Okay you can keep the ‘Legal’ tag; but it’s just Project Management!

I’ve been ‘white-boarding’ legal matters since my days helping out on front-end major projects back in 1996; so the concept of ‘mapping out’ how a transaction might progress, what may be ‘in scope’ and ‘out of scope’, the approximate amount of time the transaction may take and how we are going to resource it are not new to me. In more recent times (largely following the GFC in 2008) the legal industry has formalised my approach of ’white-boarding’ matters to become Legal Project Management. 

While I was never really that sure over the years how Legal Project Management differed from the more general Project Management, I have been assured – on numerous occasions – that there is a difference. When asked how, the most common response I received was that:-

  • Legal Project Management is the discipline of project managing ‘tacit knowledge’ – as ‘knowledge workers’, while
  • Project Management is the discipline of project managing tangible products, e.g., the construction of a hospital.

And until the last month or so I thought that was a pretty good answer.

So what changed?

Well, in the last month and a bit I have attended a collective 5 day (2 day and then a 3 day) course on Project Management Fundamentals run by PM-Partners Group here in Sydney.

The two day Fundamentals (essentially, theory) session was outstanding and broken-down into the following nine (9) modules:

  1. What makes projects succeed (and by implication, fail)
  2. The essential project management philosophy
  3. The project life cycle
  4. Project planning – project definition and scoping
  5. Project planning – creating the WBS & schedule
  6. Project planning – estimating
  7. Project risk
  8. Project execution & control
  9. Project closure

In turn, if you were on a course where you learnt all about: 

  • scope creep
  • the difference between what a risk is and what an issue is (hint, one has happened and the other hasn’t)
  • how to do a business case and a project plan
  • the triangle of scope, cost, time and quality
  • the four dependency types [finish-start; start-start; finish-finish; and start-finish], and
  • you get to work on creating a Work Breakdown Structure and Estimating (Optimistic, Pessimistic and Most Likely – also looking at the Cone of Uncertainty)

Wouldn’t you think you had been on one of the best Legal Project Management training courses around?

Well, that’s exactly what the two day PM-Partners run Project Management Fundamentals course taught me and I have walked away from that course thinking to myself that you can keep the classify ‘Legal’, at the end of the day it’s project management and it’s this type of project management we need to get better at.

My biggest take-out though?

Understanding the difference between a risk and an issue, because anyone doing pricing should get their head around this because it really is as important (and probably goes hand-in-hand with) as what happens with scope creep [helpful extra tip: want to understand scope creep, look up what happens with the formula: n (n – 1) /2].

Get in touch if you want to hear/find out more, otherwise get yourself on a really good PM Fundamentals course because I can guarantee it will pay for itself!



  1. Agree Richard. Same goes for many CRM’s. Put “legal” in front of it and triple, quadruple the price because lawyers are “special”. As a value pricer I guess I should congratulate the CRM vendors.More fools the purchasers.


    1. Richard – You were misinformed on the front end, so it is no surprise you came out with a confused analysis. Let’s dissect the issue.First, does adding “legal” change anything? Not really, but that does not mean project management in legal matters is identical to project management in other matters. Second, what distinguishes legal matters? Here, the answer gets a bit more complex and it helps to know the history of project management. It was designed as a tool to use when parties to the project had aligned objectives. Let’s erect a building, a bridge, or a dam. As it was applied to more complex projects, it became more nuanced to accommodate less alignment among the players (software). Jumping into law, project management confronted a new challenge: lack of alignment. The plaintiff wants something different than the defendant, and the judge wants a third thing. The buyer and seller have different goals, and the people with the money have yet another goal. In many cases, the participants in the project are adversaries and have little or no alignment on goals. The software you mention is not designed to deal with these challenges. Indeed, project management (certainly waterfall, less so agile) has difficulty with these challenges. What makes project management in law interesting is that most people still try to put the proverbial square peg in the round hole. They try to apply traditional project management to an adversarial situation. To make it work better, you need to adjust the tool, the training, and what you do with it. Since there are very few who have confronted this challenge (and I’m willing to bet the trainers for your course have never gotten into law and project management) you walk out the door with good training for project management outside law. The upshot is, no, we don’t need to use “legal” as a preface to project management, but “yes” we do need to train (re-train) people in the legal industry on how to use project management in law. And finally, not that it matters, but I am a lawyer and have been using project management since 1979, and was CEO of Seyfarth Lean Consulting which has the largest team of project managers in a law firm in the world. Best of luck.


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