The legal department, an often under-resourced but integral part of a large company has been under increasing pressure to do more with less – and a complex global economy means in-house lawyers are being stretched beyond capacity.
The last global recession in 2008 changed the legal profession, with Chief Finance Officers taking more control over the legal spend.
Now facing the repercussions of the pandemic, legal teams are integral in keeping their businesses operational.
It was revealed that the UK had fallen into the biggest recession since records began in the three months up to June 2020 due to lockdown measures imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic. And in August 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that nearly one in three businesses weren’t coping with their operating costs.
The statistics office also warned that one in ten businesses were at risk of collapsing. The furlough scheme is set to finish at the end of October 2020 and without government support, businesses are concerned they won’t be able to recover, despite making cutbacks including redundancies.
Many businesses are fighting for survival and the in-house legal department plays an important role in its recovery. Traditionally, some would perceive (and understandably so) the legal team as a department which just helps the business avoid risk and manage the legal aspects to their operations – i.e. stepping in where there’s a problem or threat.
But their role has grown to advise on decisions which could make the business more profitable, and with having to navigate such an uncertain economic environment, businesses need their legal departments to be all hands on deck.
Legal project management is a fairly new concept. In 2019, research from Pinsent Masons found that although there are 1177 Project Managers working in the UK legal sector, those who manage the delivery of legal services make up just 395 legal project managers.
Legal project managers offer strategic and commercial input into the process and will work to ensure the legal department’s projects deliver on time and within tight budgets. Across various industries, using project managers to manage the scope, schedule, budget, risk, quality and resources of projects has been the ‘norm’.
To the legal industry it’s a new notion, due to lawyers inherently having project management skills learnt through their role. However with increasingly tight pressures and restraints on legal teams, with less time to spend project managing themselves, some are realising that outsourcing a legal project manager is a sensible solution.
So how can legal project managers help the legal department better their business?
Relieve the pressure on in-house lawyers – Despite senior lawyers having much practical experience and knowledge about running projects – they are ‘project managers’ in their own right – they often have many priorities snapping at their heels.
This can become overwhelming and impact their legal ability, which as a business, you don’t need when trying to overcome the economic difficulties imposed by the pandemic.
A specialised legal project manager can relieve pressure on the senior lawyers, which means they’ll be more focused and able to commit to promises.
For example, it could be taking on weekly cost reporting and/or tracking actions, which can be very time-consuming. More time spent efficiently and less stress on lawyers will lead to greater productivity overall.
Provide an objective point of view – An outsourced legal project manager can provide an objective point of view on the state of the project and is unlikely to be defensive.
An external project manager will be able to view from above, predict the large obstacles and delegate the right level of responsibility for each task to a team member.
They’ll also be able to identify potential stumbling blocks that could be overlooked, avoiding unexpected time and resources strained down the line. That isn’t to say lawyers can’t do this, but when they have a myriad of different tasks to focus on it can be difficult to have the time to take a top-down view.
It will benefit the business directly too – The business will be keen to on-board clients as quickly as possible. The business, which already use project managers in other departments will expect the deal or project to be finalised efficiently.
Sometimes lawyers switch so quickly to ‘doing mode’, that they haven’t planned out the process, therefore bypassing what the aims and objectives of the project are and not able to manage the business’s expectations.
Legal project managers from the outset will start with a planning meeting including the legal team and the business, which can lead to good engagement and a smoother decision-making process.
It can encourage collaboration and lead to more efficient contract negotiation periods. This will benefit the business as a whole which wants to speed up revenue streams.
When legal departments are trying their best to help speed contract to revenue for their business during the pandemic, which will be demanding it faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively, hiring a legal project manager could be advantageous.
Hiring a specialist will be an extra expense but it could save the business money later down the line, as projects will be kept on track and within budget.
Dee Tamlin, Head of Client and Legal Project Management for Pinsent Masons LLP.