Running Legal Like A Business - Ch. 10 - Legal Project Management (LPM), Part 2

Last week for chapter 10 of Running Legal Like A Business, this blog focused on author Susan Lambreth's 4 phase approach to Legal Project Management (LPM). In this post the focus is Peter Dombkins' "Notes from the Field."

In his coda, Dombkins, who part of the New Law practice of PwC, points out that for the majority of practicing lawyers their training has focused on the substance of law and not the delivery of law as a service. He notes that the hierarchy of a traditional law office, where "back office" personnel have been unseen and unheard perpetuates attorney reluctance to engage in what they view to be "back office" functions.  On the law department side, lawyers tend to have more exposure to LPM principals.  Of the companies where I've worked the company where many of the clients were engineers,  perhaps contributed to a more receptive attorneys' group.  At Viacom my multi-discplinary team drawn from legal operations, finance and technology were permitted to undertake Six Sigma training on the condition that we never used the terminology but used plain language instead.  This proved to be good practice.   

Dombkins offers 5 practical lessons that align 100% with my experience: 

1. Solve an existing problem that has a clear and tangible benefit to build demand for your services.

2. Right-size your approach.  I like to think of LPM as applied science, which I was steeped in for 10 years at The Rockefeller Foundation.  Build expertise in the context of a live project, or a "practicum" in academic parlance.

3.  Walk before your run. Dombkins suggests staying away from the simplest projects that benefit less from LMP and focusing on medium-sized, moderately complex projects.  Personally, I have repeatedly underestimated the complexity of projects.  That said, under an applied science approach, when taking on something new, instead of subbing out the work, we hire a business partner to show us the ropes, building our knowledge level until we are ready to directly manage the work. 

4.  Be technology-enabled, not technology-led. Dombkins emphasizes understanding the processes and behaviors you want before implementing a technical solution. Or as was nicely said at the recent Legal Operators' session Should I break up with my CLM?, "Don't automate bad habits!" If you do not first and foremost address process optimization you are likely to end up with a garage full of over-engineered, under-utilized tools.  That said business requirements gathering for a technology solution often provides good cover for getting lawyers to more candidly share current processes and pain points without feeling like an allied professional is passing judgement on how they elect to work. 

5. Be persistent. Dombkins notes that 60-80% of change projects "fail" in someway because changing human behavior is hard. Overcoming that challenge requires taking the long view.  While the word "persistence" is good, I prefer the term "tenacity." Persistence is about staying the course.  Tenacity is about adapting and finding a new path to success. A tenacious team requires a focus on cultivating diverse perspectives, hearing dissenting views, and adjusting your approach. It's a good lesson to learn that tenacity can win out over raw talent in virtually any endeavor you undertake. 

Ops in a Box, Legal Edition (OBL) is itself a solution born out of tenacity.  On the faculty of a boot camp, about 50% of the participants gave feedback that the sessions were geared towards departments with greater access to resources and that they wanted solutions that would save time for small departments with one or no dedicated legal operations professionals.  On reflection, I realized this feedback absolutely on point.  With experience one has the opportunity to repurpose and improve past work product.  One does not start over from scratch each time.  Of that was born the idea, "Why not a core tool kit built out over 3 Fortune 500 companies and refined with input from multiple legal, finance and technology teams to help jump start legal operations anywhere where it is a new addition?"  Then I took the idea to the association that had sponsored the boot camp.  The idea did not mesh with their priority focus and so they took a pass.  So I thought, I've got a great group of creative friends in legal ops,  graphic design, product design, and performance.  Let me martial their skillsets and put it out directly.  And with the ongoing feedback of clients who have purchased the kit, we have a backlog of great ideas we are working through as time allows.

Next week we return to the topic of metrics with the thoughts of Pratik Patel and Mick Sheehy.