Many of you reading this will be experienced project managers, having worked across many industries where the input of a project manager is vital, for example, construction, transport and logistics as well as the financial services sector. But there’s a new market that needs your expertise – the legal market.
In recent years the demand for project managers in the legal industry has surged, and we’ve personally seen a lot of work come through. However, as a project manager myself, I know the last place a project manager would consider a role (or even know it exists) is in an in-house legal team.
Why do in-house legal teams need project managers?
Issues such as globalisation and the evolution of technology have placed huge pressure on in-house legal departments, leaving them with strict budgets and an ever-mounting workload. This has created demand for a role that both takes on the organisation and logistics of projects within the department, or projects the legal team need to deliver.
General Counsel, which lead teams of lawyers, are being pulled in different directions: many now sit on the board of a company where they are expected to contribute to the profit of the company when historically their position would be to deal with legal issues and safeguard the company, as well as running their department day-to-day. This leaves them with little time and resource to manage their department, and this has a domino effect on the rest of the legal team being oversaturated with projects. This has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legal project managers are now being recruited to apply the practices, processes and principles of project management to legal services delivery. To prevent in-house legal teams being bogged down, project managers can jump in and be spokespeople and organisers for the department, managing expectations on projects, ensuring people and resources are distributed fairly and that technology is implemented and optimised. This is with the aim that lawyers will be given more freedom to focus on the legal work that will benefit the company’s bottom line.
In the future, we’re likely to see this demand grow, as in-house legal departments realise the cost-saving benefits a project manager can offer. It’s not unusual for legal projects to overrun, particularly without change control and project governance from a legal project manager.
What skills are required?
The main and most important part of a legal project manager’s role is to work in collaboration with the legal team and take responsibility for the day-to-day activities of tracking issues, risks and actions, coordinating meetings, document management, and ensuring resource is available when required.
As legal project managers, we need to remember that most lawyers will have been accidental project managers up until now. While traditional project management skills around planning, reporting and action tracking are typical in legal projects, skills in document management are key as legal projects are often document-heavy.
Knowledge of legal technology is vitally important in the modern age, as many documents are now held on digital platforms. Typically, documents are held on collaboration portals and may also involve the use of artificial intelligence to reduce a data set.
Of course, there is also legal process, for example, the difference between delivering a due diligence phase and an e-disclosure phase. However, emotional intelligence is at the top of my list because building relationships between the in-house legal team, the business and other third parties is key to delivering a successful project.
It’s worth signing up to a legal project management service provider such as Vario from Pinsent Masons. Here you will have the opportunity to work with a variety of different clients, being deployed to work alongside an in-house legal team or directly on-site in a team.
The demand for project managers in in-house legal teams is only set to grow. It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities, as there are lots of exciting prospects for talented project managers.