Please enjoy this blog post authored on behalf of Anna Marra, Legal Project Manager Specialist and Councillor of the Global Advisory Council, IILPM at International Institute of Legal Project Management.
As defined by CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), "legal operations (or legal ops) describe a set of business processes, activities and professionals that enable legal departments to serve their clients more effectively by applying technical and business practices to the delivery of legal services" (https://cloc.org/what-is-legal-operations/). The CLOC Model identifies 12 areas in which legal ops can be organized: strategic planning; financial management; practice operations, project management; firm and vendor management; information governance; knowledge management; organization, optimization and health; service delivery models; technology and training development. These are the areas in which a Legal Operations Professional, together with a multidisciplinary team, should be able to move in search of continuous improvement.
From my perspective, this model is in some respects redundant and perhaps excessively broke down, however, it is an important step towards the professionalization of Legal Ops and the profiles that work in them. Whether we adopt this model or rather opt for the ACC (Association of Corporate Council) Model, which identifies ten areas with certain differences, in any case, it is clear that project management and process improvement are essential if we want to adopt a new approach in the delivery of legal services and in the management of the department.
According to the ACC, project management has become important to law departments because of expanding client expectations and the evolving role of in-house counsel. Clients now expect more than substantive legal knowledge; they require in-house counsel to have business acumen and to provide legal services in an efficient, predictable, and consistent manner.
Legal Project Management not only allows the adoption of techniques and tools that favor efficiency and the correct allocation of resources within the department, but also promotes a clear alignment between strategic planning and the activities, initiatives, assignments and projects that are carried out. This approach helps teams to reduce the time spent on operational issues and to provide legal services based on the planning and allocation of available resources in the most efficient way while increasing control over the matter and the quality of the same. Greater control is reflected in less pressure and therefore less stress, which favors the work environment and the quality of both professional and personal life. Being able to work on the same matter in less time and with fewer resources benefits the conciliation of personal and professional life, as well as having an impact on the performance and results of the department.
This discipline allows in-house lawyers to manage not only legal projects, such as the design or implementation of a compliance system, a contract, or the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation, but also projects of a different nature, such as digital transformation projects, organizational improvement projects, or process reengineering and automation projects.
Another important function of project management is to connect the different departments of the company, with LPM being a common language when working on multidisciplinary cross-cutting issues. My experience as a trainer and certifier in LPM for the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) shows me how the legal function within the company gains value in the eyes of the other departments the moment it introduces management aspects and can present data (KPIs) regarding its activity. I think a challenge that many in-house lawyers face is trying to ensure that their role within the company is properly understood, and that the legal department is not perceived as a drag on business relationships. LPM allows the legal department to fulfill its risk protection function, both preventive and subsequent, but at the same time enables lawyers to work on innovation, business advisory or change management projects that have a proactive and driving objective, thus contributing to corporate success.
When starting a new project, at least five aspects must be considered:
- What is the project environment like? We need to understand if people, processes, and culture are aligned with the LPM objectives or if we need to reinforce them so that the LPM unfolds its potential and is not hampered in its implementation.
- What methodology are we going to use? It is not the same to work on a project that foresees the design and implementation of a compliance system, or on a project that foresees the adoption of a software that automates the life cycle of a contract. In the first case, we can adopt a predictive or waterfall methodology, while in the second case an incremental methodology such as SCRUM may be more appropriate.
- What are the project costs? If we are using a predictive methodology, we will have set our objectives and defined the scope of the project, as well as distributed our work effort on a schedule. We will also need to estimate the costs. This is a critical aspect that is not taken into consideration in many departments. The most recurrent objection from in-house lawyers is that they receive the same salary at the end of the month whether they are on one project or another. However, it is essential to know how much time is spent (hours/cost) on each project, because it may be that a lot of time is being spent on a project that is not interesting for the company or does not have a significant impact, compared to other more impactful projects. Cost planning also allows you to understand whether it is more convenient to bring the matter in-house if there is in-house knowledge to manage it or outsource it to a supplier.
- What are the project risks? Having defined the scope, time, and cost of the project, we need to focus on potential legal and management risks. The ability to identify, analyze and manage risks is key when it comes to re-planning the same scope of the project (to avoid the risks) or maintaining the planning, assuming the risks, but foreseeing mitigation or contingency plans.
- Who is leading the project? The answer should be clear before starting the project, however, I include this question to reflect on what professional profiles we need within the department. The debate is still open as to whether we need lawyers trained in legal project management or professional profiles in project management and legal operations. From my perspective, both solutions are valid, depending on the structure, resources, and culture of the department. I believe that a lawyer can be perfectly well trained to manage projects, just as I think it is very favorable that different and multidisciplinary profiles permeate the culture of the legal department.
Although the level of maturity of Legal Operations in Spain and Latin America is still initial, at least at a general level and with the due exceptions, there is no doubt that there is interest and desire in legal departments to professionalize the main aspects that constitute them: people management, data management, project and process management, and technology management.