What Are Legal Project Managers And Do In-House Lawyers Really Need Them?

Updated: 7 days ago

A project manager is responsible for the commencement, organisation, execution, monitoring, running and conclusion of a project. But how is that role different in the legal sphere? Well, legal project managers apply these principles, processes and practices of project management to the delivery of legal services to ensure the successful delivery of their in-house legal team’s projects. These individuals are highly trained to understand the legal sector in Asia, how it operates locally and globally, and its priorities.

Indeed, the legal project manager is a fairly new role to the legal industry in Asia, and indeed in-house legal teams around the world. Even with businesses well-established in using project managers within their other departments, hiring a project manager for the legal team has not been the status quo.

Some may ponder why a lawyer needs a legal project manager in their in-house legal team.

Surely lawyers are natural at project management? Surely their legal education taught them effective project management skills? Surely it’s the nature of the job, to manage a number of plates spinning at once?

Well of course lawyers tend to be highly trained project managers. They certainly know the score. But add in the extra pressure of a Chief Financial Officer who keeps the purse strings tight, but expects more output, and the pandemic throwing up challenging economic times for the business. Inevitably, not much time is left to keep an overview of each project.

The in-house legal team are squeezed in the middle – facing much pressure to deliver but not always having capacity to do 100 per cent. Where once it was a department that only advised on legal risk, now it is expected to be a profitable element of the business, supporting the business to deliver its strategic objectives. A familiar tale told by in-house legal teams is that since the 2008 global recession, the legal spend has been reduced – their spend was the first to be cut but the work never went down. Now this pressure has been doubled due to the pandemic and its economic fallout – for example, in-house legal teams have been renegotiating existing contracts with struggling suppliers, fast forwarding speed to revenue, and making sure the business is complying with the latest pandemic regulations on a local and global level, in addition to their existing work. The in-house legal team in many companies has been overloaded, under- resourced and they are now at a tipping point.

This results in overworked lawyers and disgruntled board members, when, as a result of these pressures, projects fail to run on time and within budget. In a nutshell, promises haven’t been delivered.

And this is where a legal project manager can help. A legal project manager’s sole responsibility is to manage all aspects of legal projects, ensuring the right resources are distributed, expectations are managed and the end goal is reached in the most efficient manner. These specialists can be a point of contact between the department and the business. Legal project managers can navigate the stumbling blocks that will inevitably arise within any project, saving resource, time and costs.

And while we agree lawyers can carry out project management on matters, professional legal project managers can provide the service more cost efficiently. Some lawyers are good at project management, some aren’t, some enjoy it, some don’t. There are many parts of legal projects that do not need a qualified legal mind. The planning will always be done in collaboration with the legal team but Legal Project Managers can deal with the day to day activities of tracking issues, risks and actions, coordinating meetings, document management, and ensuring resource is available when it is needed. Lawyers are thereby freed up to do the lawyering.

Therefore they are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the savings the in-house lawyers will make when the projects run within the scope outlined. This gives the lawyers space to do the actual legal work and come up with those creative and innovative solutions that could help the business be more profitable.

Dee Tamlin, Head of Client and Legal Project Management at Vario by Pinsent Masons

The leading global provider of flexible law firm-led solutions. Complementing the world-class services of Pinsent Masons, Vario builds flexible legal solutions tailored to specific business requirements and fulfilling the needs of a modern freelance community.

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