher than it is with repetitive, transactional work. That’s really where you want to apply the LPM discipline. It’s not going to guarantee the outcome, but it helps give you the best probability for removing any unforeseen variables.

A key project management principle is to really just make sure everyone's informed about things as they're happening, and to try to limit the chaos around what it takes to manage multiple parties, many variables and something that's not well defined. So litigation is a great place for LPM. We also see it as being used in large-scale M&A transactions and in areas where a law department is starting to do something they haven’t done before, where they might not always know what the next steps are.

What kind of benefits do you see this framework and LPM bringing to law departments?

Kotlowitz: When things are happening outside of a proper project-management framework, costs do spin out, so LPM really is a great discipline in terms of managing costs. When you do have a proper project management framework, you don't have in-house people being sent off to do things that are unnecessary or engaging external counsel to do a whole bunch of work that is not needed.

Costs are important, but our take on LPM is more of a human resources perspective, and the idea of putting the right people on the project at the right time. You only have so many in-house lawyers, and you want to use their time as efficiently and as well as you can. When you are not wasting scarce human resources, you help people feel like they are really contributing and their skills are being appropriately used. It is obviously very frustrating to be put on a project, get a bunch of instructions, do all the work, and then have it turn out that it wasn't really necessary after all. Proper legal project management can help you keep your in-house lawyers interested and in a sustainable work environment, because they're being used on projects in a way that's meaningful and important and that is really contributing to the organization's goals and objectives.

Ellis: In a way, it’s hard to talk about benefits across the board, because legal departments come in all different sizes and shapes and have different processes and policies. But, if nothing else, this initiative is helping legal project management become a known toolset and framework that I believe can be used regardless of size, or industry or level of experience. It provides a shared methodology for corporate counsel, law firms, consultants and operations professionals.

Patel: I would add that the framework and the initiative is not about putting this in and hoping that the results will be magical. It's more about having a benchmark for “what is the discipline of LPM?” and a framework for trying LPM, and then getting better and better at doing it as more opportunities present themselves over time. I think there will be benefits, but that comes after you've done it enough to know how to get the benefits you want. Right now, this initiative is giving folks a starting point.

We’re also looking for feedback on this. There are now 42 law departments that have come and said that they want to be testers and they want to be involved in it. We know that there's a demand for this in the CLOC membership, and I think that next year we'll have an even better sense of what's working, what's not.