Project Management Practice, Project Planning

The State of Project and Portfolio Management in the Legal Sector

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When you think of the legal sector, Project and Portfolio Management isn’t something that you’d think would have a connection, right? You’d be correct. Much like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the relationship between the two wouldn’t necessarily be classed as natural. Law firms – and lawyers in particular – tend to be more au fait with document and practice management systems to carry out their daily tasks. Systems that have helped them work effectively and efficiently for a number of years now.

However, with changes in the law and changes in how clients now expect the legal sector to work – i.e. less emphasis on just billing and more on being transparent, providing better value for money, assurances over project duration and completion dates. Better planning and preparation of work is now a big requirement and want for many organisations.

With this in mind we spoke to David Bennett, Chief Operating Officer at VESK for Legal for his thoughts on the state of Project and Portfolio Management within the legal sector.

“Lawyers have an amazing power to time record”

For a lawyer, the number 6 plays a big part in how they work. Every 6 minutes of their time is recorded. Once accumulated it’s entered into financial systems. As David explains, “lawyers do a lot of planning of what’s actually happened, but they don’t do much forward planning. Which means they don’t really know what resources they have when looking ahead”.

What’s this down to?

“Most of the IT systems within the legal sector are focussed around what a lawyer did, there’s no real integration between calendars and HR systems. There’s no resource element. So when a lawyer is asked to do some more work – they just work harder!”

Clearly working hard isn’t a bad thing, it’s a desirable trait for any company. The ideal though, of course, is to combine working hard with working efficiently. Law firms are beginning to take note:

“There is certainly a drive to take Project Management more seriously. There are a number of law firms that have started training their lawyers in how to project manage. As a consequence there’s definitely a better understanding into the area, but the problem lies in the amount of effort that needs to go into managing a system effectively. A lawyer can’t be expected to put all the information they need into a project system – it would just take far too long.

Finding the right balance

As with any profession, technology should enable staff to do their jobs to the best of their ability. If it’s poorly implemented, ergonomically flawed or doesn’t ‘get the job done’ people won’t use it. David explains:

“In terms of lawyers, there’s no real comprehension of the tools they’re playing with. It could be a combination of Microsoft Project, different spreadsheets or something the PMS provider has downloaded. It could certainly be better because if the tools aren’t right then lawyers will just switch off. What’s needed is a tool that can read and understand the systems they already use and populate information from there, whilst being simple to use – allowing them to change and do things without having to use a manual”.

Comparing past projects

If we take a typical example of a new project about to commence, current methods rely on more of a ‘gut feeling’ than an organised approach:

“Group heads and individuals in charge of allocating work tend to just think ‘yes we have the capacity and flexibility to do this, but I can’t swear to it’. Looking at past projects, an educated guess is often used. ‘This project was a success, so lets use the same method and resources on the next’. Individuals try to fit in projects rather than plan them.”

A new approach to working

Like many sectors, the legal industry is changing. In years gone by a lawyer would traditionally charge by the hour and focus on time. Now, the trend is more centered around fixed pricing, which has brought with it an obvious requirement:

“If they’re proposing a fixed price project or module, quite simply there needs to be more accuracy. Which is why understanding when a resource can (or can’t) be used along the predicted length of a new project is really important. Best guesses aren’t enough. The more information available and future planning that can be done the better”.

“A system lawyers would actually use”

David believes that with Tempus Resource – a state of the art resource management tool from ProSymmetry – there is a product available that meets the needs of law firms and its lawyers, and can help these firms benefit from a more organised and holistic approach.

“With any system, simplicity of use is key. Tempus Resource is definitely that and a system lawyers would actually use, which is half the challenge.”

So what does it do?

“Tempus Resource allows a lawyer to move different projects around and take advantage of the ‘what-if’ capabilities. For example, what or who would be affected if project A ran behind or project B finished early. What’s the best combination of resources to run a particular project, do I need 2 of X, 3 of Y or 4 of Z. Tempus Resource allows you to easily and clearly understand what would happen and plan accordingly”.

Getting everyone on board

Adoption can often be another challenge when it comes to a new tool or system. David feels with Tempus Resource its non-complex nature and strength in portfolio planning is a real plus.

“You can use it at board level and say ‘look, we’ve got 50 projects: these are the ones we have to do and these are the 5 we need to fit in, what do we want to do?’ Tempus Resource can show you. So it’s very good for enterprise collaboration”

Now who wouldn’t want that!

To see David in action at our recent Tempus Legal event in June you can watch the video here. For more information on how Tempus Resource can help your business with its resource management features, get in touch and speak to one of our consultants today – 08000 74 29 29.