Is Asking a Project Manager About Legal Like Dancing About Architecture?
Toby Brown offered an interesting take yesterday on client-side Legal Project Management.
He starts off with a couple of good points:
…[Clients] might want to be more specific about what they mean by efficiency. However, LPM will likely be an effective tool for firms to use in providing legal services for clients at lower costs.
Then he notes that applying Legal Project Management at the client end might also afford benefits.
I second that. The principles of LPM matter on both sides of the equation: Managing time, managing money, managing people, managing the project itself, and managing the (business-side) client. All five of these core areas of LPM have a large impact on total cost, the friction of corporate life, work-work balance (see my book The Off Switch), and retaining your best employees.
However, he talks about meeting with “project managers involved in commercial real estate building projects.” That’s a two-edged sword.
On one hand, these are likely some of the most technically capable and competent PMs-qua-PMs he’ll ever meet. The level of pure project-manager professionalism in commercial construction/civil engineering is very high.
On the other hand, the environment in which these folks work is about as similar to legal as, well, putting up a building is to the practice of law. Many (but not all) of the core principles are the same, but the playing fields diverge dramatically. It’s like asking a computer programmer to counsel you about your relationship. The programmer may or may not have useful advice, but her training as a programmer have nothing to do with whether or not she can provide such advice.
Beware of engineering project managers trying to apply their skills to legal. Some skills transfer, some don’t, but:
- The principles transfer far better than the specific techniques.
- Some practitioners can generalize from their specific skills to an alien world, but many (most?) cannot.
- What makes it work, or fail, is not the skill set but the person.
That said, by all means listen to a good project manager if you get the opportunity. But ask him about the things that make his own work successful, rather than have him speculate about yours.