Today. we look at one side of the Legal Process Management table: in-house counsel. Tomorrow, outside counsel. I think we will find that legal project management is different, depending on your point of view.
Projects are one of the first things you notice when you go in-house. This isn’t written on the wall anywhere, but could be:
Growth companies are basically bundles of projects aimed at extending a competitive edge.
These aren’t just projects in the legal department. Most of the time, in-house lawyers are on project teams comprised of members from across the enterprise. A lawyer may manage the project, but that is rare.
That doesn’t mean projects won’t have a large number of legal tasks or deliverables. One example from my experience: building a natural gas pipeline across state lines. Federal approvals, state approvals, agency permits, customer contracts. The project will run many months, even years. At various times, you could have an in-house team of 7 (including a lawyer or two) and an external team (with some outside counsel) that could spike to 50 or more.
And if you don’t have the legal authority to put a shovel in the ground in time for a customer’s new power plant to go on-line, your board of directors can become quite interested in the status of the project. So I guess, in a sense, it is a legal project.
What technology did we use? Heck if I know. The engineers may have had their stuff on MS project. Beyond that, MS Word, Excel, Outlook, whatever. That’s not to say that newer technology or apps wouldn’t have made it better. A purple crayon on the wall in a pinch might suffice.
This apparently cavalier attitude toward technology belies these five rules for a successful large project:
1. You define the project clearly.
2. You select a project manager who fits.
3. The project manager selects the project team.
4. Management supports the entire project team.
5. Senior management backs up the project manager.
I’ll resist the lawyerly caveats and exceptions to these rules. Ask around and you’ll find out that probably 50% of all large projects fail #1. And 80% of the rest fail #2. I bet 90%+ of projects fail one of the five. You can still have a successful project if you fail #4 and #5, but the angst and drama will drive some team members to update their resumes.
Because of these realities, any project management training can be helpful. But good project management disciplines are wired into the culture of successful companies. New team members learn from old hands. Those who do well get a project of their own. Small ones at first.
Those who can run large projects have a shot at running departments, and, later, maybe even the entire company.
That’s fine for in-house lawyers who are part of company-wide projects. But what about law firms, and their peculiar brand of staffing, pecking order, and management?
That’s another story, for tomorrow.