I was fortunate to sit down recently with Jim Shoemaker, Senior Manager, Project Management & Practice Support at Miles & Stockbridge P.C. and learn the intricacies of the booming Legal Project Management (LPM) field. Below is a recap of our conversation.
What is LPM?
“That’s a great question – LPM remains unknown to many in the industry as it is still an emerging discipline in legal.” Jim says the answer lies in client budgeting and matter management. LPM is all about improving communication between client and counsel concerning the scope and cost of legal services. The ultimate goal of LPM is to mitigate surprises. At the heart of LPM, Jim says, is transparency. Clients often have some number in mind when they approach a law firm with a matter. Eliciting that information is one of the keys to LPM and exceptional client service. Part of the LPM framework includes prompting conversations between client and counsel to explore the client or business’s objectives, what is the scope of service and, of course, what will it cost. From there, counsel and client find the best options and create a legal strategy. Monitoring the budget against plan is obviously another huge component.
How does the firm decide which matters will be project managed?
Jim explained that there are a few different ways. When an RFP or new opportunity is identified, it is routed to the Pricing and LPM team, who approach the attorney to offer assistance. The same is true for matters subject to alternative fee arrangements or matters above a certain amount of estimated fees; this is achieved through automation of the firm’s new-business acceptance platform. Attorneys can also directly ask for assistance. And of course, if the client asks for a budget or fee estimate, guidance is offered to help both counsel and client set realistic expectations.
Where is the industry going?
Jim says he began working in the legal industry as a paralegal and, like most people in the industry, morphed into the LPM role, in his case in 2011. At his firm, things really took off under the leadership of the firm’s pricing director, who joined the firm shortly after he did. In five years, he says, the industry has transformed dramatically, due in large part to technology catching up with industry needs. “We have gone from a focus on ‘what’ to ‘how,’ and today's software offers the features and functionality to take LPM to the next level.” To illustrate, Jim said the first two companies that entered the field of producing LPM software are no longer in that line of business. New providers have come along to customize software to the precise needs of LPM, and the firm is currently working to upgrade its platform.
Also trending is the formal introduction of LPM, more specifically scoping, into the matter lifecycle, beginning at client intake. This ensures that best pricing and project management practices are instilled from inception and engrained in the firm’s culture and delivery of service.
Jim also said that there is a great debate in the industry about who should be a legal project manager: Should a member of business services or an attorney lead firmwide efforts? Jim’s firm began its LPM journey by training as many as 50 lawyers, but it has since pivoted to a support model. But other firms are taking billable attorneys and converting them into project management roles. Which approach will take hold remains to be seen.
How does LPM fit inside LMA?
Jim said most legal project managers sit in the operations or accounting departments, not in marketing. So how does LMA come into the picture? Jim got involved with and joined LMA because of the P3 conference. Over the past four years, he says the P3 conference has doubled in size, and he sees that trend continuing. “Collaboration with my business development and proposals colleagues has exploded,” he notes. When asked what he would tell the LMA audience, Jim said, “When project managers, marketers/business developers, and lawyers work together, we enable exceptional, cost-effective client service. And everybody wins.”
Michelle McWhinney is a Founder, Navigate Recruiting, LLC for the January/February 2016 Issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter